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The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam — presenter of 8,000 art objects and home to over 1 million, most famously Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (1642) — began renovations in 2005.
The new space was supposed to be completed by 2008, but work dragged out into 2013. Oeke Hoogendijk’s documentary The New Rijksmuseum, filmed during the much-delayed, budget-blowing process, tells its story in two parts, which Film Forum will screen together twice daily for one ticket price.
The first tracks initial setbacks and frustrations, ending with pensive Rijksmuseum General Director Ronald de Leeuw’s resignation; the second depicts the renovation efforts following the subsequent appointment of aggressive General Director Wim Pijbes, who sees them to completion.
Throughout, the Dutch Cyclists’ Union protests that the Rijksmuseum’s new configuration will abolish public bike pathways, to which museum administrators, architects, and designers respond with complaints that the public fails to understand how they are working for its good.
The artworks appear in quick glimpses, mainly in storage, with many on the way toward their own restoration. One hopes for the works to get their chance to breathe. Which particular splendors will go on display, though, becomes a curator’s question, discussed most eloquently by eventual Director of Collections Taco Dibbits, who sees the overhaul of a building first opened in 1885 as a new interpretation of Dutch history.
His scenes, like much of the film, are rendered largely in televisual fashion: A talking head describes how he or she feels while music emphasizes what is said. The effect is essentially that of a guided tour of a struggle.