Amsterdam | The Big Picture

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Artmag recently spent a few days in Amsterdam to catch up on the city’s ever-evolving art scene.

Holland boasts the most art activity per capita than any other country in the world. In Amsterdam, it is estimated that museum visitors have doubled in the last ten years. The city puts substantial resources into marketing itself as an art capital, and Deputy Mayor Carolien Gehrels recently told a group of visiting journalists: “It’s an investment not only in visitors, but also in the quality of life. You don’t have to concentrate on the cost, but on the benefits. We all totally agree that Amsterdam floats on arts and culture.”

SPIEGELKWARTIER The Spiegelkwartier (Mirror Quarter, named after a former mayor of Amsterdam) is the city’s ‘gallery alley’, with some 70 galleries and antique dealers located around the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat and Spiegelgracht. The area lies just across the Museumbrug (Museum Bridge) leading from the Rijksmuseum, with which it has a connection dating back to 1913, when the museum acquired its first object from a local antique dealer and continues to do so today. Several antiques dealers feature on the Dutch version of The Antiques Road Show.

You’ll find a vast range of art and artefacts here, from archaeological finds, furniture, ceramics, oriental art and Art Deco jewellery to contemporary art, antique clocks, sculpture, paintings and Dutch Old Masters.

Huis Marseille
Huis Marseille

If Chagall’s your man, head for the Chagall-Gallery Wuyt. An unassuming little gallery a few steps down off the Spiegelgracht (Mirror Canal), with over 1,000 works it is one of the world’s biggest dealers of officially registered and described works by Marc Chagall. You can leaf through catalogues with descriptions of the artist’s entire output, and each purchase comes with a certificate of authenticity based on extensive research into every image. (Over 90 per cent of his work was neither signed nor numbered, so fakes are in abundance.) Should your purchase later turn out to be a fake, they’ll give you double your money back.

At the other end of the Spiegelgracht Euro Makers has a beautiful range of quality craft items displayed in a relaxing, light-filled space and including ceramics, glass, textiles and some paintings by established and emerging makers from all over Europe.

We also enjoyed Jaski Art Gallery , which featured a dazzling exhibition of taxidermy art by Les Seux Garcons, Kunsthandel Peter Pappot , specialists in Dutch, French and Belgian art with an impressive collection of Kees van Dongen works and rare photos of John and Yoko during their American Hilton bed-in, and Smelik & Stokking Galleries , where the emphasis was on sculpture in a variety of materials.

JORDAAN There are a number of contemporary galleries in and around the trendy Jordaan District.

Promoting new trends and talents in Dutch and international art, the Annet Gelink Gallery has no one set media focus, although it is often noted for top quality photography. As well as the main exhibition floor, there is a downstairs gallery, The Bakery, dedicated to first- time presentations by emerging artists. The gallery owner visits all the Dutch academy shows to find new talent, starting them with a small show and gradually developing their career. They also have a regular presence at international art fairs, such as The Armory Show in New York and Frieze in London.

Owners Esther Koch and Hans Bos of KochXBos share a fascination for the surreal and avant garde reflected in their exhibitions which have included carnivalesque, ink and acrylic creatures by Toulouse-born painter Ciou the first solo show in the Netherlands by England’s Sarah Maple (once hailed as the “heir to Emin”), which featured her provocative Cock photo series, in which she held various phallic objects to her groin, and her self-portrait as a Muslim woman cradling a piglet.

Eelco Brand, ‘O.Digi’, 2013, pigmented print, 100x100cm (Torch Gallery)


Photography enthusiasts can find two outstanding, but quite different, museums within a short walk of each other

In a remarkable early 19th century building topped with a cupola on the elegant Keizersgracht (Emperor’s Canal), the Foam Photography Museum has four exhibition spaces dedicated to the still and moving image. The ground floor gallery has intimate seating areas, where visitors can quietly appreciate large projections of images from Foam magazine. There is also a restaurant, a bookshop and a retail store specialising in design-led merchandise. It’s worth taking the trip to the attic to see the wooden scale model of the building.

Occupying two connecting houses further along the Keizersgracht, including a former merchant’s house built from his new-found wealth and named after the city which helped him attain it, Huis Marseille was Holland’s first photography museum. Exhibitions in its fourteen galleries change every three months, since images cannot be in sunlight for longer.

Founded in 1984 as a platform for photography, Torch Gallery has developed into one of the defining galleries of contemporary art in the Netherlands. Exhibition themes have ranged from gardening to fake perfumes to sexual education, often evoking controversy and always flirting with ideas of kitsch and camp to question the definition of good taste.


Located in a cavernous former warehouse of the nearby Bijenkorf (Beehive) department store, W139 is an artist-run space transformed by invited international and national artists creating site-specific artworks. Risk-taking and experimentation are actively encouraged and in between exhibitions you can usually wander in and watch artists create work for forthcoming shows – and maybe catch a rising star. W139 is on Warmoesstraat, one of the city’s oldest arteries through the Red Light District, making for a heady mix of sex, drugs and art.

The large neon F*** sign hanging just inside the door immediately dispels any notion of Walls Gallery being a stuffy gallery. Says the gallery’s Sandor Dekker: “We don’t want to be a gallery, we want to be an art house. Most galleries are too quiet, and you feel you have to buy something. We try to get rid of all that. We pretend it’s our own house.” As well as representing its own ten artists, mostly young talents from the Netherlands and abroad specialising in pop art and surrealism, the gallery rents wall space to invited artists  – hence the name – and charges no commission on sales. The artwork changes every six weeks and the gallery also swaps artists with galleries in other countries.

RIJKSMUSEUM One of the world’s great national treasure-troves, the Rijksmuseum reopened in April 2013 after a ten-year restoration resulting in a magnificent building incorporating its 19th century grandeur into a modern makeover, with 80 restored halls housing 8,000 items detailing 800 years of Dutch art and history. One of Amsterdam’s ‘big four’ museums along with the Van Gogh, Stedelikj and Hermitage museums, it is worth a whole day if you have the time. Fine art lovers should head for the second floor to see its renowned collection of 17th century Dutch masters, including Rembrandt and Vermeer and a host lesser known contemporaries. The stands-back-in-amazement moment comes when you enter the magnificent Gallery of Honour and look along a wide avenue lined with display alcoves to the other end, where Rembrandt’s giant painting ‘The Night Watch’, the museum’s centerpiece artwork, lords it over the crowd constantly clustered in front of it.

Visitors admire Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ at the Rijksmuseum


Situated in and around the Spiegelkwartier, the Amsterdam Trail features work by contemporary artists exhibited among statues, masks, ritual objects and jewellery in galleries and antique dealers specialising in ethnographic and Asiatic art.

The magnificent Oude Kerk (Old Church), scene of Rembrandt’s marriage and resting place of his wife Saskia hosts annual showcase Salon, an annual exhibition of conceptual and experimental art.

Now in its tenth year, Art in Red Light is part of a movement to change the atmosphere and spirit of the Red Light district. This year’s fair takes place in the monumental Beurs van Berlage, a former commodities exchange.

International contemporary art is the focus of Amsterdam Art Weekend, a multi-venue event which highlights the role the city’s galleries play in developing the careers of emerging artists.

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