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'Stedelijk Base', the new part of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam that opened in 2017, brings an innovative view to the design of museums, thanks to the innovative way in which architect Rem Koolhaas has designed the space. For me, a space that arouses curiosity, makes your attention jump again and again and, despite the multitude of information, still ensures that you do not lose yourself in the labyrinth of art and design.


The large, underground space where Stedelijk Base is exhibited, shows the permanent collection of the Stedelijk Museum, which reflects the developments of modern art from 1880 to the present. The space looks open due to high ceilings and the loose partition walls, which move playfully through the space. This dynamic design, in combination with white walls and lighting on the ceiling, creates the idea of light, so that the absence of natural light is not a nuisance, but makes the space very suitable for many art forms.

It is clear that the place has been specially designed for the permanent collection and that it will not be subject to much change. Stedelijk Base is part of a larger concept within the Stedelijk Museum. After the renovation and construction of the new part, the building is divided into three parts: Stedelijk Turns, Stedelijk Now and Stedelijk Base. Stedelijk Turns presents the collection in current and thematic presentations on the ground floor of the old building, while Stedelijk Now shows temporary exhibitions on the first floor. Stedelijk Base takes place in the new building and shows a mix of all disciplines with work from the permanent collection. In addition, it is important to mention that there is also a mutual relationship between Stedelijk Turns and Stedelijk Base. Base's permanent collection is Western oriented and consists mainly of male artists. Turns, which focuses on showing new perspectives, for example brings back the 'forgotten' art made by female artists by re-exhibiting it. Also with an eye for the underlying social themes. This in turn is also fed back to the Base.

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The redesign is an interesting choice, because it gives the permanent collection a new look and breathes new life into the historic part by showing varying work. You can see that this is also reflected in the foyer and the exterior of the museum building, where old and new flow into each other.

Personally, I think this meeting was more successful in the foyer than in the exterior. While in the foyer there is a play of form and material between the modern and the traditional of the museum, in which old and new coexist in a balanced way, in my view the exterior of the new building, also known as 'the bathtub', surpasses with its pompous shape the old museum building, which does not show the beauty of the old architecture very well.

The shape of 'the bathtub' is made up of panels of Twaron, an extremely light and very strong synthetic fibre, which allows it to retain shape and strength, despite severe weather conditions. In addition, the material is also heat resistant. Despite the fact that the exterior of the new building does not appeal to me aesthetically, I do understand the choice of this material, because in this way it offers good protection to the valuable art in the museum.

Special and, above all, protective materials also come to the fore in the layout of the exhibition space. The steel walls of Stedelijk Base, which are arranged separately from each other, are slender and sloped, creating separate screens instead of fixed walls. In order to achieve this effect on the individual parts, steel was chosen as the material. After experimenting with wood, it became clear that only steel would be strong enough to support the art on the sloping walls. This resulted in a collaboration with TATA Steel Netherlands.


During the visit I paid extra attention to what the layout through these screens did to me. The material, steel, which is quite hard by nature, manages to have a soft, flexible effect despite its chemical properties. The screens are kept simple by using the non-colours white and anthracite. The thinness of the walls ensures that you as a visitor can easily move through the space and due to the differences in the dimensions in length and width, a playful layering is created in combination with the use of color.  Although the screens stand on their own, there is a clear connection and coherence that makes it a whole. This idea is closely related to the content of the exhibition. Rem Koolhaas, for example, says the following in an interview about the project:

“So what I hope is that you get the experience of walking in a city. With exciting areas now and then, ordinary areas now and then, parts that you recognize and now and then things that baffle you.”

For me, these words sum up exactly my experience of the exhibition. The walls that define the perimeter of the space form a path that tells the visitor the chronological story of the art and design. By following this path you will encounter recognizable and iconic works as a visitor, in which people can make connections between movements and periods. It starts at the end of the 19th century with works by Van Gogh and Cézanne and ends again at the same point with art from the 60s. The chronology is a safe 'handhold' to which one can return, but the art objects on and on the screens that are scattered are arranged through space, offer the opportunity to forge new 'roads' and to embark on a journey of discovery through space, as it were.


The underlying concept was suggested by Beatrix Ruf, former artistic director of the museum. She made the comparison with the online world we live in today, which has changed the way we deal with information in a short time. By experimenting with the hanging heights of the canvases and placing art objects together in such a way that the most logical connections are missing, the idea of 'browsing' that we know from the internet is created. And just like browsing, there are a lot of images and little attached information. It does not mean that a visit to the exhibition requires prior knowledge. This gives the visitor the opportunity to make connections between unlikely combinations. This makes the exhibition suitable for a very wide audience. Visitors who are still unfamiliar with the art from the museum have support that can bring them back to a fixed point in art history at any time by means of the outer wall, but also encouraged them to change their perspective while wandering through the maze of works. to broaden. Connoisseurs and seasoned museum visitors, on the other hand, are given the opportunity to view iconic works again with fresh eyes and to arrive at new insights.


The innovative concept of Koolhaas and Ruf has also made me reflect on the way in which we design space. Combining design and painting, working thematically and linking them to important aspects of the world we live in now creates a dynamic that was unknown to me. Iconic works gave me a point of recognition, so you don't lose yourself. At the same time, not all information is immediately handed over to you, but the exhibition gave me the freedom to play with the associations and combinations of the wonderful world of art and design.



“For me the crucial thing in any institution in order to stay alive, is to experiment.” - Rem Koolhaas

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