The title – collection as time machine – sounded interesting. This new exhibition at the Rotterdam Boijmans van Beuningen museum would challenge visitors. Its aim was to invite visitors to spend more time looking at art.
After visiting it the day it opened, I was stimulated – but not in the way the exhibition’s guest curator intended. The “collection as time machine” is Carel Blotkamp‘s attempt to seduce visitors. He created this exhibition to stimulate “slow looking”.
The term “slow looking” reminded me strongly of the lovely exhibition at the Mauritshuis, which just closed. This truly seductive “Slow Food” exhibition showed wonderful paintings by Clara Peeters and others. The Mauritshuis museum also organized many activities linked to slow cooking and local foods. Personally, I would not have minded their “Slow Food” exhibition remaining open for another few months. Alas!
As for Boijmans: it asked artist and emeritus professor of the VU University in Amsterdam Carel Blotkamp to select objects from its collection. Boijmans’ collection contains over 145,000 works of art. These range from works dating from about 1300 till the present.
However, it are not the selected objects but the way they are presented, which is important. The presentation is supposed to foster, stimulate, create “slow looking”.
Works are placed in rooms, creating “… confrontations between old masters and modern art and between well-known and more obscure artworks.” Such confrontations should cause regular visitors and tourists to linger. For as museums have discovered: visitors spend about 8 seconds looking at a work. Blotkamp and Boijmans aim to stretch this to between 10 to 15 seconds.
As Blotkamp explained in an interview: “I’ve divided the collection into eight time blocks. It’s like traveling back and forth through art history in a time machine. I hope the abrupt transitions between periods will sharpen the eye and stimulate the mind … Each time zone has a different colour, light for modern art and darker for old masters. The specific shades come from the palette that the artist Peter Struycken developed specially for Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. We are using violet for the oldest, religious artworks. It will be very beautiful.”
It is not the first time, Mr Blotkamp curates such an exhibition. During the autumn of 2011, he curated a similar exhibition at the Mauritshuis, The Hague, called “Dali meets Vermeer”.
The advertising blurb of the current Boijmans and past Mauritshuis exhibitions ring similar: “… Masterpieces by artists such as Van Gogh, Monet and Dalí will be exhibited alongside highlights from the museum’s own collection. Dalí meets Vermeer: modern masters come to visit couples old and modern paintings in refreshing combinations, and displays one pair in each room of the museum. The confrontations will invite comparison and closer examination, revealing how painters of different eras grappled with the same artistic problems.”
During my time machine visit at Boijmans, visitors did not bother to head into all rooms, picked one or two works for a quick look, definitely continued to spend less than 8 seconds per work they wanted to admire.
As usual, I simply skipped all modern works. Regardless of how works by Rothko, Judd, Kiefer are displayed – I’m not interested. I do not care for most modern art.
So: mission not accomplished – but an exhibition worth a visit. For I did linger over a few wonderful medieval sculptures, as well as a few medieval, renaissance, baroque paintings. I liked some drawings by Dürer, as well as a few by Suze Robertson.
Of course, I had a look at Rembrandt’s portrait of the young Titus again. Next to it, was Fabritius’ interesting self-portrait. Personally, I’d have hung them the other way around, so they interact better.
Then I cheerfully headed to another wing. There, I took my time admiring works by van Gogh, Monet, and other artist.
Fostering “slow looking”? According to me, the best solution remains the free drawing tours offered at the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum.
Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam: the collection as time machine;
Mauritshuis Museum, The Hague: their new temporary exhibition opens 11th of July 2017, showing works by Flemish painters like Jordaens, van der Weyden, Rubens, van Dyck. (I’m looking forward to it!);
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam continues to offer drawing tours.