Collecting Geographies

Editorial Stedelijk Studies

Margriet Schavemaker

Stedelijk Studies is the new online journal for publishing research on current topics in the field of art and design. It offers high-quality, peer-reviewed academic research related to the Stedelijk Museum collection, its institutional history (such as education and conservation practice), and topical themes presented accessibly and attractively for international audiences of (up-and-coming) art professionals and those with an interest in art theory and history.

With two thematic issues a year, Stedelijk Studies addresses key issues in modern and contemporary art and design. An international call for papers will be issued for each edition. Six to ten essays are then selected and peer-reviewed by two academics. Stedelijk Studies also publishes complete, stand-alone papers. As a platform for scholarly analysis, the journal enables researchers to respond swiftly to hot issues and make a vital contribution to the current discourse on art theory.

Research in the museum: open access

Even in this time of economic crisis, with severe budget cuts in the arts and culture and with critics claiming that everything revolves around visitor numbers and little else, research remains of vital importance in the museum world. This is certainly the case for the Stedelijk Museum, which has a time-honored tradition of research and (academic) publications; in 1957, the museum founded a library (which today ranks among one of Europe’s most noted libraries of modern and contemporary art and design), and has since published countless extraordinary catalogues over the years. Furthermore, over the past decades, the Stedelijk has gained considerable expertise in areas such as conservation and education, often in the context of collaborative projects with academic partners. In addition to this, the Stedelijk’s academic members of staff carry out thorough research into the museum’s holdings (such as the exhaustive, years-long investigation into the collection as part of the national research project “Museum Acquisitions after 1933,” which examined the provenance of artworks in Dutch museums). With its extremely diverse, in-depth public program of debates, lectures, and book launches, the Stedelijk also demonstrates that the museum is not only a place for thought-provoking exhibitions, but a platform for experimentation, critical reflection, and (academic) debate. The public program is currently focusing on the three-year research project “Global Collaborations,” run by the Stedelijk Museum and Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam, which examines the impact of globalization on contemporary art and the museum.

Similar to Tate Papers and other successful journals produced by museums, Stedelijk Studies offers a focal point for academic reports on research activities at the Stedelijk Museum. The journal marks the importance of research for the Stedelijk. It also represents an indispensable link in the museum’s wide-ranging publication policy that aims to produce quality publications for broad and diverse audiences. Stedelijk Studies is the most scholarly publication in this polyphonic palette of catalogues, children’s books, public guides, and artist’s books: it is an open access platform for researchers, where up-and-coming and established thinkers from around the world can share their research with international audiences.

The academic turn? Collaboration between university and museum

Stedelijk Studies is a cooperation between the Stedelijk Museum, the University of Amsterdam, VU University Amsterdam, Utrecht University, Leiden University, Radboud University Nijmegen, and Maastricht University. This collaboration reflects diverse developments in the museum and academic field.

In the first instance, the role of research in the museum has changed; research in museums occupies a greater and more autonomous role than it once did—no longer restricted to supporting exhibitions and the collection, it has become an independent, often interdisciplinary programming with its own curators and budget. In this regard, Paul O’Neill talks of a “curatorialization of education” and Miwon Kwon of a “discursive turn” in the museum sector.[1] Can we go as far as to call this trend an academic turn? In any case, the trend is part of the so-called “New Institutionalism,” in which museums adopt a self-reflective approach to their strategies as institutions and incorporate research into their everyday practices. Although this often involves a form of critical self-reflection, we see that the academic world is frequently a partner in such programs.

Secondly, several policy plans were published in the Netherlands this year that advocate intensifying collaboration between the academic world and the museum. They argue that greater cooperation will help to resolve many of the concerns expressed by Dutch art historians on the position of art historical research in the Netherlands. There has been talk for some time of a crisis in the discipline, evident in invisibility in the academic field, the few research applications honored by the Netherlands Institute of Scientific Research (NOW) and other bodies, the shrinking number of PhD candidates, the declining number of art history professorships, and the surge of adjoining studies dealing with, for instance, media, culture, and visual studies. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), an advisory body to the Dutch government, installed an “art history foresight committee” that published its findings in early 2014 in the report Verschilzicht: Beweging in het kunsthistorisch onderzoek in Nederland. The paper recommends establishing closer organizational relationships within the field whereby “cooperation between universities, museums and other institutions in this field is essential.”[2]

In this context, the Dutch Postgraduate School for Art History (OSK) drew up a national research agenda that was presented at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht on November 21, 2014. This agenda underscores the importance of collaboration between museums and academia, for the following reasons:

Museums and universities possess a wealth of knowledge and expertise and have a wide international network. By combining these strengths, the OSK aims to create opportunities for the full and dynamic optimization of that capital.[3]

Moreover, there is the national knowledge agenda for the museum branch (“Nationale kennisagenda voor het museale veld”) to consider, presented in early October 2014 during the national museum congress.[4] This agenda is a follow-up to the Museum Memorandum on synergy, entitled Samen Werken, Samen Sterker, in which Minister Bussemaker of the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science announced that, in becoming a more robust partner for the academic world, museums would benefit from working more closely together. By boosting synergy, museums would be able to “make more effective use of the scarce resources, find new sources, and define and reinforce their role as a partner for university research.”[5]

In short, in these times of austerity, institutions must join forces to undertake research regarding the position and practice of the museum, and in relation to art history. In this context, the Minister created a subsidy scheme for the next two years, aimed at encouraging museum staff to engage in postdoctoral research[6]—which is, of course, wonderful. Having lived with dwindling budgets for so long, more funding is now being earmarked for research. Another positive aspect is the considerable broadening of what constitutes the area of research. Rather than being confined to art historical research into the meaning of museum collections, inquiries are now being encouraged into issues and topics relevant to museums in the twenty-first century, from those relating to public outreach to economic concerns, globalization, and sustainability.

