When you think Dutch art, you probably picture Van Gogh, Rembrandt and other old masters whose work graces the walls of museums in Amsterdam and beyond. But the Netherlands also has a rich variety of bold and compelling contemporary art found in museums across its 12 provinces. I’ve chosen a few to whet your palette, so to speak, but this is but a small sampling of the possibilities.
In the Netherlands, 4 contemporary art museums go beyond the Old Masters
I’ve started the list in Amsterdam, at the Stedelijk Museum. Although it is the country’s best-known source of contemporary and cutting-edge art, it is still overshadowed by its super-famous neighbors. Then we move south to Rotterdam, an industrial-leaning city more known for its architecture than its art. The choice here, Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen, combines the two in groundbreaking, breathtaking ways. Moving toward The Hague, the newest destination on the list is Museum Voorlinden, a testament to how a private collector can create a public destination. Finally, we go down to Tilburg, about 90 minutes south of Amsterdam, in the province of North Brabant, where the TextielMuseum lovingly honors its industrial past while looking far into the future at the adjacent TextielLab.
Although the Stedelijk is the Netherlands’ most important museum for modern and contemporary art, it’s overshadowed by its more famous neighbors on Museum Square. At the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, you’ll almost always find lines of people waiting to get in. Not so here. Even its name, which translates to “municipal museum,” downplays the Stedelijk’s significance.
But if you step into “the bathtub,” so nicknamed for its oblong addition protruding over the square, which was added to the original 1895 building a decade ago, you’ll find an intoxicating mix of modern masterpieces and experimental work.
A current series, “POST/NO/BILLS,” blends history and graphic design around the museum’s historic staircase and in the arches of the corridor. The current show in the series is “Sophie Douala — Follow the Black Rabbit” (through Dec. 31). Douala, born in Cameroon, raised in France and living in Berlin, creates trippy, colorful designs punctuated with somber, self-reflective videos that use current events as the backdrop.
The Stedelijk’s permanent-collection display contains about 500 art and design objects dating from 1870 to the present, shown in three categories. (The full permanent collection includes around 100,000 items.) The museum also was an early supporter of the Dutch design duo Drift and recently acquired more of its lighting and material installations.
Coming up, “Anne Imhof — YOUTH” (Oct. 1-Jan. 29) features the German visual and performance artist, who will place a sound-and-light installation in the Stedelijk’s nearly 12,000-square-foot lower-level gallery. “Bad Color Combos” (Oct. 22-March 5) is an overview of the recent work of French-Moroccan artist Yto Barrada, including her film, textiles, photography and sculptures.
Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen
Billed as the world’s first publicly accessible art depot, a.k.a. storage space, this recently opened architectural stunner in Rotterdam holds some 151,000 objects from the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, located next door. The museum, which opened in 1849, is closed for renovation until at least 2029.
Before you get a peek at the vast holdings inside, outside you’ll see your surroundings and the skyline reflected in the curved building’s mirrored facade, perfect for selfies.
In the building’s atrium, you can gaze up through glass at the depot’s six stories, accessible by stairs and a clear elevator. Although not all the art here is contemporary, the overall look certainly is, as are many of the pieces highlighted. Most artwork is stored in rooms with huge windows, which you can enter with a guide. Other work is cleverly displayed in glass cases positioned at eye-catching angles. You feel as if you’re in a monsoon of art and design objects coming at you from all directions. It’s overwhelming in the best of ways.
On the free guided tours, you can go into a storage area to see works hung on racks or stored on pallets, in cases or on shelves. Some are exhibited often, while others are rarely seen. During the workweek, you can also see art conservators laboring behind windows, and you can sometimes get the opportunity to ask about their projects.
Once you’ve absorbed as much art as you can, check out the lovely tree-lined rooftop and its restaurant, where you’ll be treated to a panorama of Rotterdam.
Pick a warm, sunny day to visit this private museum and gardens in Wassenaar, just northeast of The Hague, where nature, art and architecture harmonize.
