Rotterdam: dam fine

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

When it comes to art and culture, the Dutch city of Rotterdam easily rivals Amsterdam writes Anthony Lydekker. Read his report on Rotterdam – home to the world’s largest port – here

Rotterdam is the fourth largest port in the world and by far the largest in Europe. The rather seedy nightlife around the port has long since gone and today the city gets mentions in Budget airline ads as a very hip place and is featured for clubs and music in magazines and online sites aimed at the 18-30s. This contrasts with the same sources hailing Amsterdam and Bruges for art and culture. So it can appear that the ABC of culture in Holland gets no further than B – when in fact Rotterdam has got two of the best galleries in the world, with three excellent shows currently on. Of course , there is another R in this particular ABC: Amsterdam’s Rikjsmuseum which reopens in April 2013, following major refurbishment.

Van Gogh with les Avantes-Gardes


The road to Van Eyck

This exhibition at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen – known as the Boijmans – has 80 masterpieces by important Dutch, Flemish, French and German artists from the 15th century due to their probable influence on JanVan Eyck. There are three special things about this show. First and foremost are the pieces by Van Eyck whom, one learns, was an originator of the type of oil paint that has lasted for generations and that the backs of the wood panels (canvas came later) are often decorated as well. And one can see close up the very fine detail he used in all his work (shown here). The second special attribute of the exhibition is the ‘story’  itself which is shown in full in the sumptuous 330 page accompanying book which records the ‘influencing’ panels, statues, drawings and illuminated manuscripts – all part of the exhibition. And, third, there’s the tenacity of the curating team and the gallery director to borrow the largest assembly of Van Eycks and related schools from galleries and owners throughout the world. Many pieces have never travelled before and, due to age and fragility, will not be moved after return to their homes. A year ago the money ran out and the show has only appeared after a major fundraising campaign and appeal to secure enough individual pledges of €1,000.

Van Eyck detailed the tiniest leaf

We had the pleasure of a presentation and tour with the director and the curators on the eve of opening. Morale was high and at moments I had the feeling of being with a winning sports team who had netted a few goals, rather than the scholarly demean that goes with art historiography! Do try and see this exhibition. www.boijmans.nl/en

The Kunsthal Museum and Maillot Retrospective
The Kunsthal , a short walk away, was launched exactly 20 years ago and since then has had over 500 shows. Called ‘a museum’ , it’s actually more a very go ahead gallery. As well as the Maillot it currently has Avant-Gardes (see below).

Aristide Maillot was a contemporary of Rodin but developed his own classical Greek ‘monumental’ style rather than going the Expressionist route of which Rodin set a trend.

Monumental Maillol Figure

There are 16 pieces at the Kunsthal and some of the figures (of ample models) are eight foot high. Maillot came from Banyuls in the Languedoc and some of his paintings, also on show at the Kunshal, are similar to style of artists in neighbouring Collioure.

Avantes-Gardes, also at the Kunsthal
On loan from the Triton Collection, this is a selection of 150 pieces covering almost every aspect of modern art featuring artists defined, by the Kunsthal curators, as being in the ‘vanguard’ of each movement. The exhibition works extremely well because all the pieces are grouped into 12 general subjects or styles: for example water, use of fabric, children, war – and so on, rather than genre or school. One group combines, among others, Andy Warhol, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Klee and Marc Quinn (born London 1964). As a generalist, rather than an art correspondent or critic – part of the enjoyment of this exhibition was to look at the caption boards with artist’s name after the images. But rest assured all the detail is available online and in the printed catalogue such as the information compressed in just the one sentence: “……. lesser known movements such as Les Nabis, which included Pierre Bonnard, and the Russian constructivists Wassily Kandinsky and El Lissitsky.” And so on, see: www.kunsthal.nl/en

Baudouin de Lannoy portrait 1435


And when the galleries close?

Rotterdam (population 600,000) is easy to get around with trams and an underground and, of course, bicycles. The €14 Welcome Card covers all travel for 24 hours and has numerous vouchers mainly for 25 per cent off for all the museums and many attractions, restaurants and some clubs, valid for 12 months. The city really caters for the young, Erasmus University has 14,000 students, and one can get simple meals with a beer for under €10. The Welcome Card booklet has very clear directions, with many locations linked to a tram stop. As with most of Europe across the Channel, taxis are much cheaper than London. A few recommended spots are: De Unie a Centre for concerts, debates, jazz and very reasonable food and drink (www.deunie.nu), the Bazar, for music drinks food all in a completely over the top Arabian nights setting (www.hotelbazar.nl), and the outstanding seafood restaurant, Las Palmas, run by a TV chef Herman den Blijker (Wilhelminakade 330, tel: 010 2345122).

Bazar restaurant reception

Some visitors come to Rotterdam just for the shopping. There are mainstream designer shops and many quirky boutiques. Several are in Witte de Withstraat opposite the Bazar including Marlies Dekker’s flagship store. To see a complete tour paste in this link: www.bit.ly/VQUQGT

Herman den Blijker, TV Chef 2012

The next big show at the Kunsthal is devoted to the fashion world of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the sidewalk to the catwalk. Multimedia installations, loans from Madonna among many others all covering 35 years of Gaultier’s work are promised. It opens in mid February and I hope to be there.

Need to know
There are regular EasyJet flights from Luton to Amsterdam; from there trains take 27 minutes to reach Rotterdam. There eight flights a day to Rotterdam from City Airport, with City Jet.

Comprehensive information is on the Tourist Board sites: www.artsholland.com and www.rotterdam.info

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