Making art about the experience

This museum in the heart of Rotterdam is more than just a gallery – it is an interactive experience where you have no choice but to think about the art.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

I stare at the collection of hangars and ropes with confusion. This is supposedly the coat rack for the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam but I can’t seem to work it out.

It’s not until one of the museum staff comes over and explains it that it starts to make a bit of sense.

You need to pull on a rope in the central area to make a hangar somewhere else come down. Once you’ve put your coat on, you can pull it back up with the rope and then lock it into place, your coat dangling metres above the ground.

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

If it sounds unnecessarily complicated, it is. But that’s intentional. This isn’t an ordinary museum and the idea is to get you thinking and interacting before you’ve even walked through to the main galleries.

The collection of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen first started in 1849, which makes it one of the oldest museums in The Netherlands. It’s been housed in its current building since 1935, which has been extended several times in the intervening decades.

But age is something that has enlivened the space, rather than burdened it. The museum shows how everyday objects have changed over the past eight hundred years and this gives it a dynamic contemporary feel.

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

This is one of the most interesting museums and art galleries I have ever been to. As a visitor, you engage with the space and are constantly surprised and amused.

Modern art is melded with old classics and there’s a fluid feel to the experience of exploring the exhibits.

To give you a better idea of what I mean, I thought it would be easiest if I share some examples of what the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen offers.

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Let Your Hair Down (Pipilotti Rist, 2009)

The museum is designed so you can go to this artwork first. It’s a huge net suspended over a staircase and you can lie there with pillows and watch videos projected onto the wall.

This idea is that you float in the air, relax, forget the world outside and prepare your brain for the rest of the exhibitions.

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Infinity Mirror Room (Yayoi Kusama, 1965)

You become part of the artwork inside this small mirrored room because your body leads out in perpetuity and becomes part of the distant landscape. It was made by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama in 1965 and was part of her obsession with dots and phalluses.

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Red Landscape (Tanja Smeets, 2013)
Black Sun (Tanja Smeets, 2013)

These two works by Tanja Smeets are part of an installation that is on temporary display at the museum. She combines everyday objects with ceramics to produce an organic-looking effect. The works are supposed to look like the objects are growing and infiltrating their environment.

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Flames Maquiladora (Carlos Amorales, 2003)

This interactive installation by a Mexican artist is inspired by factories established in Mexico to take advantage of cheap labour. You can actually have a go at making these shoes yourself. There’s a twist, though. If you do that then you are becoming cheap labour for the artwork itself.

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Crying boy on box

I have failed you here, I’m sorry, because I didn’t write down the name of this artwork and I can’t find it online anywhere. If you know, please drop me a note, because it was a great piece. It sits at the top of a set of stairs on the way to some old paintings and for quite a few seconds I though the child was real. It’s extremely lifelike and really draws you in.

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

The Tower of Babel (Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1570)

This is probably the most famous painting at the museum and was donated in 1958. It shows the biblical Tower of Babel being constructed and if you look closely there are more than a thousand little people doing different activities. It’s also one of the most valuable works at the museum, estimated to be worth about 80 million euros.

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Untitled (Maurizio Cattelan, 2002)

The museum commissioned Maurizio Cattelan to produce this work and he shocked them with his suggestion to cut a hole in the floor – but they agreed. It’s a self portrait that is supposed to show the relationship between the artworks and those looking at them.

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Baroque Egg with Bow (Jeff Koons, 1994-2008)

This enormous egg weighs 900 kilograms and is about the size of a single bed. It is suppose to represent birth and fertility, which are common in the artist’s work. It took Jeff Koons 14 years to make a total of ten eggs and it’s said that he almost went bankrupt during the process.

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN ROTTERDAM

As you would expect in Rotterdam, there are some very cool and interesting accommodation options in the city.

BACKPACKER

For one of the best backpacker options in the whole country, check out King Kong Hostel.

BUDGET

Hotel Bazar has some really funky rooms and with the huge breakfast, it’s great value.

BOUTIQUE

For a bit of history, you can stay in the beautifully-designed Hotel New York.

LUXURY

And I think the best modern luxury in the city is the stunning Mainport Design Hotel on the water.

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Rotterdam Marketing but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

13 thoughts on “Making art about the experience”

  1. Such an amazing museum, I love the architecture and the infinity mirror room looks cool. This is the kind of place we’d go straight away, always looking for interesting art & architecture.
    Great post, thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  2. I’m not much of a museum person, but I do like interactive museums. This looks like a museum I’d enjoy. Incredible how lifelike that boy on the box looks!

    Reply
  3. Great post you have here travel turtle! I love those hanger for coats and I like that something like a man standing in front of the building. Thank you for sharing this one, good job!

    Reply

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