Friday, 7 August 2009

The Complete Rembrandt - Amsterdam

Before I had even booked my flights to Holland, I had planned to visit the Rijksmuseum. It was the perfect opportunity for me to see the works of the Dutch masters that I had been introduced to in first year Art History. However, to my dismay, my long awaited visit was not to be. Wandering around Amsterdam revealed the usual sights, but also what I have nicknamed "Rent-a-Rembrandt." A large shop window, rather than displaying the usual suspects found in shop windows, was instead inhabited by a surprisingly animated Rembrandt, complete with palette and canvas. He spent hours recreating famous works, much to the delight of the quickly gathering crowd of tourists. Intrigued by this whimsical piece of advertising, I took myself off to "The Complete Rembrandt" at Beurs van Berlage, leaving my less than enthusiastic friends to drink beer.

The patrons of this patriotic affair had arranged for partrons to enter upon a red carpet to the sound of classical music. I soon found, however, that this was to be the most stimulating part. The exhibition consisted of accurately sized recreations of all Rembrandt's works which were accompanied by discussions on their creation or subjects. The display itself was totally lacking in atmosphere, the majority of the images being fixed to makeshift metal supports. Although I am aware of the limits of open-space exhibitions and the benefits of floating wall display space, it felt cheap and restricting in this context, and the continuous Dutch voice-over loop of someone who sounded exceedingly bored did little to enhance the atmosphere.

The recreations themselves were curious to me. Due to the fact that they, technically, have no historical or monetary value, you are able to get as close as you like. The problem with this is that you don't quite know what to do once you've got your nose pressed up against Nightwatch. You are viewing brushstrokes that have never been stroked with brushes. Because there is no paint, there is no paint build up and no awareness of layering or thickness. There was no texture or depth to any of the works, which felt as though it was doing Rembrandt a grievous mis-service due to the praise that those aspects of his work attract from academics and amateurs alike. I felt the heavy sense that I was viewing something created in Photoshop, and I felt cheated. I'm certain that this was far from the intention of the exhibition.

My personal highlight was the inclusion Rembrandt's personal facial study etchings (also recreated to scale), particularly as they were hung opposite Nightwatch, which I had only ever seen in powerpoints and had never fully grasped the scale. This, however, is just the grandest example of the simplest derivation from this trip: it was nice. It was nice to see everything all in one place to truly understand and appreciate the scale and impact of Rembrandt's prolific career. It was nice to see images without frames. It was nice to see everything to scale rather than on a computer or in a book. Despite all of this, actual engagement with the art was lacking, thus rendering the exhibition almost useless. Standing in front of Rembrandt's Self Portrait at the Walker had more of an impact on me than being stood in a room that contained everything he had ever created.

Though an excellent concept and display of pride, The Complete Rembrandt lacked personality, depth and engagement. However, if the eight year old boy I was walking behind took anything away from the exhibition, then it has fulfilled its purpose.

No comments:

Post a Comment