Some say that this broadening of the boundaries of research has adverse implications: lately, like art historical research and university education, conventional research into museum collections has suffered considerably, and deserves greater financing and attention. It is no surprise that many art historians interpret the aforementioned broadening as a form of “instrumentalization”[7] of research and are concerned about the marginalization of the in-depth study of art.

How should we position Stedelijk Studies within all this? On the one hand, the journal is ideally suited to exhaustive, substantive research into art and design. The crisis has radically reduced the platforms for sharing this type of research, and the Stedelijk Museum hopes to fill that gap. However, research into art and design in the twenty-first century does more than simply provide those subjects with an art historical and theoretical context, which is why Stedelijk Studies is also open to other, sometimes more practice-based forms of research that are conducted in the museum and the university (such as studies into the presentation, mediatization, commodification, and teaching of art and design).

In other words, Stedelijk Studies brings together all possible forms of research in relation to modern and contemporary art and design: from comprehensive art historical articles to essays on innovative education policy, and from reflections on economic aspects of museum practice to a consideration of what the creative industries mean for art. Through this inclusivity, Stedelijk Studies strives to be a constructive voice in today’s conversation about the meaning of research in the academic and museum sector.

An academic conference is currently being planned for the end of 2015, in cooperation with the Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen. The conference will focus on the current debate surrounding the meaning of research in modern and contemporary art and design museums. Taking place in Copenhagen, the conference will deal with questions such as: What is the relationship between museum research and the academic field? What is the research value of exhibitions? What is the role of the senses in gathering and disseminating knowledge? What does the public contribute to the museum’s knowledge production? What is the economic value of museum research? Exploring such issues will lead to new insights that will be presented during the conference and shared in an accompanying thematic issue of Stedelijk Studies.

The inaugural issue

But first things first: the inaugural issue of Stedelijk Studies is devoted to the theme “Collecting Geographies” and is curated by Stedelijk curator Jelle Bouwhuis and freelance researcher and postdoctoral candidate Christel Vesters. This first edition presents a selection of papers originally written for the conference “Collecting Geographies: Global Programming and Museums of Modern Art,” jointly organized by the Stedelijk Museum, the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the Folkwang Museum in Essen, and the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam between March 13–15, 2014.[8]

The conference and this inaugural issue of Stedelijk Studies are part of “Global Collaborations,” the three-year project launched in late 2012 by the Stedelijk in order to form a well-rounded picture of developments in contemporary art, with particular focus on emerging regions such as Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. The project encompasses collaborations with experimental and versatile art institutions throughout the world, and comprises exhibitions, publications, events, and an online platform.

“Collecting Geographies: Global Programming and Museums of Modern Art” addressed collection acquisition and exhibition programming in a globalized world. The conference offered an overview of the topical issues and questions that are currently at stake as many museums for modern and contemporary art in the West pay serious attention to the acquisition and presentation of art from all over the world, beyond the as yet prevalent dominance of European and North American art. In the articles selected for Stedelijk Studies, we see a variety of critical analyses of the outcomes of this quest. We also discover how, in the past, this deficit was addressed by legendary exhibitions, such as Magiciens de la Terre in 1989 at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the largely forgotten presentation Moderne kunst – Nieuw en Oud at the Stedelijk Museum in 1955. The papers are written by established researchers like Annie Cohen Solal and Kitty Zijlmans, as well as by young academics. The inaugural issue also presents a diverse range of authorial methods and geo-cultural perspectives.

Wherever you are in the world, I hope you find this inaugural issue enjoyable and instructive. I am sure that this new platform for museum and university research with its many inspiring, critical voices can look forward to a bright future. With almost forty researchers, from Australia to Canada and Asia, responding to the call for papers for the second issue, focusing on the theme of “exhibition history” and scheduled for release in July 2015, there is every reason to believe that Stedelijk Studies will be a success!

Margriet Schavemaker is Curator / Head of Collections & Research and Publications at the Stedelijk Museum / Editor-in-Chief Stedelijk Studies


[1] Paul O’Neill and Mick Wilson (eds.), Curating and the Educational Turn (London and Amsterdam: Open Editions/De Appel Arts Centre, 2010), 13; Miwon Kwon, “One Place After Another: Notes on Site Specificity,” October, 80 (Spring 1997): 85­­–110.


[3] Postgraduate School for Art History, Perspectief: Onderzoeksagenda Kunstgeschiedenis 2015–2020, november 2014, 4




[7] Aimed at a more applied form of research that is primarily geared to promoting better economic business operations.


Margriet Schavemaker, “Editorial Stedelijk Studies,” Stedelijk Studies Journal 1 (2014). DOI: 10.54533/StedStud.vol001.art01. This contribution is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.