Whilst many museums are remaking themselves in the image of Bilbao, the Rijksmuseum, the national museum of The Netherlands, has taken a decidedly different route - investing in its past to cement its future by renovating its century-old museum building rather than building one anew.
After a decade of renovation, the new Rijksmuseum will open its doors on 13 April. When it does the public will be able to enjoy more of the museum’s impressive collection of 8,000 artworks and historical objects, including four Vemeers, twenty Rembrants and a rare white Rietveld chair, and do so in a far better setting.
The centerpiece of the massive €375m project was the restoration of the original museum building, which was designed by Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers in 1885. Spanish architect Cruz y Ortiz and French museum designer Jean Michel Wilmotte restored the building to its former glory, removing many of the 20th century alterations and reinstating its clear plan and ornamental details. The once dark and cluttered building has been dramatically transformed into a bright and spacious ‘cathedral of art' with an impressive new entrance, state of the art facilities and restored galleries.
By providing additional gallery space in a separate building nearby - a new 670m pavilion for Asian art - the main building is relieved of its congestion and given the proper ‘breathing room’ for viewing art. A new 14,500 sq m ‘outdoor museum' in the form of a historic garden that is based on a 1901 Cuypers design, completes the project.
Whilst the renovation project had several fits and starts, mostly due to asbestos findings and a debate about whether to restore cycling access through the building, which delayed the opening and resulted in escalated project costs, the ‘less is more approach' seems to have served the museum well. With its lofty volumes now faithfully restored and flooded in light, its as if the curtains have gone up on Rijksmuseum for the very first time.
Visitors, even those familiar with the venerable museum, will experience it anew.