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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Amsterdam, Holland

No, it's not Venice. Venice seldom has streets or sidewalks. And in the summer,
at least, Amsterdam is prettier. Likewise, though Saint Petersburg is
sometimes called the "Venice of the North," Amsterdam much more
closely resembles the artsy Italian city's watery ambiance.
Lest anyone think I've given up writing about art to descend into "traveloguery" following our return a couple months ago from a whirlwind tour of northern Europe, let me assure you, the emphasis here will remain on art, but from a traveler's perspective (notice how I avoided the word, "tourist"). Furthermore, Amsterdam (arguably, second only to Saint Petersburg), is an artist's "died and gone to heaven" dream city. The Van Gogh Museum (yesterday's entry,below) is one reason, but there are two more mega-museums in the same district (known as the Museumplein), with even more to offer for the art-addicted--the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum Amsteram (currently closed for renovation until Sept. 2012). The Rijksmuseum is where you go to see Rembrandt. The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam is for Modern Art and everything since. Also in the same district, though not a museum, is the Concertgebouw (concert hall) with its exemplary acoustics, for the music addicted.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, though not quite in the same league with
Saint Petersburg's Hermitage, when you've got Mr. van Rijn in your
corner, the differences kind of level out.
Artist's Amsterdam's main claim to fame.
For the art traveler, the two kingpins of Amsterdam are Rembrandt and Vincent. Nowhere in the world will you find either artist in greater depth. Vincent had little to do with the city. Rembrandt, on the other hand, while not born in Amsterdam, certainly lived, worked, and died there. There's even his statue in  the town square (called the Rembrandtplein, left) to prove it. However, in visiting the Rijksmuseum, in your mad dash to see The Night Watch, don't neglect Hals, van Ruysdael, Vermeer, Steen, and the other Dutch Masters. Likewise, at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, its easy to lock on to Monet, Manet,  Cezanne, Chagall, Braque, Kandinsky or Picasso and miss such names as Kirchner, Matisse, Moholy-Nagy, or Man Ray. In their more recent acquisitions you'll find the work of Jasper Johns, Warhol, deKooning, Newman, Lichtenstein, and Rauschenberg.

Architecturally, the Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam (here seen under renovation), 
presents a jarring disconnect between the old and new. The new annex, slated
to open in September, 2012, to my eyes, bears a striking resemblance to
nothing so much as a  automobile rooftop cargo carrier.
Needless to say, in my one day in Amsterdam, I was only able to hit the Van Gogh, and even at that, it was more of a sideswipe. For any museum on the scale of the Rijksmuseum or the Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam, a full day is a minimal visit. I might also add, for the springtime visitor, art is also cultivated in the gardens of Keukenhof some ten miles southwest of Amsterdam. No art traveler should visit Holland without stopping to smell the tulips. And if you're not put off by the more touristy elements, the outdoor museum of Zaanse Schans (which I did visit) is worthwhile in broadening your view of the country. I also found the postwar town of Volendam (even more touristy) quite likable.

Keukenhof Gardens--Tulip art
(another photo destined to
spawn a painting).
Zaanse Schans, picturesque Holland as the
Dutch want to be remembered.

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