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The New Rijksmuseum (First Run Features)

Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum was founded in 1800, moving several times, until the current main building, designed by Dutchman Pierre Cuypers, first opened its doors in 1885. This extraordinary documentary builds up to its 13 April 2013 re-opening, after a ten-year renovation which cost €375 million and is the most visited museum in the Netherlands.

It displays over 8,000 objects of art and Dutch history, from 1200-2000, which includes masterpieces by Rembrandt, Hals, and Vermeer. So it’s safe to say it’s an important world-class repository of great art and valuable history, European and otherwise.

But by 2003, it became clear that it needed a remodel and an upgrade. So the Board of Directors hired a re-modeling firm [Spanish architects Cruz and Ortiz], and then the fun (!) began. Art v. Commerce; arrogant leaders of the Dutch fine arts world meet arrogant and foot-dragging bureaucrats, goosed by civic groups representing bicyclists and pedestrians. How can democracy go wrong?  Check out this winning film. You won’t see the art world in such complacent terms ever again.

Directed with patience and cunning by Oeke Hoogendijk, the two-hours is a combination of viewing glorious art works stored, repaired and otherwise kept out of the public’s eye for a decade while the folks in charge dither, argue, and withhold until the massive rehab was done, gorgeously and expensively (in current dollars, just under $400,000,000).

It’s a valuable, if unsettling, view on the above conflicts, epic inasmuch as it explores in great detail how civic vs. commercial entities work. No villains, exactly – even most of the arrogance has been earned by education and experience, but you have to wonder how much the lessons cost each of the participants.
However, in the end, the chance to see valuable up-close art-work from Dutch, other European, and Asian masters is all the more reason to enjoy this documentary and find ways we can all contribute to a healthy dialogue on the value of art in all our lives.