R.I.P. Tropenmuseum Amsterdam (1864 – 2022)

Adios Amigo, Adios my friend,

23/06/2022 Opening of the new permanent collection “Our colonial inheritance”

No, The Tropenmuseum is not closing, or even disappearing… but next time you visit the Netherlands… just pretend that it closed its doors.

Tonight (23 of June 2022) I was at the opening of the new exhibition called “Our colonial inheritance”, yes it’s about colonialism, racism etc…

Remember the part with all the New Guinea art? Or the Indonesian art? Or the African art? (check the gallery below for how it used to be) Yeah, that is all gone, “Our colonial inheritance” is the new main exhibition now… And unless your hobby is slavery and colonialism, there is not a lot to see…a few photographs, some colonial items, some paintings and a lot of modern “urban” handicraft style “art”.

Luckily, not all the art is gone though, there are still some remarkable pieces on display.. just not a lot. It feels like the two directors (prof. dr. Wayne Modest and Marieke van Bommel) would rather have had a museum of modern art and slavery, but couldn’t quite get away with not putting any actual old objects on display… They do their best though, as an example they chose to display modern made for sale (to tourists) Mimika/Kamoro objects instead of the authentic items they have in the basement (because we all visit museums to see items we can buy on Ebay for about 100 dollar/euro..right?)

Other items are literally kept in the dark, making them hard to see and impossible to photograph. Don’t expect any numbers on the few objects they have on display either… you are just supposed to play: “Match the description” with an item in the case…impossible for regular visitors and probably doable for scholars, dealers, collectors and other professionals… but here we find a big problem: There is no reason for any of these groups to visit this museum anymore.

Last week I was lucky enough to visit both the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in Paris and the Musée d’ethnographie de Genève and wow was I impressed with the collection and the way they have it on display, numbers with descriptions next to the items too… who knew that would be handy?

In Paris the luck was even greater: “Power and prestige” the monumental exhibition about the art of clubs in Oceania curated by Professor Steven Hooper was on… A powerhouse of an exhibition…just make plans to see it and thank me later!…how many times can you say WOW in an exhibition? More than I could count.

But the fun doesn’t end there, they made a proper publication about it too…. I recommend you buy it…because it will become “the book” (or standard reference) on oceanic war clubs for a long time to come, trust me.

Back to the museum that used to be relevant: The Tropenmuseum is on a quest, a quest to be free, a quest to be free from the chains of all that old stuff they have, all the useful publications they used to make and especially the people that used to enjoy going there. Now they have more important matters, like teaching about colonialism and slavery and making exhibitions so lackluster I would refuse the catalog even if it came wrapped in gold leaf (a so-called space waster catalog).

The disappointment started with the Tropenmuseum’s exhibition “Healing Power” I visited a few months back: It basically has the same problems as the current exhibition… barely anything on display… except for a lot of modern “stuff” or so-called “art” the authentic items were hard to find (they made room for a fake though!) … tucked away in dark area’s or with the focus on the “display” instead of the item. A display of remarkable Batak staff’s come to mind… displayed in an artsy way without any proper way to see most of them… a real shame…

Any other complaints? Well…. you know that museum shop in Paris at the Musée du quai Branly with all the books? The one in the British Museum? The one in Leiden? and the more limited but also useful one at the Musée d’ethnographie de Genève? yeah ..?

At the Tropenmuseum they want to sell you books on Slavery and Colonialism… oh and they have Cookbooks too! Remarkable!, and tucked away at the bottom are the only scholarly publications this place has left (The incredible publications by Raymond Corbey called “Korwar Northwest New Guinea ritual art according to missionary sources” and “Jurookng. Shamanic amulets from Southeast Borneo” )

The next time you visit Amsterdam for the Tribal art Fair or any other reason, just remember the Tropenmuseum is gone… but we still have the Rijksmusem voor Volkenkunde in Leiden! A lovely museum! and while you are there… combine it with a trip to the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (ancient Egyptian and Roman anyone? did I say Mummies!?) all within walking distance of each other.

Or perhaps visit the Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal; The missionaries who own the collection and the land/buildings have now officially broken with the “Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen” the overarching museum organization for the management of several ethnographic museums and the same people that brought you this Tropenmusem disaster (How do you get to a place where people would rather turn down 1,7 million in subsidies than continue to work with you?).

But whatever you do, remember the Tropenmuseum is gone, in its place is an imposter museum that has the same name, the same location and the same basement… just not the same soul.

Adios Amigo, Adios my friend.

P.s. for the people that want to go… I have posted a large part of the new permanent collection below… yes, that really is most of the ethnographic material of the new permanent collection.