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An art museum is an institute for visual culture. It collects, manages, displays and examines works of art as signs of the time from which they originated. The museum believes that artists – both past and present – do not merely depict reality but also depict it differently. Artists make images and develop ideas to get a grip on reality or to manipulate it, whatever suits them best.
Primarily, a museum facilitates the viewing of art. Not only is viewing art a visual and emotional experience, it is also an intellectual one; one that uses your heart and your head. Art speaks to the mind and is thought-provoking. Art is always a ‘gift’, made for someone else – not a specific someone, but for anyone who is willing to listen, to watch and to read.
A museum is a viewing guide. As a public institution, a museum has the role of letting people look at, and think about, art differently so as to question existing and established perceptions, and to constantly suggest new and alternative ones. To bring to the fore that which has remained invisible (from the past) and that which is not yet evident because we do not understand it (from the present). The museum teaches you to look at things differently so that you see more.
A museum is in continuous conversation with the outside world. On the one hand, it is a quiet retreat where you can go to escape the boisterous ‘buzz’ of reality; on the other, it is a pair of glasses or lenses through which you read this reality. A museum is not an island in the social reality, nor is it a political arena. It is, however, connected to social developments with what can best be described as an umbilical cord, while simultaneously remaining an independent outsider.
The museum is a ‘machine of meaning’ that enables us to examine images in different ways, from different perspectives. By placing them side by side in various ways – literally and figuratively – by placing different background stories in the foreground, by letting different interpretations clash with each other. On the one hand it follows the ‘art-history’ approach, but it also takes the unusual ‘contextual’ interpretation just as seriously.
The museum is multifaceted. The museum looks at the image in an art-historical and critical manner, but it can also do so in an anthropological, historical, philosophical or ethnographic manner or in a subjective way in which unusual associations arise. Either way, the museum must promote these different forms of interpretations and impressions. The museum does not know one single truth but a multitude of possible truths.
The museum changes constantly. It generates different meanings around a permanent collection of works and ideas that are bound to time and place. The museum collects for eternity, but it is also a child of its time in the way that it tells stories about its collection.
The museum is ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’. A speculative story can be just as interesting as a scientific one. The museum teaches, but it amazes, moves and astonishes as well. It is a fact factory, but also a place where the imagination is inspired to be capricious and dissenting. The interpretation of a respected art historian can and must be just as valuable as the interpretation of a novelist.
The museum is transhistoric. The museum believes in (historical) continuity: contemporary art only gains meaning in relation to the art that preceded it, the modernity of ancient art can be emphasised through a dialogue with current art. What makes something contemporary is not whether it was made now or three centuries ago, but whether there are elements that can tell us something about the current time. Combining art from different periods in time results in new stories and a rich viewing experience.
…a happy marriage of two collections. They say that opposites attract, and that has certainly happened at the Frans Hals Museum, where you’ll find two opposing poles when it comes to the worlds of art. First, there’s the internationally renowned collection of 17th-century art from Haarlem, the birthplace of Dutch painting from the 17th century– with Frans Hals as pater familias. Alongside that, there’s the collection of contemporary art from the 20th and 21st centuries, with a focus on cutting-edge work by leading contemporary artists. These two collections are partners with their own clear identity that are intimately linked as interconnected vessels. They are two flints that are struck against each other and give rise to new meaning.
…a museum of the human dimension. A small house for Great Masters. Accessible in all respects, in an intuitive human way. The Frans Hals Museum is, as curator Lex ter Braak once said, “not cathedral, but a chapel”. It is ‘one museum at two locations’: The Hof location is homely and intimate; it’s a building with its own history linked to that of the museum’s ‘House Master’ Frans Hals. And a stone’s throw from Hof is the Hal location. Situated on Grote Markt, the historical heart of Haarlem, it is an architectural patchwork of three monumental buildings from different time periods, with the 17th-century Vleeshal (‘Meat Hall’) as the centrepiece and traditionally a place where people gathered.
…a knowledge centre. In addition to being an archive and exhibition centre, the museum is also a knowledge centre. It displays art but, behind the scenes, it also carries out a great deal of research into art. What does that mean in our case, in particular? That the Frans Hals Museum will also become a centre of expertise on Hals himself. Just like with the Van Gogh Museum, which is the world’s centre of knowledge on Vincent van Gogh. The Frans Hals Museum wants to be with the Frans Hals Research Center a ‘hub’ that stimulates and boosts the oeuvre research on Hals. At the same time, the museum functions as a place where, in collaboration with partners, careful thought and consideration is given to history and the future, and the how and why of ‘transhistorical curating’ (combining art from various periods, contexts and movements.
…a meeting centre. A meeting place where different art forms, ideas and visitors meet, cross and overlap: tourists and students, old and new, brushstrokes and pixels, serious exploration and playful fun. These encounters encourage you to look differently, discover things and thereby see more.