Concept for a series of hidden museums or rather “TheHiddenMuseum”

The Hidden Museum is a work by Niek Kemps that responds to the different roles, functions and manifestations of the museum, the artist and the curator. But just as much about how we experience a museum, a work of art, an exhibition and space as a spectator.

History 1991-2011:

The Hidden Museum

In Montpellier, there is a tiny museum, usually closed. if you want to see it, it is customary to ask the concierge –an archetypal French farmer’s wife complete with apron, stirring a big pan of soup. Clutching a huge bunch of keys, she grumpily leads the way. Within the museum there are three little rooms, each containing several cupboards that the concierge unlocks one by one. Once opened, drawings appear displayed behind glass in hinged wooden frames. It turns out to be a wonderful collection, including works by Pisanello and Leonardo da Vinci. I couldn’t really look at them properly with the ill-tempered concierge breathing down my neck. After five or six cupboards, you are afraid to ask her to open any more. You can practically hear her say: “Are we done now?”

This fragment from Niek Kemps’ “Big Eyes, small Windows, selected writings” (London, 1999) formed the starting point for a hidden museum somewhere in the center of Dordrecht. The hidden museum aims to offer visitors and residents of Dordrecht an experience, comparable to a visit to the virtually hidden museum in Montpellier.

The hidden museum in Dordrecht would become a circuit of a number of different spaces and experiences, in which a number of artists present a work of art upon invitation. The spaces of the museum would be constructed and decorated especially for these works, in consultation with the artists. The hidden museum offers the visitor, alone or in a small group of no more than five people, a very personal experience with regard to the works presented. On the other hand, the conception of the individual artworks offers the possibility to fully guide and elaborate the perception in relation to the work presented.

It is now clear that the museum will not continue in this form. It was called off at the very last moment, while part of it was already built, by a new batch of right wing politicians.

2011: TheHiddenMuseum

In the meantime, in addition to a real ruin, a mental patrimony has also remained and the hidden museum wants to continue under the name The Hidden Museum. In a working group including Jan Debbaut former director of Tate Modern and Van Abbemuseum, Pieternel Vermoortel director of FormContent London, Saskia Bos Dean of The Cooper Union New York, Ineke Brunt, Director of Art Ymere project development Amsterdam, Gerrit Willems Director of CBK Dordrecht, a made a fresh start.

The basis starts at a building made available to The Hidden Museum in Vladslo, West Flanders. Tucked away on an estate of 40 hectares, there is an unnamed building here. This building is never directly approached as being the museum, visible and determinable from the outside, but can only be experienced when entered. It could just be that through a long winding corridor or tunnel or through an entrance in a second building that leads to our building you end up in The Hidden Museum. A form of disorientation must arise in order to actually be able to view The Hidden Museum in its fullness. (compared to the panorama Mesdag in The Hague)

Another difference with a ‘normal’ museum will be that there is actually nothing to see from the entrance. There is, as it were, a double or even triple circuit. One circuit consists of a number of (often narrow) corridors that you walk through and the second circuit consists of any spaces that are behind it or that appear unexpectedly. A possible third circuit traverses both others and creates an extra layer of disorientation. The idea is that each space is not predefined, but rather makes a promise to the content of the artwork to be displayed; an ultimate relationship of an artwork with the space in which it is displayed.
Actually, a reversal is taking place.
This is easy to explain by means of an example: The Bijenkorf. A large store that we experience as a store. Nevertheless, despite the high land price, at least one fifth of the shop is not accessible. It is a dark twilight zone where staff can move without being seen, there are toilets, boardrooms, storage rooms, technical rooms and a multitude of so-called remaining spaces that are not commercially interesting because there are, for example, too many pillars or offers a view to the street where the Bijenkorf thinks it is undesirable for the public to see that.

In TheHiddenMuseum we want to channel the visitor to this part; the wonderful world of the wings that suddenly become the stage.

The idea of “the museum” is changing. The museum as a place for collecting, preserving, researching and opening up to the public has undergone a major transformation in recent years. The museum as a non-place – a space for the public and activities is central. In our museum we mainly want to focus on the “idea of a museum” rather than on the physical museum. The functions of the museum are exposed by the shift of the artist who conceives the museum as a work of art in which he appoints a curator and also invites artists who further view this concept from their specific practice. The Hidden Museum is thus pulled out of its physical context, so that its implementation can be found in both the public and private domain.

We foresee a permanent display of the museum, whereby the perception of the museum concept is always questioned on the basis of the time frame. Compare it with a work by Boromini that has been exhibited in Florence for many years – every time you look at this as a visitor in the same place, your personal life looks slightly different, which means that you read the work differently. The intention is that this dual attitude between what a museum generates and what the social framework is is context-bound.

