While searching for a way to organize this month's journal about
our six day visit to Amsterdam, a light clicked when I thought
about using an acrostic. So, here are nine focal points of the
trip that has been a dream up until now for John and me.
Art is Amsterdam and Amsterdam is art. There are 35
museums of all kinds listed on a free map (www.amsterdammuseums.nl).
Not surprisingly, it was the art museums that were the primary
draw. The prospect of seeing work by Rembrandt and van Gogh
made me endure the miserable Argonne anti-jet lag diet for four
days prior to leaving, so that I would not have to waste one
moment. However, I have come to appreciate more the surprises
most places have to offer, such as the modern sculptures interspersed
among the tulip and hyacinth beds of Keukenhof in Lisse, about
30 minutes from Amsterdam.
Mobility = bicycles. Never have we been in a city that
is dominated by bicycles. The sight of a bicycle garage next
to the train station will be one that we will not soon forget.
Thousands of bicycles side by side. One effect is that Amsterdam
felt on the surface like a quieter, saner place. Few cars, a
trolley, bus and subway system that takes you where you need
to go: any museum is easily accessible.
Stedelijk, Amsterdam's modern art museum has moved to
a temporary location near Central Station while the building
is being renovated. The challenge curators faced was to have
an exhibition that would continue to attract visitors to its
modern art collection (think MoMA in Queens). "Leporello:
A tour through the collection, 1874-2004" features a painting
from each year that represents their collection, with pieces
lent by private collectors. We saw Dutch paintings by painters
whose names we did not recognize. Not that the Stedelijk collection
lacks international breadth (Jackson Pollack, Paul Cézanne,
Alberto Giacometti each represented a year), but it was interesting
to see work from painters I would like to learn more about,
such as Josef and Isaac Israëls and Maria Lassnig.
Tulips and other bulbs are on display by the millions
during April and May at Keukenhof, and the park with its pavillions
is everything you might imagine. Surrounding the park are fields-
long wide expanses of purples, reds, pinks, yellows and whites.
Imagine a space larger than a football field boasting a singular
display of purple hyacinths with an occasional breeze delivering
the scent to you. We learned from our tour guide that a tulip
bulb was given to a Dutch aristocrat by a Turkish sultan. The
aristocrat went crazy for it, making tulips the "hot item"
everyone had to have. People paid thousands for one bulb, more
than for a house. The government had to step in to control the
madness. Now the Dutch export over 90% of the bulbs they cultivate.
Egon Schiele. Now what would this Austrian Expressionist
painter's work have in common with Vincent van Gogh? Schiele's
most famous work is figurative: erotic, tortured, angry and
full of death. However, his landscapes and cityscapes are special
songs of structure and color. The Schiele exhibition was the
first ever to be organized in the Netherlands, and the curators
selected works which show van Gogh's influence on Scheile. One
example, his "Artist's Room in Neulengbach" was inspired
by van Gogh's "Bedroom." The museum collaborated with
Marina Abramovic and Krisztina de Chatel in a series of dance
performances, one of which we saw. No music. Large lucite boxes
on the floor. Two dancers in flesh-colored body suits splattered
with red. A mother with her baby in a stroller stopped to watch
the dancers' tortured contortions. Once the pre-verbal baby
caught sight of them, she could not stop looking. Every once
in a while, she would call out, "Ma" with a quizzical
note. It was a dramatic example of dance's non-verbal expression
holding everyone spellbound, regardless of age. Success. No
words. No music. Simple raw emotion told by two bodies.
Rembrandt's house, purchased by him in 1639, is grand
by any standard. When he went bankrupt in 1656, a notary drew
up a detailed list of his possessions for auction. This must
have been difficult for Rembrandt, but lucky for us because
the house is restored with antiques that closely match his furnishings,
as well as others' artwork, which he sold out of his house.
What surprised us was Rembrandt's collection room, filled with
objects he used in his paintings and etchings. It is known as
the first museum. And, (I am not ashamed of this), I stood in
Rembrandt's studio in the spot where he painted. John even took
two pictures of me. Why not? It's absorbing art history at its
De Oude Kerk is Amsterdam's oldest monument (1250).
It is no longer a working church, but has stained glass windows,
lots of tombstones and a Vater-Müller organ. In a side
gallery was a contemporary art exhibit. I can imagine what it
is like to be an artist in the city dominated by van Gogh and
Ambitiously-that is how we approached our six days.
Prior to leaving, John and I listed everything we wanted to
experience: the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, a canal tour,
the Stedelijk Museum, the Anne Frank Secret Annex, the tulip
fields, the Hermitage Amseterdam, the FOAM Museum of Photography,
De Oude Kerk, the flower barges, and the Patisserie Pompadour.
So, we planned, planned, planned and walked, walked, walked.
Modernity and tradition are a special mixture in Amsterdam.
Renzo Piano's NEMO, a science center that sits in the harbor,
is one example of the city's appreciation for new forms in architecture.
The homes and businesses in the 17th century buildings along
the canals acknowledge Amsterdam's prosperous past.
NEXT MONTH...I will be exploring rocks, a recurring
symbol in my paintings. So far, I have fourteen pieces in which
rocks play an important part. You can view a few of them in
Gallery Chapters Two and Three. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
for more about travel and the creative process.