The concept of ‘utopia’ is central to Van Straaten’s collection policy. Despite the necessary cutbacks resulting from the financial crisis, Van Straaten manages to acquire a number of important works around this theme before stepping down in 2012. These purchases give rise to exhibitions and public activities, such as Longing for perfection, with which Van Straaten concludes his directorship.
The effects of the financial crisis, which began in America, also reach a peak in the Netherlands in the autumn of 2008. The cabinet has announced that major cutbacks in the arts sector are to be expected. ‘This means that the museum is struggling to produce a fully-fledged and well-planned programme of activities in these areas for the coming years’, writes the otherwise optimistic Van Straaten in the annual report.
herman de vries
The exhibition Unity features the collection of works by herman de vries, which has grown considerably in recent years. Drawings, paintings, graphic art, reliefs, nature collages, soil rubbings, installations, artist’s books and films by this Dutch artist are presented. The latest acquisition is Mesa (1997-2008), a collage of collected objects from different continents, the origins of which are documented in the catalogue of the same name.
Exhibition 'Unity' herman de vries, 2009
To clean or not to clean
The conservators work in the exhibition space for three months. This time the move was not born out of necessity, but is instead an educational exhibition concept for the presentation To clean or not to clean. 150 works of art, mainly sculptures, are examined and receive conservation work in the exhibition. The cleaning of works of art is the central issue in this process. How do you clean sculptures thoroughly, yet carefully? The public can follow closely how the conservators work and what considerations they have to make.
Exhibition 'To clean or not to clean', 2009
All shadows that struck me in…
All shadows that struck me in… by Jan Dibbets is executed in the exhibition space in the presence of the artist. Every 5, 10 or 15 minutes, the shadow lines in the room are recorded with paper tape. In this way, ‘the passage of time’ can be experienced visually. In his column on the website, Van Straaten writes that the first execution of this work in 1969 made a huge impression on him. He decided to bid farewell to his dream of becoming an archaeologist and chose instead to pursue modern art. ‘I realized that the art of my own time presented me with more adventurous and romantic problems than antiquity.’
Jan Dibbets, All shadows that struck me in the Kröller-Müller Museum (1969), execution 2009
This year, the Sweet Summer Nights have a new formula: the multidisciplinary programme takes place in the sculpture garden not on four evenings, but on two evenings and two afternoons. For the first time, the museum also presents two ‘Sweet Summer Guests’. Sound artists Nathalie Bruys and Geert Jonkers are guests throughout the summer with a work in the sculpture garden.
Sweet Summer Nights, 2009
The museum participates in ‘Obsolete equipment’, a research project into the stewardship and conservation of audio-visual art. Due to rapid technological developments, many pieces of playback and display equipment becomes obsolete, so that works of art can no longer be displayed. Together with the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven, Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage, the Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art in Gent and the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp, research is conducted into how such works of art can be preserved. This is done on the basis of 2 works from the collection of the Kröller-Müller Museum: Straggling by Christiaan Bastiaans and Selections from the survival series by Jenny Holzer.
Jenny Holzer, Selections from 'The survival series', 1983 and Christiaan Bastiaans, Straggling, 1996
From the outset, Van Straaten chose to make ‘the broad concept of “utopia” the most important guiding principle’ in his collection policy. From this perspective, almost all the works in the collection can be interconnected, according to Van Straaten. The collection already contains many works in which and with which artists have expressed their attempt to conceive a new, ideal world. That is particularly true of the work of De Stijl, according to Van Straaten. He seeks to place extra emphasis on this part of the collection by also including ‘contemporary utopians’. He also recognizes this endeavour in the works of artists such as Jenny Holzer and Matt Mullican, whose work provides ‘a blueprint for an imaginary world with its own rules and laws’. While the ‘autonomous systems’ that Joep van Lieshout creates show the downside.
Van Straaten has been following the development of Dutch artist Jos Kruit for years, but has never previously purchased a work from her. On the advice of Christiaan Bastiaans, he acquires 2 sculptures. In his words, this acquisition constitutes ‘an unprecedented, new aspect in the collection’.
