Friday, January 1, 2010

Heritage at the Hermitage along the Amstel.

When things got on top of her and she felt like spending some time on her own, Catherine the Great of Russia found refuge in a palace that she had had built next to the Winter Palace, in St Petersburg, namely the Hermitage. There she would enjoy among other things her notable Art Collection. Fast forward some 3.5 centuries, shift focus from Russia to Holland and zoom into Amsterdam’s Amstel riverside, sprinkle a little snow on the pavement and the flimsiest dusting of it in the air and join me, if you will, on a quick visit to the newest Museum to have opened its doors around here: the Hermitage aan de Amstel.

Put into the perspective of a city where two of the main museums are partly or completely closed for extensive renovations that will last years (Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk) and the centre itself gutted in the middle by the North South Metro Line Works that promise to last much longer than planned and overshoot the budget by a mind numbing number, the success of the HaA is very good news. Almost a year after its opening, the amount of visitors has risen to double the estimates. Deservedly. The infrastructure is well designed.

Theme of the present exhibition is a choice of clothes, costumes, uniforms and precious objects from the court of the Tsars. Pivoting around a central hall, the Throne on one end and a central isle filled with the costumes and uniforms, a sequel of smaller side rooms hosts a series of displays dedicated to different aspects of Court Life, such as Religion, Marriage, War, and so on. A corner projection room gives one a black and white impression of early 20th century St Petersburg streets through a non-stop compilation of vintage films. Then a few photographs to top the lot.

The scale of the building and of the show is quite right, enjoyable and fresh, instructive without being overwhelming. Maybe a little thin on the historical perspective, so that if any well informed person can find it impossible to feel nostalgia for such a sorry state of affairs as the Tsarist Regime actually was, the display of so much gilded glory and fine craftsmanship could induce in a more casual visitor a state of blissful amnesia. Selective memory could be construed as being as misleading as outright lies, when history is concerned, and I fear that a modern agenda is at the heart of this as other choices concerning this exhibition. Far out of my scope to fathom exactly what this hidden purpose may be, I can only welcome the Cultural Exchange that will benefit my city and hope that future exhibitions will bring more of the enormous Hermitage Collection within our easy reach. Were I given the privilege of some curatorial say in the matter, I would call for more paintings and Art in general.

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