Pretty Vacant

Rietveld Landscape's Pretty Vacant
You’ve got to love an art installation that calls to mind both the Sex Pistols and medieval architecture. The installation titled Pretty Vacant, by Amsterdam-based Rietveld Landscape, was in one of the chapels at the Centraal Museum. However, because I am woefully behind on this blog post, the exhibit is no longer there. I won’t tell you how far behind I am on it. I am the queen of procrastination.

The blue foam is actually the remnants from another work that the group did for the 2010 Venice architecture bienale. That was an exploration of the amount of available space within the Netherlands. With the Pretty Vacant installation, the way it is placed within the chapel, it becomes self-referential to the medieval windows within the chapel, with the shapes calling to mind stained glass patterns.The city shapes combine to both obscure the view, as well as create a new, alternative view of the Dutch landscape.

The structure makes use of both positive and negative space to block light and filter it, creating an atmospheric setting within the former chapel. The chapel itself is divided into two levels. The installation begins on the second level and rises to the top, however it can also be viewed towering over anyone standing below on the lower level.
Rietveld Landscape's Pretty Vacant
Rietveld Landscape's Pretty Vacant
I saw it from different levels on different visits. The first visit was when I saw it from the ground level. Around a year later, I saw it again from the upper level. The ground level is almost overwhelming with the height and solidity of the wall of blue. On the upper level, I found it more peaceful and contemplative, particularly with the light coming through the chapel’s side windows. The upper level was vacant except for the blue foam, allowing visitors to sit or stand and contemplate the piece with out any other real distractions. I’m glad I managed to stumble across that level and experience the work for myself.
Rietveld Landscape's Pretty Vacant
Rietveld Landscape's Pretty Vacant
Rietveld Landscape's Pretty Vacant
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Utrecht’s Convent Girls

Catharijneconvent Museum
The other week, as part of the national Museum Weekend, we finally went to visit the Museum Catharijneconvent. From the museum’s website: “Originally built in the 16th century as a monastery for members of the Order of the Knights of St. John, it was named after Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The monastery’s infirmary eventually became Utrecht’s first teaching hospital while the Catharijneconvent was subsequently used for a wide variety of purposes.” It wasn’t until 1979 that it eventually became a museum, officially opened by Queen Juliana. The museum contains historical and art-historical exhibits, with pieces ranging from reliquaries to clothing to works of art dating from the medieval period to contemporary art. In fact, some of the contemporary pieces were quite impressive on their own.


I didn’t take photos inside, so all I’ve got are photos of the various parts of the interior of the convent grounds, which are quite beautiful and interesting on their own. If you enjoy religious art and can read Dutch, the actual museum is worth a visit. The information that goes with each piece is only in Dutch, so keep that in mind. If you’re interested from an art-historical perspective, rather than a purely religious perspective, it may seem to lack detail and information on the artistic aspect of the pieces. The information given tends to be specifically about the religious story/history being depicted. It’s still interesting and worth a visit, but if nothing else, I recommend a visit just to look around the central quad to admire the buildings, garden, and the general layout. All of that is open for view and doesn’t require a ticket. They also have an indoor/outdoor café, which might be a nice place to stop on a lovely spring/summer day.

In the meantime, here are somemany of the photos I took of the grounds. They maintain the older structures beautifully, but I like the way they add in some of the necessary modern additions, including the glass walkway. It serves a purpose, while not completely blocking the view of the old buildings.
Modern Connection



Step Right Up

A Pause

Catharijne Convent



Rietveld and Van Gogh

Rietveld Does Van Gogh

A few weeks ago, while visiting Amsterdam with a friend, I finally visited the Van Gogh Museum. As we were standing in line to check our coats and bags, I couldn’t help but notice a couple of my favorite Rietveld chairs on display (up high) in the gift shop.

