It was a not a pretty sight. Or thought. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, a five-star museum that is a masouleum of all things Rembrandt (and his co-stars, such as Steen and Vermeer) was closed for almost 10 years. Tourists were livid. Art lovers were concerned. The nation was perplexed. The one question: Why?
The famous museum, a jauting Gothic and Renaissance building designed by Pierre Cuypers, was closed in December 2003 for a makeover. The art colelction was growing. Attendance was growing. The Rijksmuseum simply was running out of space.
And so the ambitious renovation of one of the world’s greatest museums began. From the start the project was in trouble. The museum battled politicians, designers, curators and even the Dutch Cyclists Union as the workers struggled to complete the job. The renovation took five years longer than expected and cost nearly $500 million, tens of millions over its original budget. The grand reopening was April, 2015, but questions were demanding answers. During this renovation, about 400 objects from the collection were on display in the “fragment building”, including the museum’s most famous work, Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch.”
Wim Pijbes, the Rijksmuseum’s director, said the project proved far more complicated than expected. ““The museum is monumental, and this was a complete transformation,” he explains. “Amsterdam is a city of canals, and you cannot dig a hole in the ground without getting wet. It’s also a national museum, and since we’re dealing with the government, things take time.”
According to published reports, the Spanish architects Cruz y Ortiz, who won an architectural competition to renovate the museum, undid years of renovations, restoring Cuypers’ original layout of the galleries, along with ornamental details that had been obliterated over the years. That straightforward design and faithfulness to tradition struck a chord with museum officials.
The museum is the same size as before; the redone Rijksmuseum has a new entrance, an Asian pavilion, an outdoor exhibition space, shops, restaurants, educational facilities and a renovated library.
The most important query concerned “Night Watch.” It still hangs where it always has: At the end of the Gallery of Honor.
“Cuypers designed the entire museum around ‘Night Watch,’ and we wanted to respect that,” says a Rijksmuseum rep. “It’s still the place the public can see it best.”
Cannot afford a trip to Amsterdam? Opt for filmmaker Oeke Hoogendijk’s“The New Rijksmuseum” (First Run Features). The epic documentary captures the entire story from design to completion, offering a fly on the wall view of one of the most challenging museum construction projects ever conceived. With its decade-long scope, the film reveals a surprisingly dramatic story that art and architecture lovers will not want to miss.