Construction work commences. Practical solutions must be found for both the architectural interventions and the museum’s operation. Oxenaar uses an important exchange exhibition with Russia to expedite the new construction. The staff and collection move temporarily to Arnhem, where the outdoor exhibition Sonsbeek buiten de perken is also held. Meanwhile on the Veluwe a ‘new’ museum for modern art, but now also contemporary art, arises.
Renovation and new construction
The renovation of the old museum building by Henry van de Velde begins in January 1971. It is a challenge to make changes ‘while maintaining the excellent quality of the daylight in the museum’ and without spoiling the appearance of the building. Therefore the points of departure for the renovation are respect for all the details of the architecture, on the one hand, and ‘architectural innovation with a view to future’ on the other.
Moreover, Oxenaar has received approval from the ministries of Culture, Recreation and Social Work, and Public Housing and Spatial Planning to expedite the realization of a part of the new building. Quist’s design is already complete. In June, work begins on a new main entrance, a hall with seating for the public, a cloakroom and a glass corridor connecting to the existing museum.
That is high time too, because an important exchange with the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and the Hermitage in Leningrad is on the programme before 1972. Admittedly, the old building would be completely renovated by then, but ‘in terms of space, we would even see a reduction. Given the anticipated unusually large number of visitors, […] the public facilities in particular would fall short’.
Guests in Arnhem
Because the building has to be completely vacated during the work, Oxenaar goes in search of temporary accommodation. Director Pierre Janssen of the Gemeentemuseum Arnhem is willing to host the Kröller-Müller collection for a year in the exhibition spaces and depots of his museum. The Municipality of Arnhem makes the villa next to the museum available to use as office space for the staff, who are happy with the ‘unusually spacious rooms for us and the magnificent view of the Rhine’. Oxenaar is grateful that ‘in an exceptionally difficult year, the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller will find a truly more than suitable refuge, which generously guarantees both the continuation of normal work and the exhibition of a selection from the collection’.
Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, guests in Arnhem, 1971
Pierre Janssen is an enthusiastic and generous host. Oxenaar is even put in charge of the installation of the galleries, where an important part of the collection can be shown. Works such as Bridge in Arles by Van Gogh, Abstract figure by Oskar Schlemmer and Venus & Amor by Hans Baldung-Grien are thus exhibited in Arnhem. Janssen himself gives a total of 122 lectures on the Kröller-Müller collection throughout the year.
Sculpture garden remains open
Although the museum is closed, the sculpture garden is still accessible to the public. The garden is provided a temporary entrance designed by Kho Liang Ie, who also designs the shop layout for the domed hall of the Gemeentemuseum Arnhem.
Temporary entrance to the Sculpture garden designed by Kho Liang Ie, 1971
Sonsbeek beyond the boundaries
Due to the double occupation of the Arnhem museum, it is not possible to organize exhibitions there. Instead, in the months of June, July and August the two museums organize an extensive film programme as part of the Sonsbeek beyond the boundaries event. A large tent is erected in the garden for this purpose. The programme, compiled by Frans Haks and Evert van Straaten, consists of ‘films by (not about) visual artists […] structural films, Land Art films, a category of visual artists that film themselves, the summarising films on the Fluxus group and the Land Art film by Gary Schum’.
Oxenaar also sits on the working committee of the Sonsbeek biennale. Oxenaar together with Wim Beeren, chief curator of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and curator of this edition of the Sonsbeek biennale, make a preparatory trip to the United States, where they meet the artists Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra, Robert Smithson and Claes Oldenburg, among others.
Beeren and Oxenaar invite Claes Oldenburg, among other artists, for Sonsbeek. He is commissioned to realize one of his ‘giant monuments’. This is Trowel, an 11-metre-high silver-coloured enlargement of a trowel that stands upright in the ground. It is the first large-scale work that Oldenburg makes in Europe. The Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller provides most of the funding for this the ‘most expensive work of the exhibition’, on the condition that it is given a permanent place at the museum after the biennale. This makes the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller the only European museum with a work by Oldenburg in its collection.
Claes Oldenburg, Study for placement of Trowel, 1971
Despite the exceptional circumstances, the collection is made accessible to the public as much as possible. The Van Goghcollection travels through Russia, where the exhibition Van Gogh to Picasso attracts a huge audience. The ‘geometric Greek pots’ go to the Archaeological Institute in Groningen for research and exhibition, graphic art by Redon can be admired at the Groninger Museum, and the touring exhibition De verzameling keramiek uit het Verre Oosten van het Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller (The Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller’s collection of ceramics from the Far East), with a catalogue of the same name, draws ‘attention to a sub-collection about which nothing has yet been published’.
Six original plaster pieces by Jean Arp
Marguerite Arp-Hagenbach donates to the museum again this year. Oxenaar is invited to choose from the original plaster pieces by Jean Arp, which are still in his studio in Meudon. ‘We are extremely grateful to Mrs Arp for this gesture which makes it possible to give a representative presentation of Arp’s rich formal idiom at the museum.’
