Wow. What a city! I only got to spend two days in Amsterdam, but I did as much as I could while I was there. Right out of the train station I was met with an incredible view of the canals and buildings of Amsterdam. I stayed right along one of the canals and was within walking distance of everywhere I wanted to go.
My first stop (of course) was the world renowned Rijksmuseum, though on the way I ran into a good Dutch friend of mine. Maybe you’ve heard of him
Statue of Rembrandt
This statue sits in Rembrandt Square and is modeled after his painting, the Nightwatch, which resides in the Rijksmuseum.
The Nightwatch by Rembrandt
The painting is enormous. The figures are life size, yet they tower above you. I stood in front of that painting for a long time admiring the precise detail and various textures among the different clothes and objects in the painting. The play of light in the painting, which Rembrandt is especially known for, is very unique, and plays an important role in the painting. You’ll notice that two figures are illuminated: the girl at left-center and the man to the right. These bright figures frame the central figure, the general, who gives orders to the rest of the militiamen. Though there had been many previous paintings of groups of soldiers, Rembrandt was the first to create such a dynamic and active painting in honor of the guards of the city.
Though the Nightwatch is not a great example, Rembrandt was also one of the first painters to paint texturally. When you look at his paintings, you can see globs of paint that he built up on the painting. God I wish I could touch it!
Detail of a Rembrandt
After the Rijksmuseum, I meet up with some friends and wandered around the streets and canals to enjoy Amsterdam’s famous nightlife.
My second day of Amsterdam included the Van Gogh Museum, which I was most looking forward to, and the Stedelijk Museum, which houses modern art.
One of Van Gogh’s many self portraits
I wondered how many actual van Gogh paintings the museum would have because there are so many throughout the world. Answer: a lot. And they are all amazing. You get to see his progression from muddled landscape painter to an artist who depicts all the highs and lows of the human condition. The museum also does a great job of incorporating the work of other artists, who both inspired and were inspired by van Gogh.
A work by Jan Fabre in response to letters from van Gogh to his brother Theo.
A Crab on Its Back, 1888
My favorite paintings in the museum were the ones above and below this silly writing. The pictures I have here do not do them justice. The colors in the crab and in the background are unlike anything I have ever seen before. Even after over a hundred years, the colors are electric. The subject itself is all too similar to the struggle of the artist, the struggle that van Gogh dealt with all his life. On the other hand, his painting Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette is hilarious. I love this painting. Its so goofy. I have no idea how Van Gogh thought to do this, but through this painting, he was able to bring the dead back to life.
Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette, 1885-1886
A Richard Serra sculpture between the museums
After the Van Gogh Museum, I went to the Stedelijk Museum nearby to see more contemporary work. The museum ranged from post-Impressionism all the way to performance art and work from the 21st century. My highlights were Max Beckman, whose paintings I thoroughly enjoy, Martin Kippenburger, whose work I had never seen in person before, and Roy Lichtenenstein. He paints comics, its great! The museum also had a special exhibition on Zero, a group of mostly German avant-garde artists who worked in the 50’s and 60’s.
Max Beckman Self Portrait with his Wife
Three Buildings with Slits by Martin Kippenberger (1 of 3)
The museum also had a special exhibition on ZERO, a group of mostly German avant-garde artists who worked in the 50’s and 60’s. There was much sculptural and minimalist work with a conceptual spin. Below, the artist fuses a TV and a stool into one worthless object via a fuckton of nails.
TV with Nails, Gunther Uecker, 1963
I got to see a retrospective on ZERO at the Guggenheim last year, where I was introduced to Yves Klein. He was a brilliant painter, sculptor, and artist in general. I was most amazed at his fire paintings, where he basically used a flamethrower to burn canvasses, which he presented as paintings. A video of this process was included in the show, and it was badass. Below is one of Klein’s blue paintings. He became famous for these paintings, which usually only included this same hue of blue and sponges, painted blue. In fact, the specific hue has been named International Klein Blue.
One of Yves Klein Blue Paintings with sponges
After the Stedelijk Museum, I took a quick rest at my hostel, then wandered into the hazy streets of Amsterdam and made some friends. Though I saw what I wanted to see, there is still so much for to do and see in that incredible city. Amsterdam, one day I will come back to you, and once again we will celebrate the grand mystery of life in a way that only you can provide, you crazy sonuvabitch.
And tomorrow (and by tomorrow I mean in five hours) I’m off to Budapest!