Towards a Museum of Belonging
by Valeria Mari
As a student with the Master’s program in Art History at Utrecht University, I engaged in a seven-month-long internship within the Research and Curatorial Practice department at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. I explored the new museum visions put into practice since Rein Wolfs’s directorship began in 2019 and which looks toward changes in societies across the globe. Since the late-nineteenth century, the Stedelijk has collected over 100,000 works, predominantly presented and shaped by a white Western male perspective. Years of activism have prepared the ground for big change in the museum’s narrative, making it ready to take distance from that perspective and tell “other stories” that had mistakenly been overlooked in the past.
The museum’s new direction has shifted from artist-driven to artist-, audience-, and context-driven, giving space to socially relevant stories behind the collection’s works from a more inclusive and diverse point of view. The Stedelijk’s team is opening up conversations with new voices regardless of gender, race, and social background, adopting an acquisition policy that allows it to equally collect and present works by women, men, non-binary artists, and artists associated with diasporas. The mission, therefore, is not to “repair” the past, which would be unjust and not feasible, but rather to reframe the collection’s narrative by acquiring new works that can fill gaps in the collection.
On the occasion of the new collection presentation split into three parts in the museum’s old building (1880–1950, 1950–80, and 1980–Now), I contributed to making the Stedelijk’s current pivot point more transparent and explicit to the public. I interviewed experts who have been working at the museum for a long time and have been witnesses and agents in change. I collected different voices and perspectives from what I consider to be the museum storyteller departments, such as the Curatorial, Research and Curatorial Practice, Education and Inclusion, and Communication and Marketing. I treasured the thoughts and behind-the-scenes view of Curator Leontine Coelewij, Head of the Education and Inclusion department Emma Harjadi Herman, Senior Editor Gwen Parry, and Press Officer Marie-José Raven. They shared on their starts at the museum, department strategies, and collection presentations over the past ten years under different directors, and how they contributed to shaping the narrative of the new collection presentation during Wolfs’s era.
With this publication of four interviews, I wish that audiences see the behind the scenes of the museum and through this become more involved in today’s conversations.
Immense thanks to the interviewees, Director Rein Wolfs and the entire staff of the Stedelijk, with special thanks to Head of the Research and Curatorial Practice department Charl Landvreugd, Senior Editor and my museum supervisor Gwen Parry, and the academic supervisor Dr Victor Schmidt for supporting and leading my research project.
Valeria Mari is a Master’s student in the Art History department at Utrecht University, researching inclusion and diversity in museum institutions. As an intern within the Research and Publications department at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (August 2021–March 2022), she coordinated online publications for exhibition projects Kirchner and Nolde Expressionism Colonialism (2021– 2022) and It’s Our F***ing Backyard Designing Material Futures (2022). She now works for the Stedelijk as Publications Coordinator for the 2022 edition of the biannual project Municipal Art Acquisitions When Things Are Beings: Proposals for the Museum Collection.
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