Rietveld en Van Gogh

I was curious as to why they were on display, but soon got distracted by the actual museum exhibits. There really is something thrilling to see the impasto of Van Gogh’s work. To see the swirls of paint colors and their dimensionality really does add a whole new level of connection to the paintings.

Still, after our trip through the museum, we couldn’t resist heading back to the gift shop to see what was on offer and I took the opportunity to look a bit more closely at the Rietveld chairs. I could just read the small sign next to the chairs that explained that Gerrit Rietveld (my beloved Utrecht architect and designer) was the designer for the main building of the Van Gogh Museum! I’ve been slowly checking off the various Rietveld-designed buildings here in Utrecht, but haven’t looked into many of his buildings outside the Utrecht region, thus my surprise. Also a good reminder that I need to look further into his other buildings throughout the country.

The Van Gogh Museum was Rietveld’s last commission, and in the end, he was only able to come up with the design before his death in 1964. His partners, Van Dillen and Van Tricht, carried out his plans, and the museum was opened in 1973. One of the main features of the building is the large central staircase that leads visitors through the multiple levels. It includes a skylight at the top that allows natural light to shine through. Or lets the grey light filter in, as it did on the overcast day we were there. Regardless, it’s an attractive, geometric, and nicely proportioned staircase.

The Rietveld chairs weren’t the only surprise at the museum gift shop. There was also one item that elicited a number of comments, most from people a bit horrified, finding the item tacky or in poor taste. I don’t know what it says about me, but I thought it was wonderfully irreverent and appreciated the sense of humor that the museum staff displays in stocking the item. See for yourself:
Twisted Fun

Yes, those are plastic key chains in the shape of an ear. Brilliant!

Van Gogh Museum

Van Gogh Museum Facade

100 Headscarves

Friday I went with A Georgia Peach to the Centraal Museum to see the new Bloemaert exhibit, and along the way got to see a few other exhibits and pieces that I didn’t realize were already on display. One of the exhibits was this collection of 100 photos of a woman wearing variations on the hoofddoek (headscarf), a topic of interest in the Netherlands — and other countries — as the discussion of Muslim identity and integration rages on. One of the elements of this exhibit was to show that the headscarf is usually worn by choice, and worn at a later age than people often think. The exhibit aims to educate and present thoughts on it by the women who wear the headscarf.


The main woman in the exhibit is Boutaïna Azzabi, born in 1984. She lives in Doha, Qatar, and Veghel, Netherlands (where she was born). She studies communications here in Utrecht, and works as a social media analyst for Al Jazeera. She eats halal kroket and Verkade cookies. She has a passion for travel and investigative journalism; listens to Adele; and finds the headscarf indispensable. The variety of scarves is beautiful, as are the different faces she makes in the photos. I think my favorite is the cheeky wink.

De Baas
Along with the photos, there are quotes from Azzabi on the walls. The one seen here says that there is the perception that women who wear the headscarf are suppressed. “Nonsense,” is Azzabi’s response, as she goes on to say that her mother is the real boss of the house.

Regardless of your personal choice and opinion on the issue, it is a nice exhibit to raise awareness and help people be a bit more informed when discussing the topic. For me, the headscarves are still something that I notice, simply because I rarely saw in the US. Yet more and more, they are becoming part of the general scenery as I become used to seeing them here. Certainly, the young girls I see wearing them — girls who look trendy and are outgoing and behaving exactly as teenage girls always do — enforce this idea that the headscarf itself is no big deal.

Happy Birthday, Nijntje!

Birthday Girl
On this day in 1955, Nijntje made her debut. Drawn by Utrecht native, Dick Bruna, she’s gone on to feature in numerous books and cartoons and has become well-known around the world. She’s better known as Miffy to most of the world, since Nijntje is a bit of a puzzle for those not familiar with Dutch. For what it’s worth, Nijntje is a shortened, diminutive form of the word konijn, which means rabbit.
Nijntje Pleintje
She’s got quite the presence here in Utrecht. She has her own square (Nijntje Pleintje as seen in the above photo). She’s also the symbol used for some of the walk/don’t walk lights here in town. She’s being used on some directional signs here in Utrecht, and of course, she plays a huge part in the Dick Bruna Huis, which is a part of the Utrecht Centraal Museum.
Dick Bruna Huis
MuseumWeekend [Day 102/365]
She’s a charming little bunny and a nice thing to have associated with Utrecht. Gefeliciteerd met je verjaardag, Nijntje!

