Through the years my work has taken me to many museums, mainly museums for contemporary art. There are museums of all sorts and sizes: some of them dressed up like lords of the Manor, others giving the impression of stern clergy, yet others looking like designers decked out in fancy, modish drag. They all are well-patronised – relatively speaking.

A couple of years ago I went to the Trocadero in Paris. There is a museum in one of its wings, the name of which escapes me.
This museum was as good as empty – scarcely a visitor in the place. It all looked a bit shabby and the rooms were vast. In every other room a guard in blue, often slumped in his chair, was taking a nap or reading a cheap paperback. The museum shows remnants of decorations and redundant pieces of sculpture that were once installed around Paris.
There are also countless numbers of maquettes that once served to convince people of ‘Progress’. Now they’re here, dumped and dusty, paintless and ragged.
Hardly any visitors, a huge sense of timelessness, tranquility at last.

In Montpellier, there is a tiny museum that’s usually closed. If you want to see it, it is customary to ask the concierge – an archetypal French farmer’s wife complete with apron, who’s stirring a big pan of soup. Grumpily, grasping a huge bunch of keys, she leads the way.
The museum contains three little rooms. In each, there are several cupboards that the concierge unlocks one by one. Inside, drawings are displayed behind glass in hinged wooden frames. It turns out to be a wonderful collection of drawings, including Pisanello and Leonardo da Vinci amonst many others.
I couldn’t really look at them properly with the ill-tempered concierge breathing down my neck. After five or six cupboards, you daren’t ask her to open any more. You can practically hear her saying: “If you’ve quite finished…”

Art has actually failed to benefit from the trend that took it into Joe Public’s front room in the last ten years. Busloads of visitors come to every exhibition, it is impossible to open a commonplace magazine without coming across an art page. And they say art’s elitist?
On the contrary, art seems no more than another welcome addition to the tourist trail. Taking its cue from Ibiza and the Ardèche, there is now a Picasso exhibition at the Makkum Municipal Museum in Friesland. Coach parties welcome – group discounts available.

As a consequence of this popular interest, politicians have finally discovered art. Local councillors are queuing up to cut the ribbon. But does this really offer more arguments to focus on art itself? I think not.
Are people being educated to develop a wider, deeper interest in vital culture? Is the general tendency to didactics initiated by a sacred belief in art? Or is it all nothing more than a game of hide-and-seek with regards to the real changes that have occupied artists for ages?
It is very simple to ignore developments that really matter. I think it is better as an artist to attract no attention at all, than to attract this half-hearted kind of attention. This doesn’t apply only to contemporary art, but to all art.

The sky is blue.

I think that what we need at the moment are private museums – places that don’t force themselves upon the world like neurotic peacocks. Instead, we need places that serve as shelters, sites of tranquility that counterbalance the outside world, only accessible for those sincerely interested.

Let’s have a look at the situation in The Hague.
Particularly the Hofvijver2 by the parliament.
Is the Hofvijver a meeting place?
Not in my opinion. If that is what it wants it to be, you should at least be able to walk around it. This lake now only serves as a mirror for the buildings at its edge.
The only element that could be rehabilitated is the place where horses’ feet were washed in the past. It will only become a meeting place if you can walk freely around the lake or build a bridge crossing the lake, parallel to the House. Then it might become the Tuileries of The Hague.


There is an excessive anxiety in the Netherlands to incorporate design. It is used as an instrument to present things to a larger public and therefore buildings or exhibitions are regularly contracted to designers. The results speak for themselves. What can one say about the presentation of Malevich’s Black Square in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam? A designer thought it might be nice to present the painting on a huge concave wall, opposite a panel with an explanatory text three times as big as the painting itself.

Even the Mauritshuis in The Hague doesn’t escape from this kind of terror.
The Mauritshuis is one of the few publicly accessible stately homes. A strange coincidence of circumstances forces the visitor go into the museum through the tradesman’s entrance. They even deny you the rare chance in Holland of enjoying the grandeur of a stately hallway.
Instead, you find yourself in a pretentious basement – decorated with marble and stainless steel – from which you can see this beautiful hallway roped off with a ridiculous cord. Which designer is responsible for this? And what about the combination of period rooms and modern lighting? Or the accompanying explanatory texts on impressive pedestals?

I hate this design and all that goes with it. The Mauritshuis is beautiful in itself.
All the other museums in the neighbourhood are subject to the same mistakes. Everything in the Netherlands is neatly painted, brightly polished and especially without a speck of dust in sight.
Design has overtaken the entire machine of culture.
And nobody is to blame personally, though it is clear that it is a Dutch problem. Beyond our borders you are far less likely to come across this kind of terror.
My advice is therefore to sack all the designers, don’t call in the decorators for another year and have a party.


An adventure goes beyond a dream, because a dream is in fact nothing but a desired cliché. The adventure wants to avoid the cliché and also wants to be prepared for less agreeable and bacchanalian experiences.

What are the chances of having an adventure on the banks of the Hofvijver? It could only happen if mass tourism were banned and the individual is considered of the utmost importance. The Hofvijver could serve not only as a washing place (very public) or a meeting place (very cosy) but also as a collection of spaces permitting individual experiences. Art can evoke those experiences. Therefore the artist has to be inspired, not by the umpteenth public commission (the equestrian statue is beautiful and it serves its purpose), but by the situation he could create around and along the lake. No loose screws or soft sidewalk tiles. Just articulate what is already there in those rows of stately homes – allow some of them, those that are sometimes unoccupied for months, to be opened for artists, theatre makers or film directors to stay and allow the individual visitor, if alone, to come in and watch. He or she might be followed by a person who is more interested in locating an office in the house but that doesn’t matter. It might give the business man some new ideas. The estate agent might benefit.

But never more than one visitor at a time.

That could be the ambition of this project. To engender in such a formal and public place, a similar atmosphere to Montpellier of the Paris Trocadero. Hire the drowsy guard and the unfriendly custodian. And tempt people into their own private reveries.


1 – This text was originally given as a lecture at a symposium in 1994 in The Hague. The symposium, that focused on the situation of the museums around the Hofvijver, was organised for Stroom hcbk by Waling Boers.

2 – The Hofvijver is the official name of the court lake that borders on the Binnenhof, the Dutch Houses of Parliament in The Hague.