Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Rotterdam is a very new-looking city in the southern half of the country.  You'll find no cobbled streets or old canal houses, and that's because the Germans carpet bombed it to get the Dutch to surrender in WW2.  It feels very different from the other Dutch cities I've visited, but it has a lot of quirky public sculptures and a very good art museum:  Museum Boijmans van Beuningen.  Despite the rather horrible name, I enjoyed this place immensely.  We went for a van Eyck exhibit, but also saw multiple drawings of the Spanish Civil War by Goya, a large painting by Han van Meegeren (more on that later), and a mirrored room that reminded me of an installation I saw in the Pittsburgh Mattress Factory a long time ago.

But before I found all that, I became enamored with the coat check system in the lobby.  By means of locks and pulleys you lowered a hanger from the ceiling, hung your coat on it, pulled the rope attached to the central cage to hoist it back up, and then locked it in place.  I've never had a fun and physics-filled way to hang up my coat before.  It was fantastic!  Inside the round cage were lockers to put additional bags--though those were just your standard locker.  But the whole experience felt like a participatory installation, and I really hope someday I find a museum in the states that does something like this.

But back to the art.  Han van Meegeren was an art forger whose chemistry was good, but whose ability was, well, crap.  Nevertheless, he fooled art historians into believing he had found lost Vermeer paintings, and he made buckets of money selling his forgeries to people leading up to and during WW2.  Including Hermann Goring.  After the war, when one of his paintings was found in Goring's possession, van Meegeren was charged with collaboration, and he chose to come clean.  Nowadays you look at one of his paintings and you think there's no possible way so many people were taken in by this guy, that it must be a joke, his paintings look NOTHING like Vermeer.  But I never expected a museum to own the fact that they purchased a van Meegeren.  I was floored when I turned the corner at this world renown art museum and found The Men at Emmaus, complete with a kiosk explaining in multiple languages the entirety of the van Meegeren fiasco.  But what I laughed at the most was the text panel that proved the museum had a sense of humor about the whole thing.  Art museums in particular need to work on the ability to laugh at themselves.

I mean how fantastic is that??  Anyway, if you want to learn more about the master forger, there are several books written about him, but I really enjoyed The Forger's Spell.

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