Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer
By: Jamie Trecker
The calendar says May, the weather says October. Amsterdam, or at least Mother Nature, isn’t exactly welcoming Chelsea and Benfica with open arms. With the rain, and the wind, and the rocking of the houseboat up and down, up and down, I decided to do what people do in Amsterdam in bad weather: go to van Gogh.
The Museumplein is one of the most-visited areas in the entire city. It’s also one of the most controversial. Once a bus terminal with connection to the airport, today it looks like a barren college quad. There’s nothing wrong with that, until you learn that it cost millions upon millions of euros to make this open field. And it’s not even done yet.
The Museumplain is emblematic of Amsterdam’s struggle with public works in general. Amsterdam can be breathtakingly beautiful, particularly along the Golden Bend – but what they have done to some of their public spaces is tragic. A case in point is their contemporary art museum, the Stedelijk, the scene of a series of fiascos during a painfully long redevelopment. The result, an unflattering tack-on derided as “the Bathtub,” has been an architectural laughingstock since it opened.
But there are treasures amid the carnage. The Van Gogh museum, itself recently re-opened after a face-lift, is currently showing an engaging exhibition about how the master worked. It’s a great survey of his process, his contemporary influences and the dizzying end results before his suicide in 1890.
Van Gogh was not a born artist: he barely knew draughtsmanship and struggled to keep up with his colleagues. But he was a hard and ruthless worker, with a mean editorial eye. Van Gogh was also broke – his brother Theo floated him all those years while struggling vainly to sell his works at the gallery he owned – so he frequently re-used canvases. One of the most cunning things about the current exhibition is how the curators have framed his canvases so you can see both sides. On one frame, may sit a study for the “Potato Eaters;” on the other, one of his later, dazzling self-portraits.