Since its original conception nearly 125 years ago the Stedelijk Museum has undergone a variety of transformations. From the transition of nineteenth century institution to site of modernism, perseverance in wartime period to the triumphs of post-war counterculture, the museum itself has witnessed histories and memories of diverse substance. In the exhibition theme, “Institutional History,” it is these very histories – and moreover, memories – which are sifted through and reexamined in their contemporary contexts.
Inspired by the research of Stedelijk curator Margriet Schavemaker, the exhibitions of the past years have often highlighted canonical Stedelijk exhibitions through the use of extensive archival material, restoration projects, and historically-oriented discursive perspectives. This series has included presentations such as The Stedelijk Museum & The Second World War in 2015, inspired by the institutional history of the museum during the wartime period, ZERO: Let Us Explore the Stars (2015), a contemporary reconsideration of the international ZERO collective and the Stedelijk’s role as a launching pad for the group’s most canonical experiments, and Tinguely: Machine Spectacle (2017), which reflected not only on the work of Jean Tinguely but also his involvement in the iconic exhibitions Bewogen Beweging (1961) and Dylaby (1962) at the Stedelijk.
With the 2017 exhibition Jean Dubuffet: The Deep End, yet another example appears of the discursive integration of institutional history and contemporary research. While the exhibition simultaneously boasts new research and collaboration with the neighboring Rijksmuseum, distinctive about the presentation is its extant connection to the first large-scale Dubuffet exhibition having occurred in the Stedelijk in 1966. The exhibition today, as a result, interweaves history and contemporaneity, carefully tying together the significance of the museum itself as a site of memories related to the work of Dubuffet but also the aspiration to create innovative perspectives through new and exciting curatorial practices today.
The integration of institutional history within exhibition practice signals not a return to the past, but rather, a contemporary examination of the fuller picture of the life cycle of artwork by taking into account the significant historical aspects which have molded its transient meaning since its original acquisition. From this perspective, the many transitions of the Stedelijk Museum in the past 125 years are reintroduced within the interpretation of the collection itself, allowing histories and memories to resurface and undergo transformation with every new presentation.