restoration ran about five years late and millions of Euros over budget. For roughly ten years, the Rijksmuseum and
its Vermeers and Rembrandts were closed to the public, frustrating art lovers
and hardly doing any favors for Dutch tourism.
Blame the Dutch Cyclists Union. In
order to save their members a small detour, they successfully blocked the
museum’s initial renovation plans with the local authorities, handing the
institution the first of its many costly setbacks. Oeke Hoogendijk witnesses them all and
documented them in the observational epic The
New Rijksmuseum (trailer
has its world theatrical premiere this Wednesday at Film Forum.
thought the process would take as long as it did, especially Hoogendijk. Eventually, she distilled two hundred seventy
five hours of film into two hundred twenty eight minutes of film, which Film
Forum will screen as two distinct parts.
Essentially, the two parts are evenly divided by the stewardships of two
very different general-directors. As
part one opens, Ronald de Leeuw has boundless optimism for the Rijksmuseum’s
recreation, considering the objections of the Cyclists Union baseless and
parochial. He was right on the merits,
but wildly naïve on the political realities.
years, 13,000 cyclists had availed themselves of the bike thoroughfare running
beneath the museum and they had no intention of stopping, regardless of the
Rijksmuseum’s plans. Ironically, Spanish
architects Antonio Cruz and Antonio Ortiz had won the Rijksmuseum commission
precisely because of their design for a grand entrance that would sacrifice the
bike path. Suddenly, they were forced to
revise their plans, jettisoning the very elements they were chosen for. It will
be the first of many absurdist developments. It would also send a signal to
contractors and bureaucrats that perhaps the Rijksmuseum was not the
invulnerable titan they might have assumed.
of wrestling with nuisance complaints, endless red tape, and budget-busting
contractor estimates, de Leeuw eventually bails. He is replaced by the more vigorous and
political astute Wim Pijbes. However,
Pijbes cannot resist taking another run at the original Cruz y Ortiz entrance
scheme, causing quite a stir amongst the bureaucratic class.
New Rijksmuseum is sort of like a
Wiseman documentary in which a plot unexpectedly breaks out. Hoogendijk follows
a strict Direct Cinema approach, avoiding on-camera interaction with any of her
subjects. Yet, there is real drama unfolding, with the museum’s very fate at
stake. When a polished professional like Pijbes goes off on an extended
on-camera rant, you know it is a bad sign.
Hoogendijk also captures the idealism of the curatorial staff, dedicating
considerable time to their painstaking restoration work (on individual pieces
in their respective collections) and their hopeful exhibition plans. Perhaps the most inspired subplot follows the
acquisition of two striking Japanese Temple Guard statues that will remain
unseen for years, with commentary from Menno Fitski, the Asian Pavilion curator,
who has exactly the sort of enthusiasm you would want from a museum curator.
Indeed, it is the staff’s spirit and dedication
in the face of crushing delays that makes the film rather inspiring. Wisely, Hoogendijk holds the Rijksmuseum’s
signature piece in reserve for the climatic conclusion, but its intrinsic value
as an institution is expressed in nearly every frame. Indeed, it is worth protecting from the
Vandals, like the Cyclists Union’s Marolein de Lange, who literally sneers at
the word “culture.” Recommended for all
art and architecture lovers, The New
Rijksmuseum opens this Wednesday (12/18) in New York at Film Forum. While the screenings will be in two parts,
there is two-for-one admission to both parts, with the flexibility to choose
same-day or later screenings of the second installment.
Labels: Documentary, Dutch cinema, Rijksmuseum