Thursday, June 7, 2012

Amsterdam trip, day three

We spent most of our third day around Museumplein...

We took the tram from Central Station to the Van Gogh Museum, where there was already a huge line. But since we'd bought a 48-hour iAmsterdam City Card, we were able to skip the line. (I have mixed feelings about the usefulness of the card, which I'll get to in my last post.)

We liked the Van Gogh Museum, but didn't love it, and I think part of the reason is because while they have a lot of Van Gogh paintings, they have very few of his stellar works (which, incidentally, is the same problem the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe has) and so at no point was I ever bowled over. Cagatay doesn't care much for Van Gogh at all -- he doesn't think he's a technically good artist, which is probably true, but what I like about him is his unique vision and the energy of his paintings...there's been no other artist in the world who's portrayed the world in such a way, and at the end of the day, I think that's more important than technical know-how. Probably my favorite painting that we saw in the museum was "Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette," for its humor. (The museum has an amazing website -- you can look through their permanent collection, either by genre or period, and each of the paintings has at least a paragraph of information accompanying it.)

Actually, I thought the most interesting part of the Van Gogh Museum was the Dreams of Nature: Symbolism from Van Gogh to Kandinsky exhibit, on until June 17, which might be one of the most impressive museum displays I have ever seen.

A number of the paintings had music to go with them. The most overwhelming (in a good way) was Arnold Böcklin's Isle of the Dead, which Rachmaninov was inspired to compose a piece for. (The YouTube video below doesn't even begin to convey the power Böcklin's painting has in person; check out this version.)

After the Van Gogh Museum, we decided to go into the Rijksmuseum, or at least what's open of it. I feel like the conventional wisdom on museum-going is to be at the door when the museum opens to beat the crowds, but that doesn't seem to be true in Amsterdam, since that's what everyone is doing -- we noticed that the crowds and lines thinned out around lunchtime.

I had read somewhere that there was a benefit to having the majority of the Rijksmuseum closed, as the Philips wing -- the only part that's open -- basically provides a condensed, best-of-the-best version of the museum. I'm not a huge fan of Dutch Golden Age art -- it's technically amazing but pretty passionless, in my opinion (see Van Gogh, above) -- so this was probably enough, and I enjoyed what we saw. The Philips wing was made up of a mixture of works, too, keeping it interesting -- in addition to the paintings, some of which are world famous, there were book illustrations, maps, ceramics, sculptures...

I quite liked how Andy Warhol's silkscreen of Queen Beatrix and the angel sculpture lined up. But probably my favorite piece was this faience shoe, circa 1660-1675, mostly for the information that went with it: "Minature shoes were presented as gifts and had a slightly erotic connotation."

We left the museum around 4pm and were absolutely starving, which led us to eat at Burger King -- a poor choice. It was already expensive and so it was a surprise to find out you had to pay extra for ketchup, mayonnaise and the toilet. Plus, my burger was a little burned, the bastards.

After that, we decided to take a canal cruise, which was included as part of the iAmsterdam card. We had about 30 minutes to kill, so we wandered into the nearby Vondelpark, which was a nice oasis in the middle of the city, but it started to rain -- which was the story of our trip (and why most of my photos look so bleak). The canal cruise took about an hour and it was nice enough, though because of the low water level, I think the city is better appreciated on foot.

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