Thursday, January 2, 2014

The New Rijksmuseum

Could Rembrandt have painted the cast of power brokers in Oeke Hoogendijk’s The New Rijksmuseum Parts I and II which just finished a run at Film Forum? After all Rembrandt's great masterpiece, The Night Watch, with its portrayal of the movers and shakers of his day, is one of the museum's most precious possessions. Could Ortega y Gasset, the author of such essays as The Revolt of the Masses have dealt with strife between democracy and the higher calling of art that the film depicts? After all it’s the Dutch tradition of democracy that delays the implementation of an enlightened esthetic concept. “This kind of process in which nobody wants to take a risk is too Dutch for me,” is just one of the many expressions of exasperation that the film records. “It’s not democracy,” the Spanish architect declares about the Dutch Bicyclists Union which becomes a major opposition force. “It’s the perversion of democracy.” Actually the closest comparison to the tapestry which The New Rijksmuseum paints lies in the work of Ibsen. The movie is a kind of An Enemy of the People in reverse, with an visionary esthete fighting the town’s folk (in this case the town is Amsterdam) for change. The museum’s embattled director, Ronald de Leeuw, is also reminiscent of Ibsen’s Master BuilderSolness, in his Sisyphean struggle. In Part 1, we follow him as deals with a mounting list of extrinsic and intrinsic problems, one of which is a budget of 134,000,000 euros for a project whose initial construction cost is estimated over 100,000,000 euros higher. The museum was originally designed by Pierre Cuyper l895 and anyone who visited the earlier incarnation might simply ask why change an already magnificent structure? Why accommodate and attempt to contextualize twentieth century artworks in a repository for one of the greatest collections of the past?  For those who resist the notion of change the architects and the director are Robert Moses like figures, who are out to get their way, no matter what the material or human costs. The New Rijksmusem is about art and architecture, but it’s a great work of art itself, comprehensive, multivalent in its concerns and full of a memorable cast of characters, including its own watchman whose devotion to the museum and its renovation is one of the most moving aspects of the film. Rent this movie.

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