new amsterdam


The Stedelijk is still the most chaste of the world’s white-walled modern museums, even with its obligatory representations of frolicsome Pop, rugged postminimalist, and miscellaneous contemporary art. Intentionally or not, the new bathtub entrance hall’s suggestion of hygiene resonates. Finely proportioned, evenly lit rooms anticipate hushed contemplation of things that are hard put to merit it. Austere abstraction fares well. Big canvases by Barnett Newman, inflected only with the vertical divisions (not quite lines and not quite shapes) that he termed “zips,” look more brilliantly cogent at the Stedelijk than in any other setting, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Much of the rest of the work—most tellingly, the work since Andy Warhol—feels impatient with the sacred aura of the place. Physical imperfections glare. The collaged and slathered surfaces and vernacular objects (an umbrella, a mirror) in Robert Rauschenberg’s huge early “combine” painting “Charlene” (1954) come across now as less daring than decrepit. To the extent that the Stedelijk institutionalized the faith of modernism, it has come to incite heretical doubt. That being so—and not neglecting such glories as a room of seminal paintings by Willem de Kooning—it functions as a jittery barometer of present discontents.

more from Peter Schjeldahl at The New Yorker here.