Treasures in Trusted Hands

Image: Anonymous, Mask, 1700-1800, Collection Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

On the 29th of May CLUE+ – the Amsterdam based research institute for Culture, History and Heritage – organised a panel discussion to launch the book ‘Treasures in Trusted Hands. Negotiating the Future of Colonial Cultural Objects’ by Jos van Beurden. The ‘hot shots’ of the European museum world gathered on a sunny afternoon in the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam to have a discussion about how museums should deal with objects coming from the former colonies, or in other words, should museums give these objects back to the local communities of the countries they come from?

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Meet van Gogh

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is one of the most popular museums in the country. Despite a changing heritage market, the number of visitors to the Van Gogh Museum have only increased. In 2015 the museum welcomed 1.9 million visitors. All day every day, people are waiting in line to visit the museum and see the paintings of van Gogh. In a clever way, the museum defined its position in the current heritage market and anticipates on the changing role of the museum in society. Something that becomes more and more inevitable for museums who wish to keep their head above water in the contemporary ‘experience economy’, as was mentioned by both Bernadette Schrandt, researcher experience design for museums, and Annemarie de Wildt, curator of the Amsterdam Museum, in a guest lecture given to students of the master Heritage and Memory Studies at the University of Amsterdam.

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An Issue of Representation

Image: Diorama of a Slave Dance, Gerrit Schouten, 1830, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam


I must say I was somewhat surprised when I first heard about the exhibition the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is planning for 2020 on the history of slavery of the Netherlands. Being on the dark side of the Dutch past, before this exhibition the Rijksmuseum almost paid no attention to the subject and tended to focus more on the successes of the Dutch during the colonial era. Even though a lot of ‘treasures’ on display were acquired in the old colonies, the connection is not always clearly made. This upcoming exhibition seems to break with this more moderate and nationalistic approach of the Rijksmuseum and the new director, Taco Dibbits, seems to head for a different direction. This new direction manifests itself already in the current exhibition ‘Goede Hoop’, which focuses on the relationship between South Africa and the Netherlands since 1600.

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