After having been closed for seven months due to a thorough renovation the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, will finally re-open again Saturday 1 February. The first speculations about the reasons of the renovation were naturally the art theft that can possibly be considered as one of the largest of the century, and at least of the last couple of years.
The Kunsthal Theft
To refresh your memory a bit: during the night of 15 to 16 October 2012 seven valuable artworks of the artists Picasso, Gauguin, Matisse, Monet, Freud and Meijer de Haan were stolen from the Kunsthal. News that went all over the world and that followed by a search after what everyone initially thought would be highly professional art robbers. Nothing could be farther from the truth, according to the story that followed.
The seven art works stolen belonged to the Triton collection, the art collection of Willem Cordia and his wife, which is estimated to be one of the two hundred largest in the world. Although news channels worldwide initially mentioned values of up to hundreds of millions of dollars, it quickly appeared that the objects stolen had an insured value of ‘only’ 18,1 millions euros (24,5 million USD). The collection consisting of 250 art works of over 170 different artists all combined gave a good representation of the art of the 20th century, but now the theft obviously created a big gap in it.
The news of the robbery spread immediately all over the world, and where some were trying to find the suspects, others started questioning how this robbery could have taken place at all and fingers were quickly pointed at the Kunsthal and its security measures.
The Kunsthal, designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas in the early nineties, consists of 5 different halls spread over 3.300 m2, an enormous space, that was secured by cameras and alarms. The weak spot in the whole building was, however, the fire door, something the burglars must have discovered when visiting the museum various times in preparation for the theft.
At the time of the crime it was through this door that the seven paintings disappeared, most likely forever. According to the accounts of the mother of one of the thieves, who were found after a lengthy search, she set fire to them trying to erase the crimes her son had committed. Until now it is still vague if all paintings went up in flames, or ‘just’ some of them.
From the whole story as it is known now and has been set out before the courts, it was clear that the thieves and their families had hardly any knowledge of the art world, and that they stole the works in an attempt to get rich quickly without pre-investigating the art market itself. Would they have done that, the thieves would probably have sought another target, as they would have realised that stolen artworks are being registered in the international databank Art Loss Register immediately, which makes selling them much more difficult.
The new Kunsthal opens
Although the theft was not the reason for the renovation, it did speed up the the plans for it, and eight months after the incident took place, the Kunsthal closed its doors temporarily for renovation. This has now been finished after a good 7 months and Saturday 1 February the re-opening will be celebrated with a big party with music, performances, drinks and of course several new exhibitions, as from 2 pm onward until 7 pm. A party worth it, we’d like to say, as the Kunsthal is in our opinion one of Rotterdam’s most valued museums due to its size, the artists the museum manages to exhibit and not to forget the accessibility of the exhibitions.
So what has changed in the Kunsthal? Apart from security improvements made, the technical installations have been renewed too. The building has been insulated and decorated better, among other reasons to save on energy. Further, the main entrance has been shifted to the side of the museum that looks over the Museumpark – where you’ll find other popular museums like the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, the NAI (Nederlands Architectuurinstituut), the Chabot Museum, the Natuurhistorisch Museum Rotterdam and Villa Sonneveld – and you’ll now enter the museum via the broad entrance where the cafe and the gift shop are located.
The Opening Exhibitions
The first exhibitions in the renovated Kunsthal are an interesting mix of different artists, types of art and topics that seems to cater for a broad audience. You can see everything from shoes to war objects, and on to design:
S.H.O.E.S. About High Heals And Real Love (01.02.2014-11.05.2014)
The exhibition S.H.O.E.S. (Sexy Shoes Or Easy Sandals) is organised together with the general public during the project ‘Maak Mee’ (Make Together), in which 5,900 people took part. As a first step the public got to vote on the topic for this exhibition online. Out of the three different themes ‘dinosaurs, shoes and Victor Vasarely’ the most votes went to ‘shoes’ and thus, this was chosen as the theme of one of the first exhibitions in the renewed museum. The involvement of the public didn’t end here though, everyone was asked to answer questions how to put together the exhibition and thereby the audience had an actual involvement in the exhibition. The result is an interactive show with among others a display of different designer shoes, especially high-heeled ones, of for example Christian Louboutin and Vivienne Westwood, but also of local designers.
The Second World War in 100 Objects (05.02.2014-05.05.2014)
This week people were alerted by a tank in the Museumpark, which appeared to be one of 100 war objects that make part of the exhibition ‘The Second World War in 100 Objects‘, which is organised together with 25 war and resistance museums from all over The Netherlands. The objects go together with touching personal stories and will take you back into the time of the Second World War. The exhibition will be opened by King Willem-Alexander on the 4th of February.
Marimekko – Design For A Happy Life (01.02.2014-11.05.2014)
This retrospective of the Finnish design brand Marimekko is organised together with the Design Museum Helsinki. As from its start in 1951 the Marimekko company aims to improve the quality of life by design and fashion and through the years it has grown into one of the icons of Finnish design, with concept stores around the world. During the exhibition of the brand, that is both modern and traditional, both sober and bold, you’ll meet a world of contrasts. You can also go shortly back into time with among others Jackie Kennedy’s pink dress.
Forever Young – Martijn Van De Griendt (01.02.2014-11.05.2014)
Photographer Martijn Van de Griendt has documented the youth culture around the world for over 15 years. This exhibition shows an overview of his powerful work. Most remarkable is how open these youngsters were with him about their identity struggles and lifes and their willingness to pose.
We’re quite excited to visit the Kunsthal next week and will share our experience with you as soon as we’ve been there. Let us know, what do you think of the renewed Kunsthal, the Kunsthal itself, or its approach? Do you like it, do you hate it? We’d love to hear your opinion.
The Kunsthal (address: Museumpark, Westzeedijk 341, Rotterdam) is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5 pm. On Sunday and public holidays the museum is open from 11am to 5pm. For further details please visit the website of the Kunsthal here.