Kunsthal Rotterdam focuses on collaboration and experiments during exceptional year

Before the Covid-19 measures led to all cultural institutions temporarily closing their doors from 13th March, Kunsthal Rotterdam appeared to be on course for another record year. During the first 2½ months of the year we had already welcomed 79,000 visitors. Between mid-October 2019 and 8th March 2020, the exhibition Thierry Mugler: Couturissime had managed to mobilise no less than 175,000 visitors, receiving a nine out of ten from its raving audience, and realising an economic spin-off for the city of 6.3 million Euros. Now, exactly nine months later, the Kunsthal is again closed for the public, giving us time to draw up the balance sheet of an extraordinary year.

The Kunsthal concludes the year with a mere 150,000 visitors, half the number of visitors the Kunsthal was able to attract in 2019. Kunsthal director Nathanja van Dijk explains: “Considering the 1.5-metre-distance measures, that had a huge impact on our visitor capacity, and the 16 weeks we missed out on due to closure, this result might even be called somewhat positive. Especially during the weekends, the audience still managed to find us. The Kunsthal is an expert in inventing itself time and again, steering close to the wind as a flexible and innovative organisation – constantly engaging in collaborations and experiments, and always looking for new opportunities and possibilities. This has certainly helped us to adapt to the circumstances and realise a unique programme.

International Calder exhibition
By immediately taking drastic measures with regard to the programme in March, the Kunsthal was able to slightly limit the loss. Apart from the government’s NOW scheme, the Kunsthal has not been eligible for any other additional support up to now. Nathanja van Dijk: “This means that we are eating into the vital investment reserves that we had accumulated over a number of successful years. Therefore, 2021 will become an extremely challenging year for us during which we must work with an adjusted budget while still realising a high-contrast, surprising programme. From November we will, for instance, even be focusing our attention on an ambitious, international exhibition about Alexander Calder and some prominent, contemporary artists who are inspired by his work. It is exactly this combination of simultaneously showing big names and crowd pullers on the one hand, and hidden gems, Rotterdam talent and topical issues on the other, that allows us to draw in our wide and diverse audience. Together we have managed to turn Rotterdam into an enormously attractive city for lovers of art and culture from all over the world, and we would like to perpetuate that position.”

2020 highlights
Apart from all the challenges, 2020 also brought many highlights. The successful European premiere of Thierry Mugler: Couturissime, a spectacular exhibition that revealed gems from Manfred Thierry Mugler’s haute couture, was shown simultaneously with masterpieces from the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Ecstasy by the photographer Sanne Sannes opened during Art Rotterdam Week. During the first lockdown, we succeeded in getting the beautiful French tapestries for the exhibition Extra Large, and the many international loans for Black Album / White Cube. A Journey into Art and Music to Rotterdam.

In a first edition of Kunsthal Matchmaker, an ode to creative makers, the artist Ellie Uyttenbroek mobilised a crowd of TikTok teenagers to dance on the grid flooring in front of the Kunsthal during a livestream. Many Kunsthal LIVE events and substantive collaborations could take place, sometimes online or in a hybrid from, such as the masterclasses and the family event See you later, Illustrator!, but often also live at the Kunsthal. We organised several editions of ArtCouples, the annual Naked Tours were fully booked in no time, and Afrovibes took over the Kunsthal Auditorium for a day. Together with our main sponsor ING, we successfully launched the online Kunstbuzz, already with over 5,000 pupils participating from schools all over the country, and even from Aruba. During the process of awarding funds with regard to the new cultural policy plan, the RRKC (Rotterdam Council for Art and Culture) and the municipality expressed their appreciation for the Kunsthal’s efforts to realise its mission – a valuable recognition of our work from the city of Rotterdam. And a contribution from the VSB Fund will enable the Kunsthal to further expand its Kunsthal LIVE programming over the coming years.

All you can Art anniversary edition
During the summer, the All you can art five-year anniversary was celebrated with a colourful edition that expressed the connecting force of art better than ever before. From the guest location Kunstruimte Crooswijk and the Kunsthal home base, the team of artists actively worked on making art together and forging new connections, especially with those for whom making this connection is not self-evident. But how can this be realised at a time of social distancing and zoom meetings? The participants all had to tap into their improvisational talents and come up with flexible, creative solutions.

On 23rd January, Kunsthal Rotterdam will be kicking off the new year with a multimedia exhibition about the timeless desire for eternal youth. With the help of items of clothing, photographs and videos, the exhibition ‘Youthquake’ reveals how youth sells. This coming spring, the Kunsthal is inviting its visitors to enter the realm of animal art. The exhibition ‘We Are Animals’, which will open during Rotterdam Art Week, brings together a great variety of extraordinary animal creations by over thirty contemporary artists. During the summer, the Kunsthal will be showing majestic Canadian paintings from the period between 1910 and 1940 by the Group of Seven who were immensely popular in their own country, but relatively unknown in the Netherlands. Apart from work by these Canadian modernists, ‘Magnetic North’ presents photographic and video material from the point of view of the First Nations, offering a critical perspective on the paintings. At the same time, visitors will be able to immerse themselves in a dynamic exhibition that brings to live the world of the Emmy Award-winning and Oscar-nominated Dutch animation studio Job, Joris & Marieke.

The must-see for this autumn is ‘Calder NOW’. The exhibition is produced in close collaboration with the Calder Foundation and guest curators Dieter Buchhart and Anna Karina Hofbauer, and presents a new vision on Calder’s work and his position in art history. Apart from over twenty works by Alexander Calder, the exhibition will feature work by contemporary artists, including Olafur Eliasson, Žilvinas Kempinas, Ernesto Neto, Aki Sasamoto, and Sarah Sze. These artists are all influenced by Calder’s most important fields of interest. Mind-blowing installations that defy gravity, sculptures that cause extraordinary optical experiences, and works that appeal to all the senses will reveal new connections with Calder’s iconic body of work.

The Kunsthal Rotterdam would like to thank all funds, sponsors and partners for their generous support in 2020!