This year, Stanley Brouwn, Ger van Elk, Loes van der Horst and herman de vries donate their own work. From the heirs of Oswald Wenckebach, the museum receives sketches and the sculpture The defeated victor) and Renilde Hammacher-van den Brande donates Relief no. 8a-1967 by the Polish constructivist Henryk Stazewski. The largest donor, Martin Visser, dies on 23 October. In his column on the website, Van Straaten writes a tribute to this friend and benefactor of the museum and to all the other donors. ‘The museum could not exist without the generosity of individuals and organizations.’
From 30 October, the museum presents a solo exhibition by the Dutch artist Christiaan Bastiaans. Club Mama Gemütlich not only provides an overview of his work from the past twenty years, but can also be seen as a total work of art. The video work Club Mama Gemütlich is acquired.
From the possession of Nelly van Doesburg – wife of Theo van Doesburg – Head of a woman by Constantin Brancusi is acquired. According to Van Straaten, this drawing makes ‘a visual statement about how the cosmos works’, a utopian endeavour pursued by Brancusi, but also Mondriaan, for example.
Constantin Brancusi, Head of a woman, c. 1909-1920
Attempt at perfection
La pièce, a conceptual work that Ger van Elk made for Sonsbeek beyond lawn and order, is acquired. This work is important for the museum ‘because it has built up a centre of gravity around the crucial developments in the visual art of the 1960s and 70s’. Van Straaten sees the work as an attempt by Van Elk to find perfection. According to Van Straaten, this remains ‘one of the most beautiful tasks that artists have set themselves’.
The newly appointed government introduces the announced cutbacks in the budget for culture. Museums receive structural cutbacks of around 10%. For the coming three years, the Kröller-Müller Museum must generate over 1.5 million euros in extra income to continue functioning at the current level. Van Straaten finds it ‘worrying’ that after the autonomy of the museum ‘the State, as owner of the museum buildings and the largest part of the collection, is increasingly unwilling to bear financial responsibility for it’. Nevertheless, he maintains ‘an unshakable confidence in the value and social significance of the Kröller-Müller’.
As a result of the cutbacks, more works are provided on temporary loan to museums abroad. Thus, a large part of the Van Gogh collection, together with that of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, can be seen at successful and well-attended exhibitions in London, Taiwan, Tokyo, Fukuoka and Nagoya.
Openingsceremony in Tokyo, advertisement on taxicab en pressopening in Taipei, 2010
A new, interactive exhibition concept is introduced under the title Expose. Visitors are able to vote for their favourite work from the collection via the website. In the first edition, Expose – The most beautiful works on paper, they can choose their top 3 drawings and explain why these works must be included. The 50 most popular works and a selection of the most surprising reactions are presented in the exhibition. The concept is a success and a second edition takes place already later that year, Expose – My Most Beautiful Landscape, especially for children.
Exhibition 'Expose – The most beautiful works on paper', 2010
Joost van den Toorn and Outsider Art
For more than ten years, Joost van den Toorn has been collecting ‘Outsider Art’, works by artists who reside in a psychiatric institution, a homeless shelter or live on the streets. Van Gogh was also long regarded as an outsider. This collection is shown in the print room, together with bronze and ceramic sculptures by Van den Toorn, who in turn donates three early sculptures to the museum.
Exhibition 'Joost van den Toorn and Outsider Art', 2010
The Park 75th anniversary
The 75th anniversary of De Hoge Veluwe National Park is the occasion for an exhibition on the Park and its monuments. In The creation of a lasting monument, historical photographs, letters, scale models and technical drawings outline the history of the estate, St Hubertus Hunting Lodge, the monument to Christiaan de Wet, but also Helene Kröller-Müller’s dream project: the never realized ‘Grand Museum’.
Exhibition 'The creation of a lasting monument', 2010
Two Heugemer ponies by Tom Claassen is acquired to mark the entrance to the sculpture garden from the park.
