Channeling His Youth, Rem Koolhaas Redesigns the Stedelijk’s Collection Display

The newest wing of the Stedelijk in Amsterdam will display about 700 highlights from the museum’s permanent collection, including works by Alexander Calder, Marlene Dumas and Yves Klein.

AMSTERDAM — The renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas has designed landmark buildings in cities from Miami Beach to Beijing, so it would be natural for him to delegate the task of rehanging a local museum’s collection. But because the museum in question is the Stedelijk in Amsterdam, which Mr. Koolhaas visited regularly in his youth, he took a very personal interest.

“From age 12 to 18, I was here every day,” Mr. Koolhaas said recently, as he oversaw the remounting of artworks, and a test audience of 70 visitors meandered through the new space. “My entire visual sensibility was defined by this museum.”

On Saturday, the museum will unveil Stedelijk Base, its new permanent collection presentation of about 700 highlights, including works by Alexander Calder, Marlene Dumas, Yves Klein, Jeff Koons, Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian, Cindy Sherman and Jean Tinguely. The permanent display was relocated from the museum’s older part to its newest wing, designed by the Dutch architect Mels Crouwel and opened in 2012.

For the last five years, this space, known as “the bathtub” because of it’s basinlike exterior, has been used for temporary exhibitions of works by living artists. But a former Stedelijk director, Beatrix Ruf, who ran the museum until October, decided to flip the script and use the new wing for its permanent collection.

“It feels like a second reopening,” said Margriet Schavemaker, the Stedelijk’s head of collections and research, who worked with a team of about a dozen curators and project architects to choose the 700 artworks from the museum’s trove of about 90,000 paintings, photographs, objects and furniture. She added, “It’s a very fresh and radical way to approach it, countering the idea that the new wing should be used to show new work.”

With a local steel company, Mr. Koolhaas and Federico Martelli, the project architect from Mr. Koolhaas’s firm AMO, developed free-standing steel walls to divide up the 3,600-square-foot space, on two floors. The artworks are presented chronologically, from 1880 to the present, along the gallery walls; the steel partitions, which float in the middle of the gallery, hold thematically related artworks, furniture, design pieces and photography linked to the paintings.

For example, moving sculptures by Tinguely are displayed on a free-standing wall underneath two hanging mobiles by Alexander Calder, and next to Marcel Duchamp’s “La boite-en-valise” (1934-41), a leather box filled with photographs and reproductions of art, considered a major influence on kinetic artists.

“We were looking for ways to make the collection more relevant, and the idea prevailed that an artwork is part of a network, and these networks have to do with design and posters and furniture,” Ms. Schavermaker said. “Another metaphor is the internet, how people search online and they are presented with a cloud of related ideas and activities. That was very influential in how we wanted to design the space.”

Mr. Koolhaas and Mr. Martelli felt this design was consistent with the Stedelijk’s history of presenting works. Willem Sandberg, the museum’s director during Mr. Koolhaas’s teenage visits, often invited the young, cutting-edge artists he championed to design the space for their own exhibitions.

“We also had a new wing in the 1950s, and that’s where Sandberg, the legendary guy, did his kind of weird stuff,” Mr. Koolhaas said. “The space had no partitions, so for every exhibition he asked an artist to kind of reinvent the whole space. Some walls were kind of paper-thin cardboard, and some people used really radical materials, so we’ve been channeling that. There has been a lot of channeling.”

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