19 September 2014

Ghent to Brussels to Ghent to Brussels to Amsterdam to Brussels, and lovin' it

When I left the U.S., my hotel reservation for the whole time I'm in Belgium was for the Hotel Erasmus in Ghent but I decided it made sense to move my base to Brussels for the last few nights so I'd be closer to the airport for the 10 am departure on Saturday. And then last Sunday I heard from Geurt, my friend from Amsterdam, that he couldn't make it to Belgium but we could get together in Amsterdam. So it's been a bit of a week. Tuesday, I took the train from Ghent to Brussels for the day and spent most of it at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts. More Flemish primitives: The Judgment of Emperor Otto by Dirk Bouts, Temptation of Saint Anthony by Hieronymus Bosch, Saint Sebastian by Hans Memling, among those that particularly grabbed me. For the Italophiles in the crowd, I saw another trio of Italian-speakers: man with presumed parents, and then I saw the same fellow I'd seen in Antwerp answering his mother's incessant "questo? questo?" The museum is pretty comprehensive in the painting universe with some fine Bruegels and Rubens. I didn't realize that the Death of Marat by J-L David was in Brussels so it was delightful to find that around the corner as I entered a French gallery.

The Royal Museums has just opened a section they call the Fin-de-Siecle Museum which has works from the 1860s into the 20th century with quite a bit of Ensor. I was especially taken by Hugo van der Goes in the Red Cloister by Emile Wauters:
Hugo van der Goes has been a favorite artist for many years (since Nancy and I teased in grad school about the unknown Netherlandish painter Hermione van der Goes to whom we attributed many works). I hadn't studied his biography however and learned during this trip that he ended his life in a monastery after his melancholy turned to madness. I also discovered that the Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch is planning a big Hieronymus Bosch exhibition in 2016 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Bosch's death.

Wednesday I went to the city museum in Ghent (Stadsmuseum Gent or STA.M) and wished that I'd done it early on. The displays start with a model of the city today and the floor in that room is a satellite photograph. Lots of interesting historical things and manuscripts and archives. Toward the end of the circuit, there were some models of 1970s plans for urban development. I'm glad those megastructures weren't built just outside the historic center of town. The art center at Sint-Pietersabdij had an interesting show of Turkish calligraphy and there was a sign for the show on Vivian Maier (this year's photography sensation) that had just closed. And then it was off to get my stuff and take the train to Brussels to meet the fellow whose apartment I'm staying in via misterbnb. Great price, central location.

Yesterday (Thursday), I took the Thalys fast train from Brussels to Amsterdam to spend the day with Geurt. What a fine day. We walked from Central Station over to the Museum Het Schip, a museum devoted to the Amsterdam School of expressionist architecture in the early 20th century. The museum is centered in the Eigen Haard block of apartments built by a workers' housing association. We got to tour one of the apartments and look up into the tower which is inspirational rather than functional (no problem).
The brick work is magnificent. This neighborhood was being developed by various groups in the 'teens and into the 'twenties and this picture is taken from the front of apartments built at the same time by a Protestant housing organization in a traditional style. Behind me is a complex built by a Philosophical group (said the guide, did he mean Theosophical?) with a bit more expressionism in its details but overall quite traditional.

After a bit of lunch, Geurt and I went to the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam where Geurt treated me to a tour of the office spaces in the new wing (mostly to drop off our bags) and then a tour of the galleries and the Marlene Dumas exhibition. Geurt has worked at the Stedelijk for 32 years so it was great to see the works and spaces with him. And then it was off for a beer at a canal-side cafe and then to the Central Station to return to Brussels. It was raining lightly when I got back, the first time the whole trip. The weather has been mostly glorious and bright with temperatures in the 70s and not even chilly overnight.

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