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Summer

With what promises to be a fantastic summer ahead of us, I will not dwell on the economic crisis and the threats it poses to the cultural sector. As you might imagine, the issue is very much on our minds, but if you have seen my previous columns, you know more or less what my thoughts are about that.

For the fifth time, we are organizing a programme of Sweet Summer Nights in our sculpture garden, where a select group of poets, theatrical performers, musicians, dancers, and other artists will provide hours of entertainment for thousands of visitors to the museum. The purpose of this programme is to reach out to new groups of museum-goers, playfully bringing them into contact with contemporary art. We are focusing on vacationers in the Veluwe region where the museum is located, which offers some of our country's most scenic landscapes. While trying out a new, more challenging type of entertainment, visitors can also enjoy a delicious picnic. Over the past five years, the Sweet Summer Nights have acquired a host of devoted fans, who eagerly anticipate each new season.

The typical relationship between museum visitors and contemporary art involves a degree of resistance. In my opinion, if that were otherwise, it would mean that the art and the museum had failed to do their job. Temptation and repulsion, confrontation and appeasement, shock and consolation, the ongoing search for paths less travelled – all these belong to the fabric of contemporary art. In fact, they are part of its raison d'être. I believe that the combination of pleasure and friction is an important, even essential, force, not only in art, but also in life. Coming from an art expert, that may sound self-important, but I truly believe that art is most valuable when it gives us ideas we can use in our everyday lives, ideas that stimulate us. One of the most important lessons art can teach is that paying attention to other people’s opinions can be a personally rewarding experience. And what could be more wonderful than letting an elusive but fascinating experience into your life?

I completely understand that, at first sight, some art is so impenetrable as to make my point of view seem laughable. And when a work of art proves unable to move its viewers, there is ample room for scepticism. The museum’s proper place is in the middle, mediating, building bridges between artists and the public. Often, we place art in a historical perspective, helping our visitors to reach a more informed opinion.

We take our job very seriously, but during the Sweet Summer Nights the emphasis is on having fun. We set aside weighty artistic issues for another day, although humour and emotion sometimes bring out those issues more poignantly than ever. This year’s themes – Rewind, Still, and Forward – will inspire that characteristic Kröller-Müller mood: nostalgia with a hint of wistful yearning, engagement with challenging and time-tested art, appreciation of beauty, the melancholy of a beautiful setting, and curiosity about what the future may bring. I wish you all those sweet sensations in the summer ahead.

Evert van Straaten
July 2010