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The 1949-1969 period was characterised by the search for a new relationship between art and the public, with fresh roles for art and cultural institutions. Enlightening people and democratising art were among the aims of this new ethos. The chosen case studies translated these ideas into the pursuit of a direct, personal relationship between the visitor and the artwork, simultaneously raising architectural, museological and social issues.

However, the exhibition designs do not provide a single solution. Sometimes, a solitary work is displayed alone in a quiet, focused environment. Other installations aim to achieve a sense of immersion, or confound conventions and expectations to provoke a spontaneous encounter – in a labyrinth, for example. Various displays create an intimate one-on-one encounter with the artwork, while others set the stage for a communal experience.

Gulbenkian partnership

Art on Display 1949-69 came about thanks to an invitation from the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon to develop the exhibition together. It marks the 50th anniversary of the Gulbenkian Museum, which was initiated in 1949 and opened its doors two decades later (1949-69). From a shared interest in the role of the architect in the museum and the design of exhibitions, the Gulbenkian Museum’s director Penelope Curtis approached Dirk van den Heuvel, head of the Jaap Bakema Study Centre and an expert on the work of Aldo van Eyck and the Smithsons, and Guus Beumer, general and artistic director of Het Nieuwe Instituut. The exhibition in Rotterdam, in contrast to the one in Lisbon, does not take place against the background of the permanent display of a collection, but is part of a multi-year programme about 1:1 reconstructions. Previous exhibitions include 1:1 Sets for Erwin Olaf and 1:1 Period Rooms. The Rotterdam exhibition was designed by architect Jo Taillieu.

The dozens of paintings and sculptures displayed in the reconstructions are from the collections of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon. Pieces from these collections have never been shown in the Netherlands before. Exhibits include 18th- and 19th- century works from the private collection of the British-Armenian businessman and philanthropist Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian, and works by modern Portuguese and British artists, including Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Terry Frost and John Hoyland, from the Modern Collection. 

Gulbenkian Collection

The artworks shown in the reconstructions are from the collections of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon. Paintings and sculptures from the Founder’s Collection and the Modern Collection have been used to enhance the 1:1 reconstructions and highlight their various scenographic qualities. Works from the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum collections have never been shown in the Netherlands before. Brought together by British-Armenian businessman and philanthropist Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian, the Founder’s Collection is one of the most renowned private collections in the world. It covers a wide selection of works from antiquity to the Renaissance and Baroque, Art Nouveau and Art Deco, as well as Asian art. The Modern Collection is considered to be the most complete collection of modern and contemporary Portuguese art in the world.

Photo: Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. Islamic East art gallery, 1970. Calouste Gulbenkian Museum archive. Photo: Mário de Oliveira.

1:1 Reconstructions

Since it was established in 2013, Het Nieuwe Instituut has experimented with exhibition formats that go beyond mere presentation to pose questions and raise issues. Art on Display 1949-69 is part of a series of exhibitions consisting of 1:1 models that focus on the specific qualities of the interior at the intersection of architecture and design. With his installation 1:1 Period Rooms (2015), the Greek architect and artist Andreas Angelidakis presented a narrative about the significance of the museum space in the history of displaying objects. He did this by creating five spaces, each representing part of an imaginary dialogue between a period room and the white cube.

The exhibition 1:1 Sets for Erwin Olaf (2013) consisted of six three-dimensional sets made for the photographer Erwin Olaf by set designer Floris Vos. Each of these sets created a world that existed only for a photograph, solely to bring a character to life. Framing an image directs the actor’s and viewer’s gaze. Most recently, Het Nieuwe Instituut presented an installation by members of the film collective, The Ummah Chroma. They created a 1:1 set inspired by their film As Told to G / D Thyself, in which visitors are invited to become performers in a ritualistic space. It raises the question of whether these 1:1 models belong to the world of architecture or design, or, as projections of a dreamed inner world, to the domain of art.

Museology

Art on Display 1949-69 is part of the Museology programme of the Jaap Bakema Study Centre, which initiates and conducts research projects in the field of architecture and urban planning that generate exhibitions, publications and debates related to the programme of Het Nieuwe Instituut and the research programme of the Faculty of Architecture at Delft University of Technology. With Art on Display 1949-69, the Jaap Bakema Study Centre gives direction to the debate by exploring the broader cultural context of exhibition design. The exhibition is accompanied by an events programme, including a masterclass for the postgraduate programme The Berlage with Barry Bergdoll, architectural historian and curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Penelope Curtis, Dirk van den Heuvel
jo taillieu architecten
Goda Budvytyte
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
LEVS architecten, WDJARCHITECTEN, Hubert-Jan Henket

Art on Display 1949-69 is part of a series of exhibitions consisting of 1:1 models that focus on the specific qualities of the interior at the intersection of architecture and design.