â€˜The museum puts the desire for innovation into practice and shows that it chooses quality rather than the easy road to success.â€™
Summary Visiting Committee Report Van Gogh Museum, 2012
A museum could not wish for a better opening of a visiting committee report. The committee that visited the Van Gogh Museum in late 2011 is full of praise, but of course, they also offer recommendations to help us do even better. What follows is a summary of the main conclusions of the visiting committee’s report of June 2012. The committee examined the Van Gogh Museum with a very critical eye. ‘The museum is on a par with comparable institutions such as the Musée d’Orsay and institutions (...) such as the National Gallery and Tate in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA in New York. The global significance of the collection, the large visitor numbers and the high expectations place heavy demands on the institution, and the museum sets high standards for itself in all its areas of activity. In evaluating the museum, the committee held it to similarly high standards.’ Against this background, the ratings of ‘excellent’ received in multiple areas by the Van Gogh Museum are a great compliment. Fascinating exhibitions The Van Gogh Museum has a focussed permanent collection, with 200 paintings by Van Gogh, 500 drawings and almost all of his letters, as well as a collection of paintings and works on paper by his contemporaries. These present visitors with an overview of Van Gogh’s development and enable them to compare his work with that of other artists of his day. ‘In the committee’s opinion, the manner in which the museum combines and presents the works of Van Gogh and his contemporaries merits a rating of excellent.’ 2
‘What a magnificent museum! A world-famous collection, a host of special exhibitions, and directors who are keenly aware of the museum’s unique character and keep this in mind when planning museum activities.’
The temporary exhibitions, both in the museum building and elsewhere, also made a good impression. When choosing subjects, we always look for a connection with the work or life of Van Gogh or his contemporaries, while always seeking striking and original perspectives. We alternate between well-known and lesser-known topics and artists, an approach valued by our visitors and by the visiting committee. Varied public For years, the Van Gogh Museum has remained enduringly popular among Dutch and international visitors. We try to serve all our visitor groups as well as possible, with custom-designed activities such as the MuseumPlusBus, our educational programmes and our Friday evening programmes aimed at visitors aged 18-35. The visiting committee is satisfied with the quality of the educational programmes and observe that ‘there is a great deal of creativity present in the organisation.’ The committee does recommend that we further develop this target group approach. In particular, there is greater potential for activities for the 12-18 age group. Using detailed information about visitors and their opinions of the museum is another way for the Van Gogh Museum to raise its diverse programme of activities to a still higher level. Research The Van Gogh Museum is an authority in Van Gogh studies, and the committee notes its strong reputation in this area. The museum has a world-class collection, and the committee concludes that its international role in research is commensurate with the quality of this collection. They award the Van Gogh Museum’s research activities a rating of ‘excellent’. The committee is surprised by the state secretary’s decision to eliminate the research budget when the museum’s 3
performance in this area is so impressive. The museum regards research as the basis for its exhibitions, activities (educational and otherwise) and publications. At this museum, research is the foundation for all our activities, and this is reflected in our partnerships with universities and other institutions. In the committee’s opinion, we make a clear contribution to research in the fields of art history, technical examination and material studies. ‘Without a doubt, the Van Gogh Museum is the benchmark institution and the centre of expertise with regard to the life and work of Van Gogh, in the Netherlands and internationally, and this forms a unique selling point of worldwide significance.’
Knowledge sharing The findings of the Van Gogh Museum’s research are shared in many ways, in keeping with the key words of our research policy: ‘high-quality, creative and innovative, accessible and visible, cohesive and community-oriented’. We work hard to make our work and our knowledge available in digital and other forms. For instance, the committee praises w ww. vangoghsatelierpraktijk.nl (English version: www.vangoghsstudiopractice.com), www.vangoghletters.org, and www.hetgeheugenvannederland.nl, as well as the fact that some digital resources, such as www.vangoghletters.org, are accessible to visitors on computers in the museum. ‘The projects and databases available are suitable for both professionals and the general public.’ The committee’s general rating for the use of new media is also ‘good’. The Van Gogh Museum sees social media as a platform for a conversation with the public and experiments with forms such as its iPhone app with 4
‘The museum’s research activities have earned it a strong reputation.’
