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The New Rijksmuseum

The New Rijksmuseum

In the first minutes of Oeke Hoogendijk’s engrossing documentary The New Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands’ national museum of art and history in Amsterdam is being gutted for a major renovation. Hoogendijk positions the camera below a construction worker cutting metal with a blowtorch, capturing the sparks raining down onto empty walls, and superimposes images of Dutch Golden Age paintings being wrapped in plastic. This striking juxtaposition signals her intent to chronicle the transformation of both the building and its collection.

The planned five-year, €134 million ($152 million) renovation took twice as long and cost three times as much, with construction delays, public protests, and bureaucratic red tape. Hoogendijk chronicles stubborn determination – the Dutch Cyclists’ Union fights to keep museum passageways open to bicycle traffic, its possessive caretaker monitors the hulking structure every day for a decade – and single-minded devotion: the curator of Asian art treats Japanese temple-guardian statues with spiritual reverence; female conservators restore smug aristocrats in a Cornelis Ketel canvas with quiet, careful touch-ups and vigorous, noisy varnishing. That 1588 painting of guardsmen protecting Amsterdam from Spain is a pithy choice: the Spanish architects behind the renovation are treated like cultural invaders.

Originally a two-part, four-hour documentary, this 131-minute version is lively and incisive, with Hoogendijk utilizing aerial shots, computer-generated images, scale models, and architectural drawings to explore the museum’s metamorphosis. Her elegant portrait of dysfunction details how a massive project became mired in minutiae, and cultural guardians had to rework tradition in order to save it.


Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on June 19, 2015 by First Run Features
First published in LA Weekly, 2015.