Oxenaar manages to define his course ever more clearly and relate to the ideas of Helene Kröller-Müller in his own way. This is accompanied by iconic projects, such as Spin out, for Robert Smithson by Richard Serra and Jardin d’émail by Jean Dubuffet, in which the artist is given more and more space.
A full-size test room
The construction of the second section of the Quist wing is planned for 1976. But Oxenaar urges the ministries to expedite the building decree, because ‘the museum desperately requires the completion of this extension to be able to function properly’. In the meantime, a full-size wooden model of the smallest exhibition room is built next to the museum. This allows for the lighting to be studied and experiments to be carried out with different roof constructions. Oxenaar writes: ‘The experiences with this test room have once again made it clear how essential it is to arrive at solutions in this way, through experimentation’.
Van der Leeuw Foundation
Cees van der Leeuw dies on 18 May 1973. He had been chairman of the Oversight Committee for sixteen years and also of the Board of Trustees of the Kröller-Müller Foundation since 1960. When his wife, Betty Meijer, also dies shortly thereafter, it turns out that they bequeathed their assets to the museum through a foundation, intended mainly for the interior of the new wing. Oxenaar pays tribute to Van der Leeuw in the annual report and writes: ‘These days, it occurs rarely if ever that someone is willing to devote themselves to a museum so completely, so intensively and so selflessly over such a long period, both as a person, an expert and as a patron’.
The acquisition policy is still largely focused on contemporary outdoor sculpture, but Oxenaar observes that ‘characteristic changes’ have since occurred: ‘There is an increase in scale, an increasing use of new materials and above all new opinions with regard to the functioning of sculptures. People are less and less inclined to think of a sculpture that might look beautiful on a pedestal. A direct connection with the surroundings is increasingly being sought, the work is highly attuned to the landscape in which it can be found. Whereas in the past the museum has mainly chosen sculptures that are already designed and produced, to then find a suitable place in the garden, different procedures have now arisen.’
Thus, in February 1973, the construction of Jardin d'émail by Jean Dubuffet begins. The entire process, including the location in the sculpture garden, is determined in collaboration with the artist. Oxenaar: ‘Great artists are unusual people. Such a garden by Dubuffet is a highly complicated business to undertake. There was a one-to-ten scale model, he was not sure how to realize such a work. Dubuffet then hired an architect and subsequently worked on the realization for fifteen months together with our technical department. A project of two and a half years in total. […] This kind of concerted effort is perhaps the most fascinating part of my profession.’
The American sculptor Richard Serra is also invited to make a new work. Serra chooses a small valley in the sculpture garden for which he designs a sculpture consisting of three steel sheets. Oxenaar is impressed by the work: ‘never before has a sculpture been placed in the garden that is so much a part of the landscape. The sculpture is also the landscape and cannot be described without mentioning both the sheets and the valley’. While Serra is supervising the execution of the work in Otterlo, he receives the news that his good friend Robert Smithson has been killed in a plane crash. The work becomes a tribute and is given the title Spin out, for Robert Smithson. Serra also makes a series of large drawings based on his completed work and donates one of these drawings to the museum.
Richard Serra, Spin out, for Robert Smithson, 1972
At the end of the year, the museum receives Piet Mondriaan’s Composition with red, yellow and blue at the bequest of the nobleman Meinard de Jonge van Ellemeet. In his acquisitions, Oxenaar seeks to relate to movements that are in line with De Stijl – constructivism, minimal art and geometric-abstract art – and purchases, among other things this year, the impressive K-piece by Mark di Suvero, which is placed on the lawn at the new entrance of the museum.
In January 1974 Bram Hammacher and Piet Sanders step down as trustee of the Kröller-Müller Foundation and member of the Oversight Committee. Sanders and his wife Ida, themselves also prominent art collectors, donate Sculpture by Robert Jacobsen to the museum on this occasion. In the annual report, Oxenaar recalls that Sanders was also the person ‘who initially mentioned the name of prof. Quist as possible architect for the new wing of the museum’.
The year is marked by four major exhibitions, including Jardin d’émail by Jean Dubuffet. For fifteen months, work has been underway on the construction of this artwork measuring 600 m² and the largest work in the sculpture garden is opened on 3 May.
Opening of Jardin d'émail by Jean Dubuffet, 3rd of May 1974
‘It is a garden within a garden, an artificial garden, an anti-nature garden if you will’, according to Oxenaar. ‘It is treacherous to walk there, the white forms and black lines follow independent patterns, thus creating a spatial disorientation. But one can also sit there quietly, in the midst of this entirely “other” environment, in the midst of the white, with green trees in a wide circle around it […]. It is a garden, which the artist intended for one person, for you, for everyone who wishes to meditate over the relationship between art and nature or simply to be there.’
After the highly successful tour of the exhibition through the United States, Canada and finally Mexico, the selection of drawings is also shown for the first time in this composition at our own museum. The works then travel on to London and Newcastle.
Phillip King; sculptures
At the request of the artist, the exhibition Phillip King takes place in and around the Rietveld pavilion. For Oxenaar, this is an opportunity ‘to see for once how large-scale sculptures behave in the context of this architecture in a temporary situation’. The effect is appreciated to such a degree that even after the exhibition a presentation with work by King from the collection remains on display in the pavilion.
Exhibition Phillip King, 1974
Dušan Džamonja; sculptures and drawings
Ever since Oxenaar organized a major Van Gogh exhibition in Yugoslavia in 1966, he has maintained close contact with the sculptor Dušan Džamonja, whom he characterizes as ‘possibly the most important artist from Yugoslavia’. When the museum has the opportunity to be one of the locations for a European Džamonja touring exhibition in 1974, a long-held wish can be fulfilled. The exhibition highlights the development of his nail sculptures and the series of small drawings that give an impression of his world of ideas as a personal diary. With photographs and models, an impression is also created of the many monuments that Džamonja has realized in Yugoslavia.
Oxenaar observes that there is a need among Dutch artists to be able to realize ideas for large-scale landscape projects. But often they lack the financial means and possibilities, while it is ‘very important for the artist himself and for others that a design can also become a reality’. He decides to offer one artist per year the opportunity to realize a temporary project in the sculpture garden. ‘The Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller is appropriately the only museum in the Netherlands that could possibly place such works’. David Vandekop is the first to produce three works, Tuam, Tent and Stut. The initiative has a beneficial effect for the artist. He receives a commission for a project in the public domain and is invited for a major exhibition abroad. Tuam (the Celtic word for burial mound) is purchased by the museum.
‘Marking an environment as opposed to erecting “a sculpture” is Vandekop’s most characteristic trait’, writes Oxenaar in the catalogue. ‘Vandekop finds his themes […] mainly in the border regions where landscape and the manmade environment merge.’
At the end of the year it emerges that the ministries are prepared to give high priority to the new building. According to Oxenaar, this has become possible ‘thanks to the extraordinary vigour of the architect, thanks to a great deal of pressure from the trustees, thanks in particular to the large provision of work in connection with unemployment in the construction industry’. He is therefore pleased that the commencement of construction can be brought forward a year and the second section of the Quist wing can be started in 1975.