Wim Pijbes to leave Rijksmuseum for new museum on Dutch coast

Multi-millionaire collector lures director away from Amsterdam to lead contemporary art space

by Javier Pes  |  1 March 2016
Wim Pijbes to leave Rijksmuseum for new museum on Dutch coast
Wim Pijbes with Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands celebrate the reopening of the Rijksmuseum
The director general of the Rijksmuseum, Wim Pijbes, has decided to leave the Netherlands' national museum of art and history this summer to run the new Museum Voorlinden, which is nearing completion on the Dutch coast.

Pijbes took the helm of the Rijksmuseum in 2008 when the main building of the Amsterdam institution had been closed for five years for a major modernisation and expansion that was taking years longer than planned. He got the €375m project back on track so that the Rijksmuseum could reopen in April 2013 to widespread acclaim.

In a statement Pijbes said: “The building is now open and thanks to our internationally renowned website the collection is visible to all.” He added that the Rijksmuseum is “in the hearts and minds of the public, and that makes me enormously grateful”. The Rijksmuseum is visited by around 2.4 million people a year, more than double its attendance before the institution closed for its revamp in 2003. Attendance to highlights of the collection shown in its Philips Wing, including Rembrandt’s Night Watch, remained respectable during the decade when the main museum was a building site.

During Pijbes directorship, the Dutch museum has lent works to the Gulf, including Qatar, and has been active in Asia. It also worked in partnership with leading museums in Europe and the US—acquiring this year two Rembrandt portraits with the Louvre, Paris. “The Rijksmuseum is a global player in terms of co-operation and loans,” Pijbes told us last year, able to draw on a collection that reflects Dutch colonial and mercantile history.

He also raised the profile of Modern and contemporary art in the museum. The museum’s gardens have hosted summer shows of works by Henry Moore and Alexander Calder among others. In the pavilion devoted to the Rijksmuseum’s Asian art collection—an elegant new space created by the Spanish architects Cruz y Ortiz, who renovated the main building and the Philips Wing—visitors find Ai Weiwei’s Tea Brick, 2006, among the historic ceramics, painted screens and bronzes. In 2011, the German artist Anselm Kiefer created works in the yet-to-be-restored Philips Wing in response to Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (1642).

Pijbes is due to start work at the Museum Voorlinden in July, ahead of its planned opening in September with an Ellsworth Kelly exhibition. A pavilion, measuring 6,000 sq. metres, has been designed for temporary exhibitions and to house a monumental work by Richard Serra, as well as pieces by James Turrell, Ai Weiwei and Yayoi Kusama among others. The contemporary art space, which has a sculpture garden, is set in the extensive grounds of a country house on the Dutch coast at Wassenaar, near The Hague. The new institution is founded by the collector Joop van Caldenborgh, a multi-millionaire who made his fortune in the chemical industry.

With Pijbes’s track record of energetic and media savvy leadership—before the Rijksmuseum he ran the Kunsthal Rotterdam—Voorlinden has the potential to become the Netherlands' answer to Denmark’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, which is also situated on the coast and makes the most of its combination of art, architecture and nature.

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