With Us in the Nature
The series The Paintings (with Us in the Nature) by Gilbert & George consists of 6 triptychs in which the artists portray themselves in typical English landscapes. These are the only painted works by the British artist duo. Van Straaten is aware of the work and asks the artists whether it might be available for purchase. After an extensive introduction process, the duo reacts enthusiastically. The paintings receive conservation work and are exhibited in the museum.
When the exhibition opens on 9 July, Gilbert & George see their work again for the first time in 25 years. They are moved by this renewed acquaintance and declare that ‘nowhere does it fit more perfectly than at the Kröller-Müller Museum’. They prefer to show the work in the large sculpture room because the window functions as a seventh triptych.
Gilbert & George, "The Paintings" (with Us in the Nature) (1971), 2010
Within six months, Van Straaten manages to find seven funds willing to financially support the acquisition. ‘If we talk about utopias, in the context of the Kröller-Müller Museum, of course people immediately think of paradise’, says Van Straaten, ‘that is why The Paintings by Gilbert & George fit so well here’.
Sweet Summer Nights anniversary
The Sweet Summer Nights take place for a fifth consecutive year. For three evenings, visitors can enjoy a festive, multidisciplinary programme. Every evening has its own theme. For this anniversary edition, the museum also organizes a ‘Sweet Children’s Afternoon’ with children’s shows so that families can thereby discover the museum. Visual theatre maker Judith Nab and ‘audiomachinist’ Geert Jonkers are invited as ‘Sweet Summer Guests’.
Reconstruction of Rietveld pavilion
‘From the outset, the maintenance of the Rietveld pavilion has been a daily concern’, writes Van Straaten. In 2010 the conclusion had to be drawn ‘that it was finished’. The pavilion is dismantled and reconstructed according to the original design. Parts of the previous pavilion are used wherever possible. In mid-September the world-renowned pavilion has been restored to its former glory and assured of its continued survival.
Reconstruction of Rietveld paviljoen, 2010
On the occasion of the publication of the scholarly biography of Helene Kröller-Müller Eternity collected by Eva Rovers, the museum organizes the exhibition The men in Helene’s life – Life, love, art and building. In four rooms, Helene’s life is shown based on the men who played an important role in it. In addition to paintings, personal belongings and photographs from her legacy are on display. The exhibition provides ‘an intimate and personal view of the woman who, with her collection, laid the foundation for one of the first museums of modern art in the Netherlands’, according to guest curator Rovers.
Exhibition 'The men in Helene’s life – Life, love, art and building', 2010
During the opening on 18 November, the first copy of the biography is presented to Helene’s granddaughters. Due to its great success, a second edition of Eternity collected is soon published.
The dark side of utopia
The starting point for the artists of De Stijl is the principle of deliberate destruction in order to achieve innovation. According to Van Straaten, this principle is also evident in the work of Cai Guo-Qiang, who uses the destructive power of gunpowder as a means to create from new energy. Despite the cutbacks, Cai’s impressive installation Inopportune: Stage Two can be acquired. This work is an indictment of the harm caused by mankind, it implicitly provides a podium for the dark side of heroism ‘in which the battle between good and evil rages’. ‘Unfortunately, this is where it usually ends up when we talk about utopias…’ according to Van Straaten.
To celebrate the successful fundraising for the acquisition of The Paintings (with Us in the Nature) by Gilbert & George, the museum treats visitors to a once-only offer. The museum can be visited free of charge on Sunday 9 January and the director gives guided tours.
Ploughing, raking and digging
Christiaan Bastiaans, Christo, Cornelius Rogge, Joost van den Toorn and Jan Dibbets donate work to the museum. Dibbets wants to provide a context for Construction 2 rolls of grass from 1967, which the museum acquired in 2009. He donates four works from the same period: sketches or studies for the never-realized ‘sculptures’ that are intended to be created in the landscape by, for instance, ploughing, raking or digging.