In the Dordrecht concept, everything came together in one building, one circuit from A to B containing all the double circuits and crossovers along the way.

The Hidden Museum now wants to allow a variety of manifestations of the concept that are elaborated within different contexts. By starting from the start from different national contexts and within different locations – ranging from a cupboard in a museum to a left-over public space or a backyard in a social residential area, a complex picture can be sketched and developed. In this way, the museum wants to cross the various social frameworks and generate an autonomous world.
The Hidden Museum wants to be a start for a network of larger or smaller spaces that relate in any way to the public space. Some may be pre-existing spaces, others will grow slowly. It could be a protrusion on a facade in the middle of Madrid or the double meter cupboard next to the ‘real’ meter cupboard of a studio in Duisburg, a forgotten space at the back of a factory site in Orléans, an unsightly-looking cupboard at the end of a dead-end alley in London. Lambeth.

Exchanges can take place between artists who offer places and visit other artists with their work, who in turn provide a place.
In this way, not only do the wings become public again, but at the same time a kind of parallel network of art places is created, hidden museums that withdraw from the established ideas about those places.

It must be investigated how all the different in-between spaces, places of refuge, chill-out rooms, catacombs, alcoves, shelters, studios, playrooms, fume cupboards or refugies can be brought together in one way or another. The individual opening up of the various parts of the museum must always be in accordance with the display and the character of the place. An umbrella website and / or network with links to existing institutes or organizations will be further investigated at this stage.
Is this going through the internet, or not? This has not yet been established.

Important aspects in the countless choices that have to be made are:
1. quality. Now this seems almost a depraved concept. Yet it is the basis for The Hidden Museum. Quality is one of the few keys that distinguishes the idea of ​​an artist from hobbyism, therapy or commercial art, epigone behavior, or otherwise. Authoritarian behavior must be possible within this. We do not want to create a platform but a place where a thought, a work of the artist can be worked out to its utmost consequences.
2: artistic freedom. Where the basic choice of a participating artist has been determined, total artistic freedom must then be allowed. Guiding this artist to the elaboration in relation to the concept of the hidden museum is therefore central to this.
3. the shifting position: In the hidden museum, the difficult balance between the relationships of the museum as a work of art, the curator as curator within a work of art and the work of art within a work of art is paramount. The dual attitude that this complex situation generates is reflected in the fulfillment or change of what the viewer expects when he thinks about the hidden museum.

Guests are invited to The Hidden Museum who together form a network that allows the hidden museum to take on different faces. Currently, a number of aspects are important for the creation of the different parts of the museum:
-How can the buildings made available by the guests, sheds, storage places, chicken coops, broom closets, as much as possible use the disorienting principle whereby you never enter the building directly, but always with a detour, always from the side, from behind and unnoticed.
– In addition to these elements, it must be investigated how all practical matters for each location are given a specific shape in accordance with the general concept, the concept of the space and the elaboration of the artwork or artworks within it.


Since the various locations and manifestations of the hidden museum are central to the concept, it is important that work is done directly at different locations with different guests. This generates that every image can be questioned, so the point is to place the idea of the museum free from its physical reality. Starting with the building in Belgium. In addition, one in England and one in the Netherlands. Subsequently, small and larger ‘rooms’ all over the world, a museum library, study center and other museum functions in a new context.

The Hidden Museum 2011-2020

And then it was quiet for a moment. It had to be considered how and in what form The Hidden Museum could take a real step towards reality. An answer to this was found in 2018 when it was decided to start a cinematic project based purely on renderings of a 3D program. The quality of those renderings has grown to such an extent in recent years that it leads to a realistic photographic image. By assembling a whole mountain of these kinds of images one after the other, a film is created that, despite the fact that nothing exists, still comes across as very realistic.

Just one step further was the development of an actual Virtual Reality experience. Only then The Hidden Museum will really exist. Also there The Hidden Museum aimed for a complete and utterly realistic view. A spectator can now walk around more or less freely. A first version is currently being shown for five years in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam and will remain there at least until 2023.
A second version was then started and starts to have a life of its own.
A third version will hopefully be on the market at the end of 2020.
An app will also be launched in which the visitor can visit The Hidden Museum at home with simple 3D glasses and a smart phone and even subscribe to it.

In this way, The Hidden Museum can attract a mass of visitors all over the world without relying on existing, often conservative organizations or museums that think that only an actual presence at a work of art justifies a museum.