The museum, which opened in 2016, was founded by Dutch art collector and industrialist Joop van Caldenborgh. Housed in a 100-acre nature reserve, it features a private permanent collection and rotating temporary exhibits with a backdrop both old and new. The grounds include walking paths, gardens, sculptures and a 20th-century country mansion, where the restaurant and terrace are located.
The elongated museum building is designed to pull in light from every corner. The 20 galleries are lit by natural daylight, while a roof made of glass incorporates indirect LED lighting.
Several of the favorite permanent works here are huge and beg for interaction.
“Swimming Pool,” designed by Argentine conceptual artist Leandro Erlich for the Voorlinden, makes a splash with its optical trickery. As visitors look down into the pool, they see other visitors — clothed and dry — walking on its floor. (The “swimmers” enter on a lower level of the museum.) It’s the people that make this experience so fun.
Continuing the holiday theme is “Couple Under an Umbrella,” one of Australian sculptor Ron Mueck’s oversize, hyperrealistic human figures. An older shirtless man in swimming trunks lies under a beach umbrella, with his head in his wife’s lap. They’re designed with uncanny precision, down to the wrinkles and hair.
On a more meditative note, American artist Richard Serra’s “Open Ended” is a huge work of six vaulted steel plates molded together to form a maze. A walk through it is both mysterious and calming.
Along with works from the permanent collection, current and upcoming exhibits include “GROUND,” a major retrospective from British sculptor Antony Gormley (through Sept. 25), and a retrospective from Italian artist Giuseppe Penone (Oct. 8-Jan. 29).
TextielMuseum and TextielLab
If a textile museum conjures clanking wooden looms, huge spools of cotton thread and elementary school field trips, you wouldn’t be totally wrong. But nowadays, this dynamic destination in Tilburg brings together textile design, art, fashion and innovation, with heritage at its core.
The building itself blends past and present. The museum is located in an old textile factory that was built in the 1860s by a woolen fabric manufacturer. The last addition, in 2008, extended the main building with a striking glass-covered entrance area. Another redevelopment is planned for the coming decade.
The future hums in the textile lab, located inside the museum. Here fabric innovations are born through collaborations with staff and a host of Dutch and international designers. In fact, there’s a good chance that anything you see made by a Dutch designer that includes a clever use of textiles was executed here. Visitors can walk through much of the workspace, where staff members are on hand to demonstrate and explain the weaving, knitting, lasering, tufting and embroidery techniques employed today.
The museum also explores the industry’s past, especially in the permanent display “Woollen Blanket Factory 1900-1940.” The exhibit re-creates activities in a textile factory from 1900 to 1940, including spinning and weaving looms driven by a steam engine built in 1906.
Temporary exhibits often focus on sustainability and research. “To Dye For” (through Nov. 13) explores the world of textile dyeing, from its origins to current practices, as well as its effects on people and the environment. “Secrets of making #2 — Artists and designers in the TextielLab” (through June 4) is a behind-the-scenes look at the creative processes of 10 makers who recently worked in the lab.
The museum also has a colorful cafe and a beautiful shop, where many of the textiles designed and made in the TextielLab are for sale.
Daniel is a writer based in the Netherlands and Florida. Her website is bydianedaniel.com.
A previous version of this article and a photo caption incorrectly said the Stedelijk Museum’s permanent collection contains about 500 items. In fact, about 500 items from the permanent collection are on display; its full collection contains about 100,000 items. The story and caption have been corrected.
What to do
TextielMuseum and TextielLab
Goirkestraat 96, Tilburg
Open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. About $12.50 for adults, about $4 ages 13-18, and 12 and younger free.
Buurtweg 90, Wassenaar
Open daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. About $19.50 for adults, about $8.50 ages 13-18, and 12 and younger free.
Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen
Museumpark 24, Rotterdam
Open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. About $20; 18 and younger free.
Museumplein 10, Amsterdam
Open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. About $20; 18 and younger free.
Potential travelers should take local and national public health directives regarding the pandemic into consideration before planning any trips. Travel health notice information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC’s travel health notice webpage.