Jan Dibbets, Construction 2 rolls of grass, 1967 en Plowing  (1967), Raked sand (1968), Meadow piece (1968), 4 circles (1967)
Tent project Cornelius Rogge
A presentation about the conservation and restoration of the Tent project by Cornelius Rogge can be seen in two project rooms at the museum. Because the work consists of tent canvas and ropes, its appearance has changed considerably due to the long-term installation in the open air. Rogge regards the influence of nature as an essential part of the work, so mosses and algae are allowed to spread over the canvas. But he does find it important that no holes develop in the canvas, ‘then the darkness would escape from the tents’. The conservators look for ways to preserve the work for eternity, without influencing the meaning.
Exhibition 'Tent project Cornelius Rogge', 2011
The research is made possible by the Van Eelen-Weeber Foundation. The results are used to develop new conservation measures with which ‘the integrity of the artwork, both the idea and its material appearance, can be preserved as much as possible for future generations’.
Jan Fabre and his team take over the museum for four months in early spring. His sculptures are everywhere: in the Quist wing, among the permanent presentation in the Van de Velde wing, in the sculpture garden and even on the roof. In this exhibition, Fabre shares his fascinations with the visitors: the garden (hortus) and the body (corpus). The insect, the human being, the angel and the colour blue play an important role in this.
This year’s Sweet Summer is devoted to the 50th anniversary of the sculpture garden. The familiar concept is maintained, with two Sweet Summer Nights full of theatre, dance, literature and art and a Sweet Children’s Afternoon with a special programme for children. For the first time, the museum presents an ‘artist in residence’. TAMTAM Object Theatre develops a show that can be seen in the museum throughout the month of June.
Sweet Summer Nights; 50th anniversary of the sculpture garden, 2011
With support from the Van Eelen-Weeber Foundation, the museum acquires Replacement piece, an early work by Ger van Elk. The work consists of replacing a square metre of the concrete access path with a photograph of precisely that piece of ground that is removed. The photograph is mounted on a stainless steel frame and provided with an anti-slip coating. For the unsuspecting visitor, the work can have the character of a ‘deceiver’, according to Van Straaten. The acquisition is made with the support of the Van Eelen-Weeber Foundation.
A group of works by the Japanese artist Shoichi Ida, who died in 2006, is acquired, including the series Penetration/Evaporation from 2002. The sculpture Female nude (1948) by Katarzyna Kobro is acquired and the recent work I always thought Anselmo’s Invisible (1971) should be installed against a window by Mario García Torres is also acquired.
Shoichi Ida, Penetration/evaporation no. 7 (2002), Katarzyna Kobro, Female nude (1948, cast in 1989), Mario García Torres, I always thought Anselmo's Invisible (1971) should be installed against a window (2011)
In the exhibition Windflower, Perceptions of Nature, twelve artists present their views on nature. Lothar Baumgarten, Cai Guo-Qiang, Mark Dion, Peter Doig, Mario García Torres, Kimsooja, Tetsumi Kudo, Charly Nijensohn, Yoko Ono, Marco Pando Quevedo, Willem de Rooij and Liang Shaoji offer critical commentary about the future of nature and the sustainability of the earth in sculptures, installations, video presentations, drawings and paintings. To accompany the exhibition, the museum organizes activities consistent with the theme of the exhibition, such as a lecture on the eco-cathedral thinking of Louis Le Roy, a workshop on building with straw and a walk with the forester of De Hoge Veluwe National Park.
Exhibition 'Windflower', 2011
Lisette Pelsers becomes the new director
In December 2011, it is announced that Van Straaten will resign on 1 April 2012 and that Lisette Pelsers will take over as the new director of the Kröller-Müller Museum.
Longing for perfection
The exhibition programme in 2012 is largely dominated by Van Straaten’s departure. He concludes with the exhibition Longing for perfection, in which he presents an overview of the 21 years of collecting under his directorship. ‘I have taken the longing for perfection that an artist wants to express in a work of art as the guiding principle to explain the acquisition policy during my time as director. For me it has never been about the “perfect work of art”, but about the attempts of artists to formulate an answer to the fundamental questions of existence. In so doing, I sought to contribute to what the “Kröller-Müller” already was and to make no distinction between the sculpture garden and the museum, between inside and outside.’