WASSENAAR, Netherlands — The sculpture “Open Ended” by American artist Richard Serra could be a symbol for the new Museum Voorlinden near the Dutch North Sea coast. Serra’s huge steel work is surprising, thrilling and bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside.
The 216-ton walk-through sculpture is one of the permanent exhibits at the museum that opens its doors to the public on Sept. 11 to showcase the eclectic collection of modern and contemporary art amassed by wealthy Dutch industrialist Joop van Caldenborgh.
Set amid manicured lawns and flower beds behind undulating tree-covered dunes just outside The Hague, the building is only the size of a football pitch, says Wim Pijbes, who left the iconic Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to take charge of Voorlinden. But the natural light-filled museum feels far bigger and will house the permanent artworks alongside two special exhibitions when the doors finally open after three years of construction.
One exhibition, Full Moon, showcases a selection of highlights from Van Caldenborgh’s collection, including a three-legged table by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, a glass cabinet containing dozens of stubbed-out cigarettes by Damien Hirst and a huge camouflage painting by American pop artist Andy Warhol, which he completed a year before his death.
Pijbes describes Van Caldenborgh as an adventurous collector with “a good eye” who bought many works by young artists who went on to become household names.
“It’s not so difficult to buy a Damien Hirst nowadays,” Pijbes said. “If you have millions, just go ahead.”
The second special exhibit focuses on the work of American abstract artist Ellsworth Kelly. Major institutions from around the world, including London’s Tate and the Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, sent Kelly works for the first major European retrospective since the artist’s death late last year at age 92.
It was a labor of love for Van Caldenborgh and guest curator Rudi Fuchs, formerly of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum.
“Kelly was one of his first loves as a collector,” Pijbes said. “This really is a dream exhibition for Mr. Van Caldenborgh. This is typically the kind of art — so pure and elegant— it’s made for the building, or vice-versa you could say the building is made to serve or celebrate the color and the works of Kelly. They go together very well.”
The museum, with its giant windows framing the colorful vistas outside, offers a dramatic backdrop for permanent pieces like Serra’s huge sculpture.
In an adjoining room is a double-life-size, hyper-realistic sculpture by Australian Ron Mueck of an elderly couple underneath a colorful beach parasol, which seems fitting as it is so close to the Dutch North Sea beaches. In a playful juxtaposition that riffs on the scale of things, just around the corner from the giant couple is a pair of tiny elevators by Maurizio Cattelan.
The museum also provided a rare opportunity to literally build in permanent exhibits like Leandro Erlich’s “Swimming Pool,” which … well, just go see it but don’t try to dive in.
Van Caldenborgh originally got the idea for the museum after two exhibitions of his collection in Rotterdam. After failing to find suitable space in Rotterdam and The Hague, he bought the 40-hectare Voorlinden estate on the edge of Wassenaar, one of the Netherlands’ most affluent villages, and set about planning and building his own personal museum, following in the footsteps of super-rich collectors around the world who prefer to have their beloved art exhibited in a custom-made setting instead of bequeathing it to existing a museum that might only be able to display a tiny fraction of the works.
“People always ask me, ‘Is this a dream?’ And the answer is: No, the building was more of a nightmare,” Van Caldenborgh said as he walked along one of the museum’s whitewashed corridors with Artistic Director Suzanne Swarts, who put together the opening exhibition.
But, he added with a laugh, “wandering alone through the Kelly exhibition or her (Swarts’) exhibition in the evening, completely alone, nobody here — I have the key and I can go in — I can tell you, that’s a dream.”
If you go:
Museum website: http://www.voorlinden.nl/
The Ellsworth Kelly exhibition “Anthology” runs through Jan. 8, 2017.
Entry: 15 euros ($16.70) for adults, 7.50 euros ($8.35) for children aged 13-18 and free for children up to age 12.
Address: Buurtweg 90, Wassenaar.
The museum is most easily reached by car or bicycle. Buses — the 43 and 44 — run from The Hague’s central rail station about six kilometers (four miles) to the town of Wassenaar (get off at the Wittenburgerweg stop), which is about a 20-minute walk from the museum.