Culture Trip: Rotterdam

Share Button

It may play second fiddle to Amsterdam, but Rotterdam—the Netherlands second-largest city—pulses with its own unique brand of creative energy. Mixing urban grit with shiny new architecture, the aesthetically edgy port town boasts a booming art, design and food scene that stands completely apart.

A great time to visit is during Art Rotterdam Week (Feb. 8-12), when art and design fairs, open studios and live performances pop up all over town. The largest is Art Rotterdam, with 130 galleries displaying contemporary works in one of the city’s most striking buildings: the 1930s glass-and-steel Van Nelle Factory. It’s also the setting of the inaugural Open Air show, with site-specific sculptures and sound installations nestled around the factory grounds. And Object Rotterdam also takes place in a groovy setting: aboard the historic SS Rotterdam, where 75 designers will present their work in the former cruise ship’s dining halls, cabins, decks and machine rooms.


Also worth checking out are Rotterdam’s stellar museums, many of which focus on contemporary art.

The Nederlands Fotomuseum, located on Wilhelmina Pier, puts on approximately 10 exhibitions annually. While curators draw from the 5 million photos in its permanent collection, many shows also feature international photographers’ work. Starting Jan. 28 and running through May 7 is “Europe, What Else?,” documenting the Continent from both contemporary and historic perspectives. Amsterdam photographer Nico Bick shot the interior of every parliament in the EU, while Rotterdam’s Otto Snoek snapped crowds of people celebrating public occasions across Europe. Rounding out the exhibit is French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson’s renowned 1955 photo series “The Europeans.”

Designed by famed Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and renovated just two years ago, Kunsthal Rotterdam, on Museumpark, is a glassy showcase for contemporary art and photography. On view through Feb. 12 is fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh’s groundbreaking black-and-white candids of 80s supermodels – Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford – along with his portraits of superstars like Tina Turner and Pharrell Williams. Next up is “Hyperrealism: 50 Years of Painting” (Feb. 24 to June 4), which features more than 30 artists from Europe and the U.S. – including Chuck Close and Richard Estes – depicting everyday American scenes, from diners to ketchup bottles. And mark your calendars: a huge retrospective of the life and work of Robert Mapplethorpe will run from April 22 to Aug. 27.


On the opposite side of Museumpark, Het Nieuwe Instituut is a fascinating space devoted to new developments in architecture, design and digital culture. The forward-thinking shows here examine how the world is changing through the lens of design and technology. Beginning Jan. 27, “Designing the Surface” examines how varnishes, coatings and other surface treatments like Teflon are used in the making of modern materials and objects.

Without a dominant native food culture, Dutch cities are notable for their international culinary offerings – and Rotterdam is no different.

Newly opened Mediterranean hotspot Ayla serves excellent Greek, Moroccan and Spanish-influenced small plates all day long (8 a.m. to midnight); but it truly excels at breakfast. In the colorful, lofty interior – featuring a huge graffiti mural in Arabic – you can indulge in fluffy pancakes with dates, pistachios and salted caramel, or, for a healthier option, try the acai bowl with homemade granola and fresh berries. Its central location on the Kruisplein means you’re just a 10-minute walk from Museumpark.

The casual, Latin-themed Supermercado opened last spring on a corner of the trendy Witte de Withstraat thoroughfare, and quickly became one of the city’s hottest tables. The airy wood and white-tiled space is packed with hipster sorts sipping margaritas and munching on gently priced tacos (from 3.50 euro). Along with well-executed Mexican fare (chips and salsa, quesadillas, enchiladas), there are also South American specialties, including a trio of ceviches and a hearty sliced ribeye with chimichurri. Come for a late lunch (the restaurant opens at 3 p.m.) or arrive early for dinner—there are no reservations.


Worth the haul to the north side of town, Bird is a buzzy venue – part jazz club, part restaurant – tucked inside a converted railway station. The open kitchen turns out excellent Neapolitan-style pizzas and pastas but also has a flair for more complex dishes; so put yourself in the chef’s hands and order the three-, four-, or five-course menu (33 to 43 euro). They change weekly, but you can expect locally sourced products and a creative fusion of flavors.

STAY: Ideally situated just a few blocks from Witte de Withstraat, the Mainport Hotel is a five-star waterfront property that offers stellar views of the river Maas and the famed Erasmus Bridge. From around 140 euro.