Jean Arp; Preadamite torse (1938), Sculpture to be lost in the forest (1932), Siren (1942), Helmet head I (1959), Star (1939), Meudon knot (1958)
Finally a futurist
Although Helene stipulated in the deed of gift that her successors should regard her collection ‘as a closed whole’, she also remarked that it would still be ‘desirable to show the futurist phase’. This addition would complete the overview of the development of modern painting. Important works from this period have become very rare and expensive, but with the support of the Rembrandt Association and the Prins Bernhard Fonds, Oxenaar manages to acquire Swifts’ flight by Giacomo Balla. With this ‘exceptional work in terms of quality and purity of intention’, a ‘long-held desire’ is fulfilled.
The reopening of the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller takes place on 10 February 1972. The renovation of the museum is complete and the first section of the Quist wing is operational. A great deal of consideration is given to the surrounding nature during the construction work: ‘no tree that stood within two metres from the building line was felled’. Thus, according to Oxenaar, the museum appears to rise up ‘in the midst of the forest’ and ‘nature is brought inside as it were’, due to the ‘glass walls’.
The most radical change is the relocation of the main entrance. This connects to the other side of the Van de Velde wing, which means that visitors now walk through the collection in the opposite direction. Oxenaar is enthusiastic: ‘By transferring the main entrance to the rear as a fundamental idea, Prof. Quist has created an entirely new approach to and experience of the entire museum complex. […] Visitors shall go from the present to the past’.
At the old main entrance and the patio in the Van Gogh Gallery, Oxenaar has modern glass fronts installed due to Quist. There are also new display cases, designed by Quist, for the crafts collection. These alterations seem to go against the basic principle to preserve Van de Velde’s original design as much as possible. However, with the interventions Oxenaar seeks to ease the transition between old and new. For the same reason, new linoleum is laid throughout the entire building.
Ad Dekkers' Wall relief
Oxenaar commissions Ad Dekkers to design a large wall sculpture for the glass connecting corridor, in the framework of the Percent for Art programme. This programme entails that a part of the construction costs may be reserved for the ‘decorative ornamentation of important, representative buildings’. Dekkers creates a 35-metre-long Wall relief of white concrete, with incisions that alternate rhythmically from deep to shallow. The work is fully integrated into the architecture and according to Oxenaar has ‘a unique, serene character’ that further emphasizes ‘the distinctive aspect of this museum; the combination of nature, art and architecture’. ‘When the new building is entirely complete, this structure will be more clearly evident; then the new centre of the complex will radiate out in three directions: the sculpture garden, the new exhibition rooms and the Van de Velde building.’
‘Nowhere will this triad be more evident than here. It was Mrs Kröller-Müller’s point of departure, it was also the point of departure for the design of the new building by architect Quist.’
Russian reciprocation: Exhibition From Van Gogh to Picasso
Now the construction work is finished, the Russian reciprocation for the loan exhibition From Van Gogh to Picasso can be received in the summer. Paintings and drawings from the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and the Hermitage in Leningrad are seen by a record number of visitors, entirely as expected.
Diagrams & Drawings
The year ends with the exhibition Diagrams & Drawings. During Sonsbeek buiten de perken, Beeren and Oxenaar conceived the idea to organize an exhibition in Arnhem of drawings by the participating artists, in order to thus ‘make the ideas behind the sculptures realized and presented transparent to the public’. Instead of this, Janssen prefers a film programme. Oxenaar now decides to develop the idea for the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller. The exhibition Diagrams & Drawings is held at the museum in August and September. A part of the Visser collection is shown for the first time in the exhibition Diagrams & Drawings.
Oxenaar sets his heart on the idea of permanently exhibiting the Visser collection at the museum. This collection, of the married couple Martin and Mia Visser and Martin’s brother Geertjan, is one of the largest and most exceptional private post-war collections in the Netherlands. The Vissers have a good eye for the latest developments. In addition to purchasing from art dealerships, they also invite mainly conceptual artists, such as Carl Andre, Christo, Sol LeWitt and Dan Flavin to come and work in their villa in Bergeijk, designed by Gerrit Rietveld and Aldo van Eyck.
Martin Visser and Christo
Because the collectors build such good relationships with the artists, they are able to purchase many works for a reasonable price. Oxenaar has only a limited acquisition budget and sees this collection as an excellent opportunity to fill gaps in the museum’s collection. Prompted by Ellen Joosten, he makes what he regards as the ‘improper’ proposal that the Vissers donate their collection. To his surprise, they are keen to talk to him. The Vissers want their collection to grow with the times. New opportunities for this arise by selling or donating works of art. But they do want the collection to remain together, because ‘that is much more powerful’. Initially, they begin with long-term loans.