28 June 2012

A mixed bag at Centraal Museum, Utrecht

I was enjoying my stroll in the south-east corner of the old centre of Utrecht when the threatened rains made their appearance and so I headed for the shelter of the Centraal Museum that I had just seen sign-posted.

I had no idea of what to expect and the broken English conversation with the receptionist did little to help. However, she did hand me a useful map of the buildings.

I headed for the section that I thought would be the history of Utrecht only to find piles of collections from digs that would probably be of interest to archaeologists but that's not me.

A little disappointed I headed for the top floor that promised architecture and furniture. There in an attic was a collection of drawings, models and furniture by Gerrit Rietveld. I was in my element. It had all the feel of an exhibition at RIBA and that is high praise.

The museum is oddly shaped which is where the map came in handy though it failed to point out that the cafe was closed on a Saturday afternoon.


Several of the exhibition spaces were devoted to modern art, some of it dating back almost a century so the epithet "modern" is less accurate.

An oddly shaped corner had an odd installation that I loved because there is so much going on it, right down to the copy of the English newspaper, The Mirror, on the bed. The white figure above the bed had a strangely haunting feel that evoked in me thoughts of some comic characters and their creators.

Other works were modern in a more traditional way and there were collections containing abstract paintings and landscapes that think they are abstracts.

One exhibition that I was keen to see was God Save The Queen covering the punk era in The Netherlands. I had to ask for directions to find it and then realised that the route shown on the map was a tunnel between the two buildings.

This was a large exhibition in its own right and I probably spent more time in this part of the museum than all the rest of it put together.

Of course that it helped that I liked the subject matter having been an early enthusiast of punk music in my student days.

There was plenty of memorabilia from that era to wallow in including record covers, posters, badges and newspaper clippings. I just have to see the number 999 and the song Emergency immediately bursts in to my head. Other songs came easily too and it took some effort to move on to other galleries.

The hardest one to leave had videos and comfy chairs and I spent quite a few very happy minutes watching Siouxsie and the Banshees in concert.

There was a lot more to God Save The Queen than the music and the contemporary art was excellent too.

While motivated by the same things as the music, or even the music itself, the art took different directions and it was hard to discern something that might be called Punk Art whereas Punk Rock is obvious.

The picture galleries were large, as they should be, and that meant that they could easily accommodate some huge pieces.

When it comes to art, size can make a difference and nothing quite makes an impact as walking in to a room and being confronted by a striking piece of art too large to fit in most houses.

The only thing I could possibly follow punk with was Miffy.


The Miffy exhibition was a relatively small display in a separate building, most of which was allocated to the Miffy shop. It was designed very much with the younger visitors in mind but there was also stuff there to engage the older people looking after them.

I liked the display showing the how a drawing is created and found examples of Dick Bruna's work interesting too. Though, in the final analysis, you just have to admit that Miffy is one cute bunny.

In the unlikely event that I ever find myself back in Utrecht one day then I'll certainly consider another visit to the Centraal Museum. Especially if it rains again.

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