Banksy Takes Over Amsterdam

Banksy in Amsterdam
Share Button

“If you are dirty, insignificant and unloved then rats are the ultimate role model.” — Banksy

How does a street artist stay relevant for more than 25 years? It’s a particularly important question to ask, as a monumental dual retrospective of Banksy’s work has just taken over two Amsterdam galleries.

Though he first gained attention when his stenciled rats and monkeys began showing up on walls and signs across England in the 90s, he has since proven himself to be a master of mixing social commentary with arresting images. Bluntly anti-war and anti-establishment, Banksy’s work calls out the power and ineffectiveness of governments in confrontational yet often humorous ways. (He once placed a life-sized replica of a Guantanamo Bay detainee inside a Disneyland ride.)

His commentaries on middle-class consumerism are as fresh and incisive as ever: “Christ with Shopping Bags,” with a crucified Jesus holding ribbon-wrapped gift boxes, is perhaps his most pointed. And though boldfaced names snap up his work—Angelina Jolie and Christina Aguilera among them—he can’t resist poking fun at the cult of celebrity (Kate Moss, for instance); though ironically, he’s the only graffiti artist to make Time magazine’s list of The 100 Most Influential People.

Moco Museum Amst.6240 Banksy 3

The girl with the heart-shaped balloon, the British cop brandishing his middle finger, Churchill with a fluorescent green mohawk, a rat with a paintbrush: these iconic Banksy images are now fixtures in the street art lexicon. But not until now have so many of his works—150 prints, paintings, sculptures and original graffiti—been seen together at one time, and never in a museum setting. Indeed, two major Banksy exhibitions simultaneously mounted in Amsterdam, at the Beurs van Berlage and the Modern Contemporary (Moco) Museum, offer the most comprehensive view of the artist’s work to date.

It may seem contradictory that a guerilla street artist would exhibit in such highly curated spaces. Especially since Banksy, whose identity remains unknown, taunted the established art world by illegally hanging his own paintings—a framed image of a woman in a gas mask, a can of tomato soup—in the Louvre, the Tate Modern and the Brooklyn Museum back in the early oughts. But in fact, his graffiti has become so valuable that the images can no longer survive in their original setting: people cut them out of the walls to sell at auction; those that do remain are typically covered in Plexiglas. (The artist himself condemned the 2014 Stealing Banksy exhibition.) And if you consider that many Banksy pieces aren’t executed in spray paint but rather in traditional oil on canvas—though the subjects are just as controversial—perhaps it’s not such a stretch that they’ve been moved indoors.

Moco Museum Amst.5293 kopie Banksy 1

Moco Museum Amst.5656 Banksy 2

At the Moco Museum, Laugh Now is the first Banksy exhibition in such a formal space. It runs concurrently with an Andy Warhol show, and it’s a clever conceit, as the similarities between the two—one the master of street art, the other of pop art—are apparent. Curators have hung Banksy’s Kate Moss portrait near its obvious homage, Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe; a Campbell’s Soup can painting from the 1960s clearly inspired Banksy’s rendition of a Tesco-brand soup can.

The 50-odd Banksy works on two floors include “Tortoise Helmet,” a rare stencil on metal; “Cardinal Sin,” a bust of a man with his face covered in tiles; and several spray-painted rats—on a traffic cone, a bus sign and a chunk of wall. The standout is found on the mezzanine: the eight-foot x four-foot “Forgive Us for Our Trespassing,” a work of spray paint on glass that depicts a young boy praying in front of a graffitied wall. Surrounded by stained-glass windows, the painting takes on a distinctly churchlike aura.

Banksy in Amsterdam 2

The bigger of the two shows, The Art of Banksy, is set in the city’s former stock exchange, Beurs van Berlage, an ornate 19th Century red brick building. Nearly 100 works on are view on the vast lower level; you’re guided through reconstructed London streets by black bootprints (modeled on Banksy’s perhaps?) superimposed on the floor. The show includes two key pieces that established the elusive artist’s reputation: “Flag Wall” and “Media Canvas.” The former is a play on the infamous Iwo Jima flag-raising photo, with children climbing atop an abandoned car; in the latter, a crying girl holds a teddy bear on a bombed-out street as a cameraman dispassionately films the scene. Neither painting has been shown publicly for a decade.

Among the well-known rat and monkey images and still-powerful “Girl with Balloon” prints are several pieces that won’t fail to shock; namely “Barely Legal,” depicting a pregnant Demi Moore from the famous Vanity Fair cover, her face replaced by a smoking “Simpsons”-like character.

And after you’ve toured the exhibit, wouldn’t you know? You will, indeed, have to exit through the gift shop.