Foto Vrijdag 2.15

Last weekend was National Museum Weekend, in which 500+ museums were open free or highly discounted throughout the country. We (finally) went to the Centraal Museum to see the exhibit about the Italian/Caravaggio influence on the Utrecht school of painting, which in turn influenced much of Dutch painting, including Rembrandt.

We took the route to the museum that goes past Lepelenburg and Sonnenborgh in order for me to stop by my favorite sculpture — De Spoetnikkijker — and get a few photos. The sky was a great mix of dark clouds against a bright blue sky, which lead to some interesting photos (see my Flickr feed). I also got to play around with different angles, made easier by the fact that I didn’t have Pippo with me. I love going on photo walks with him, but I can’t spend quite as much time on the shots when I’ve got an 80-pound dog attached to my arm via leash. He’s gotten quite good at waiting patiently, but I feel bad about getting his hopes up that we’re going to move on, when really I’m just moving a few steps to get a different angle.

Foto Vrijdag 2.14

Today has been absolutely gorgeous! Sun is shining, the temperatures have warmed up considerably, and I finally got a chance to get some shots of this tree. I saw it last year, but didn’t have my camera with me usually, and then I was injured and didn’t get out to see it again. Today, I was determined to get a shot of it.

When the sun shines here in the Netherlands, everyone heads outdoors. As a result, the Oudegracht area was packed! For 2:30 in the afternoon on a Friday, the sheer number of people was impressive. There were also numerous tour groups, which further clogged the streets. I guess the Utrecht marketing is working. I don’t remember seeing so many tour groups all at once.

If you’re in the Netherlands, don’t forget that this weekend is Museum Weekend. Museums all over the country will be opening their doors to visitors for free or for drastically reduced entrance fees. We’re going to head out tomorrow to visit a couple of the museums, and then on Sunday I’m off for dim sum with some friends. If the weather holds out, this should be a lovely weekend. Maybe we’ll even dust off the grill!

Fijne weekend!

For Reals

It’s official. A painting in De Fundatie Museum in Zwolle has been declared a Van Gogh. There were doubts originally, both because of the style/subject, but also because the man who had purchased it had also purchased a number of paintings that he claimed were Vermeers, which turned out to be forgeries. His credibility was called into question, as a result. However, experts from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam have officially verified the authenticity of this work, titled Le Blute-fin Windmill, a piece from Van Gogh’s Parisian period.

Source with full story and image

Ear Apparant

I couldn’t resist posting this:

Gauguin may have cut off Van Gogh’s ear

Tuesday 05 May 2009

Vincent van Gogh’s ear may have been cut off in a fight with fellow painter Paul Gauguin, British paper the Daily Telegraph reports on Tuesday, quoting German researchers.

Van Gogh is believed to have cut off his own ear as he struggled with mental illness. But German art historians say he may have made up the story to protect Gauguin who actually cut it off with a sword during an argument.

The two men both kept a ‘pact of silence’ – Gauguin to avoid prosecution and Van Gogh in a vain attempt to keep a friend with whom he was hopelessly infatuated, the Telegraph claims.

For the full story, click here


Funnily enough, there’s a mechanical Van Gogh at the music box museum. You can see a picture of it on the museum’s website. I remember joking with Amy about whether or not the mechanical version had both ears. According to Van Gogh’s own painting, I think the missing ear was on the side we couldn’t see. I meant to ask the guide, but got caught up in some of the other pieces in the room.