“Artists are so bizarre and come from such strange places”: Glenn Ligon interview below

Diary: a flying visit to Amsterdam

Since Amsterdam is most famous for narco-tourism and legal sex work, it is the perfect city to get high on art and get in bed with a famous airline in return for a 24-hour trip there.

KLM had got in touch to publicise a new art history primer which sits quite comfortably on the pages of their website, devoted to the charms of a destination which they call a “cultural giant”.

Fourteen painters are featured here together with a readable introduction to the Golden Age and a gentle canal ride, which brings a Google streetview-like experience to the waterways.

My trip was at a higher pace. I flew one morning from Heathrow and back the following afternoon. My hotel was in the Canal District and my smartphone led me to the museum district.

Trams in Amsterdam are pretty straightforward and many locals will be only too happy to break out their fantastic English language skills and direct you around this manageable city.

But with only three hours until closing time I faced a tough choice, as readers may no doubt imagine: the Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh Museum or the Stedelijk? Each worth a day or more.

But since I had a free ticket to the latter, I went with this modern art space and was thrilled by a pair of exhibitions of Jean Tinguely and Jordan Wolfson. Review of the former to follow soon.

There was too, too much to see at the Stedelijk and their permanent collection is notably well curated, in a series of just-so rooms according to style, or school, or reputation.

Stedelijk has a wealth of paintings by Malevich and, since we are in the land of De Stijl, allows you to draw the obvious comparisons between the Russian painter and Piet Mondrian.

The Netherlands also have a stake in the Abstract Expressionist movement. Also on show at the Stedelijk are some fine De Koonings, one getting lots of attention from a giggling/stoned couple.

Since alcohol is my drug of choice, it was nice to get to the bar in my hotel. But slightly alarming that the bottle I ordered was eight percent proof. To be mopped up with a meal at a nearby cafe.

Checking out early the next day offered the chance for some more culture. On a recommendation from @hindmezaina, my first stop was photo museum Foam. Hiroshi Sugimoto has a show there.

By shooting waxworks of historical personages and dioramas of stuffed animals, Sugimoto plays with photography’s truth claims. And everyone must see his interiors of art deco cinemas.

Perhaps it was a planning failure, but I left the Rijksmuseum until last. My schedule gave me just an hour here. But given the calibre of painting from the Dutch Golden Age, a little goes a long way.

Naturally the Night Watch by Rembrandt was a spectacle. Naturally the Vermeers were luminous. But newish to me was Jan Steen who paints with a Hogarth-like sense of narrative and comedy.

So that’s where my own Amsterdam narrative ends. The trip home was uneventful and the art memories will stay with me. So, thanks KLM. I have no criticismisms of this trip.



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