Wanted: Mr./Mrs. Perfect

This post is also available in: Dutch

Ann Goldstein’s departure at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam has been much discussed. She will leave her position as artistic director, as of the 1st of December 2013. The renovation of the building has been completed, but on the level of content, a lot still needs to be done. In this transitional period, the Stedelijk seems to have lost some of its international visibility and vision. Why then, is Goldstein leaving now? Gossip about the reasons for this premature departure filled many a (digital) pen. The newspaper De Volkskrant published a list of about 10 possible new candidates from the Dutch art field, immediately after its announcement of Goldstein’s departure, and it pumped Sjarel Ex, director of the Boijmans Museum, for information. Before she has even left, it seems everyone is already scrambling to find a new perpetrator to trump. Metropolis M published an apologetic piece; apparently it is all our own fault. On the blog, many responses listed all that had gone wrong. Clearly an unusual situation like this offers space for analysis of the exact motives. But what the discussion really reveals is our own expectations of both the museum and its director.

That expectations are huge is apparent in the wording chosen by the supervisory board for the advertisement of the post of Artistic Director. Going by the ad, it is doomed to fail: let’s be honest, the post requires a Mr. of Mrs. Perfect. They are looking for someone who feels at home in all areas of the arts and is able to keep control. Mr. of Mrs. Perfect should address a clear view of the collection, must work multi-disciplinarily, must be an art market hotshot, have great connections with young artists an can also keep the 20th century relevant. Besides all this, he or she must maintain both a strong international network and maintain a connection with the local network. He or she is both the face of the institute to the outside world, and must manage the team of staff members. The long list of requirements seems endless. A while back, Goldstein said in an interview for Vrij Nederland, that it is a mistake to strive for the top, advice that the supervisory board seems to have ignored. Mr. or Mrs. Perfect is still out there.

My grandmother used to say: expectation creates disappointment. This is especially true when expectations are so generic that its actual goal becomes hazy. The most remarkable sentence in the ad is: “… will make the museum 21st century-proof”. That sounds plausible but what does it mean exactly? And how can the Stedelijk Museum distinguish itself? Besides international and national competition, the Stedelijk is now surrounded by the revamped Van Gogh- and Rijksmuseums; Eye, with its provocative audio-visual program and the Hermitage with its uncontended classics. The board asks that the future artistic director has a clear vision, but it seems to be clueless itself, by practically giving out a ‘carte blanche’.

The Stedelijk Museum seems to have the potential to distinguish itself as a as a vigorous and characteristic institute, but it needs a mission. I saw the Stedelijk Museum for the first time when it recently reopened after its renovation. As a young artist, I envision this museum as a pioneering institute that holds its own beside the many high-quality artist’s initiatives, exhibition spaces and other experimental labs in The Netherlands. In fact, I believe the museum should seek out collaborations with smaller national and international artist’s initiatives in order to show its guts and character. The Stedelijk should set an example by opening up its doors to for niches in the arts, programming in collaboration with artist’s initiatives, residencies and other alternative platforms. Who knows, it would in any case be proof of personality and boldness.

The application round has now been closed, so selecting a new artistic director can begin. To help the supervisory board, or to encourage the candidates who will soon have to present themselves perfectly and may need to have things put into perspective, I would like to propose the following: this is a call to all art-lovers and professionals to respond with a top-3 list of necessary capabilities and goals, as an encore for the brave successor or as a comment directed at the supervisory board. Not to moan, but to cheer on Mr. or Mrs. Perfect, future artistic director of the Stedelijk Museum, with all his or her imperfections.