paintings, drawings and video interviews. The website is also a treasure trove of information, although even before the visiting committee’s consultation, it became clear to us that we were running up against technical limitations. We have therefore made plans to upgrade the website and make even more information available. The committee strongly supports these plans. Collection management The visiting committee confirms that the museum’s acquisitions from recent years are of high quality and strengthen the collection. The museum is doing well in the areas of collection policy and management, with regard to both registration/documentation and restoration/conservation. We are also aware of relevant works in private collections and we maintain good relations with their owners. The new collection plan, which was being finalised around the time of the visit, is intended to ensure that the museum can respond to opportunities for new acquisitions as swiftly and efficiently as possible in today’s market, with high market prices. Works by Van Gogh and his contemporaries regularly travel abroad for exhibitions. Such exhibitions, in Asia and elsewhere, have been extremely successful. Besides making the collections accessible to a broader public, they also contribute to the museum’s non-grant income. The committee emphasises that the Van Gogh Museum responds appropriately to the limits imposed by the need for preservation, striking a careful balance in view of both the material condition of the works and the opportunities to send them out on tour. 5
‘The committee hopes that the museum will be able to create an extra entrance from the Museumplein.’
Renovation At the moment of the visiting committee’s meeting, preparations for a major renovation of the museum building had already begun. The works are an essential measure, in order to continue to meet the requirements of the large numbers of visitors the museum receives. As part of the renovation, the museum would like to create a new entrance from Museumplein to address the problem of long lines in front of the museum and to improve the logistics inside the building. The committee hopes that this will be possible. Ultimately, it will depend on other parties, such as the Government Buildings Agency. A more outward-looking perspective ‘The Van Gogh Museum is a large, successful museum, and organisations of this kind risk becoming complacent,’ the visiting committee writes. The Van Gogh Museum has acknowledged this risk and began responding to it in 2008 with organisational changes, including the establishment of new project management and marketing departments. The committee sees these changes as a positive development and observes that during this demanding process the museum ‘managed to produce exhibitions, publications and projects of high quality, and this demonstrates the overall quality, commitment and flexibility of the organisation.’ The committee expects the completion of these organisational changes will present an opportunity to become more outward-looking and, for instance, to investigate prospects for sponsorship outside the Netherlands. This is indeed one of our highest priorities for the coming period.
Moving gradually towards a 10 Following its evaluation of all the formal categories, the visiting committee concludes on a very positive note: ‘In both the area of collection and that of public services and presentation, the institution is capable of maintaining high quality and communicating various aspects of its message to its visitors in an appealing manner. Compliments are in order.’ Yet this high quality is also seen by the committee as a minor pitfall. ‘The strong commitment to high quality, combined with a perfectionist attitude, creates the risk of delays in carrying out plans because of the attention lavished on every detail. In other words, a project that deserves an eight out of ten from the beginning can grow to become a nine or ten out of ten as it is carried out. . . . The quest for perfection arises from the belief that only the best is good enough for this museum. The commission firmly believes that the museum can maintain high quality even if it relinquishes some of its perfectionism.’ The commission considers it remarkable that an organisation which in the 1980s served a relatively narrow group of visitors and had a ‘purely’ monographic character has developed into a museum with a large international public that makes a major contribution to global research – ‘in relation not only to Van Gogh himself, but also to his contemporaries and the wider context of art and cultural history. The results in many areas are outstanding and show that the museum is ambitious and forward-looking. The committee compliments the Van Gogh Museum on this achievement and hopes that its remarks and recommendations will be helpful to the organisation as it continues to develop in the future.’
‘The results in many areas are outstanding and show that the museum is ambitious and forward-looking.’ 7
Van Gogh Museum Visiting Committee In late 2011, a visiting committee was sent to the Van Gogh Museum by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands. In conjunction with the site visit by this independent committee, the museum also conducted a self-evaluation. The goal was to obtain a clear, complete and validated picture of the organisation’s strengths and weaknesses. The visiting committee consisted of: •
L. Groenman, former member of Dutch parliament for the D66 party;
M. Sellink, director of the Bruges Municipal Museums (Musea Brugge);
J. Vranken, director of the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions;
L.E.H. Vredevoogd, former chairman of the Executive Board of Leiden University and
chairman of the visiting committee;
M. Westra, Vice President, Corporate Communications, Philips Lighting;
R.E. Roskam, secretary attached to the committee and author of the report.
To learn more about the reasons for the committee’s conclusions or for a copy of the complete report, please contact the Association of National Museums (www.derijksmusea.nl) in the Netherlands.
Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam Paulus Potterstraat 7 1071 CX Amsterdam The Netherlands T +31 (0)20 570 52 00 F +31 (0)20 570 52 22 email@example.com www.vangoghmuseum.nl www.vangoghmuseum.com 8