I was running late.
We set off in plenty of time pumping the pedals of our hire bikes but within a few seconds we realised the tyres on NewMan's bike needed a little more air so we had to double back to the hotel. We then took a wrong turning and just happened to stumble across Koekela, whose blondie brownies I fell in love with on my previous visit to Rotterdam. Of course, I had to go in and quickly treat NewMan; we had freshly inflated tyres to test...
So I arrived late, a little flustered and with a few tell-tale white chocolate crumbs hanging to my chin. I apologised to the front desk and after a little rushed confusion (on my part) I was given my pre-arranged ticket to visit Boijmans van Beuningen Museum, which is often considered Rotterdam's best museum. I'd missed it when I was there in May so it was a priority that I spend a few hours there upon my return.
Turns out a few hours isn't enough. I started at the beginning, with the oldest collection of art, but truth be told, I felt I should be elsewhere. The dates of the artwork (making them 700, 800 years old) impressed me more than their actual aesthetics so I skipped a few corners and headed back into a room full of contemporary work, Andy Warhol included. Suddenly I felt in a better place, able to comprehend the work in front of me. Or perhaps that's an exaggeration. I don't think I'll ever fully understand all art but I can certainly be be impressed or intrigued by it. My favourite exhibition was the one that took me from the 18th century to 1945 featuring Dutch and international paintings and sculptures.
I have always appreciated art but have never claimed to be anywhere close to an authority or even educated on the subject. This exhibition was perhaps more effective in highlighting the fluidity between movements, techniques and trailblazers better than any art lesson I had at school.
From Impressionism to Modernism to Surrealism, I felt I could finally understand what the Isms meant and how they related to one another and the art that is produced today. I even got a little star struck as I stood blinking at works by Monet, Renoir and Picasso. But my favourite was the two paintings by Piet Mondriaan. I loved how rebellious they must have looked at the time and how even now they are fearlessly futuristic.
I repeat, I'm no expert, but I really think that a visit to this exhibition should be written into the curriculum of any art history course in any school or college. The building - a subtle 1930s blank canvas - also suited the exhibition well with rooms flowing into one another and pale walls bouncing light around effectively.
There were also lots of places to sit down and admire paintings, so I did. Which is probably why I ran late again.
Just as I was peering at Salvador Dali's lobster telephone sculpture - as bizarre as it sounds - a polite voice came over the tannoy telling me the museum was closing. I'd not yet done half of the exhibitions including a special Dutch design exhibit I really wanted to walk around. Nor did I have time to sit outside in the beautiful grounds and soak up some sun.
So I pulled myself away from Dali, Ernst and friends and headed back t o the entrance where I quickly read the full description of a temporary exhibition which documents the work of Renilde Hammacher who was the museum's curator from 1962 to 1978, a ground-breaking role for a woman at the time.
I learnt that it was her vision that brought contemporary art to Boijmans in a way that was considered revolutionary - and risky - in the 1960s. I'm fairly confident it was an important step in Rotterdam's journey to becoming a natural home for modern art and edgy creativity. The voice on the tannoy sounded again so I walked towards the exit, leaving Renilde, her legacy and two lovely hours of art behind me.
I was running late again, but I wasn't in a rush.
I was perfectly calm and wonderfully enlightened, all thanks to Museum Boijmans van Beuningen.
Frances M. Thompson
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