Place: Amsterdam’s EYE Film MuseumArticle by Tom Bijvoet
Until very recently, after arriving at Amsterdam’s Central Station, one would always exit on the south side, the side facing the city. The north exit offered nothing more than a busy road, a wide river, the IJ with a view of derelict shipyards, and a single high rise building, Royal Dutch Shell’s research laboratory. The predominantly working class area was more or less defined for many by the 1979 song Ik verveel me zo in Amsterdam-Noord (I Am So Bored in North Amsterdam) recorded by local band ‘Drukwerk’. However, during the last few decades the city of Amsterdam has been busy reinventing the Northern IJ-shore. Now, exiting Central Station on the north side and taking the five-minute free ferry ride across the river to ‘Noord’ is much more rewarding than it ever was in the past.
The latest addition to the northern IJ-shore is EYE, the National Film Museum of The Netherlands. It is the result of a merger between four organizations active in the world of film and culture. Pooling their resources, they built a stunning new structure in Amsterdam-Noord that forms an interesting and welcome addition to the skyline. Amsterdam already offers a tremendous selection of world-renowned museums, and with the opening of EYE in 2012, the choice for the tourist with limited time to spend in the city has become that much harder. Definitely to be rated in the top ten museums in Amsterdam for the ordinary visitor, for the film buff there is no choice. The museum has a rich, well laid out permanent collection, four temporary exhibitions per year and ongoing screenings of classic movies from all eras and from around the world.
Even if the subject matter of the museum is not high on the list of a visitor’s interests, then there is simply the building that makes the ferry ride worthwhile. It sits on the river bank, broad, white and futuristic. It was designed by the Austrian husband and wife team of architects Roman Delugan and Elke Meissl. On their website they emphasize that they strove to represent movement and light (the essential features of film) in the building itself. Through the use of glass, a wide opening to the IJ-side of the building, and the manner in which the visitor traverses the museum, the inevitably static nature of the building is given a sense of fluidity.
The name of the institute itself plays on a number of levels. In the first place, there is of course the obvious connection with the physical eye which is used to view films. It is also interesting to note that, presumably for international ease of pronunciation and recognition, an English term was chosen rather than a Dutch one. EYE also refers to the river IJ, which in many Dutch dialects, the new increasingly common ‘Polder Dutch’ variant included, is a homonym to ‘eye’. The pronunciation of ‘IJ’ in standard Dutch is a social marker. In that sense the choice of name sends the message that the institute is not only there for the elite, but for everyone, even foreigners and the ‘less-educated’ who pronounce IJ as EYE. Another interesting visual reference is the view one gets from the building. Rarely seen from this vantage point before, except by shipyard workers and Shell employees, the museum’s large restaurant with its outside terrace offers a stunning view over the old city of Amsterdam. And then, with some imagination one can even see a squinting eye in the form of the building itself.
Although EYE has only existed for two years, it has already taken its place on the list of ‘must-sees’ in Amsterdam. In 2012 during the festivities around the accession to the throne of King Willem-Alexander, the new king and queen celebrated by taking a special boat tour along the IJ River, visiting a number of stations along the way. The choice of the river for their boat tour, rather than choosing for example the Amsterdam canals, point to the new importance of what was once the back of Amsterdam. Significantly, the king chose EYE as the starting point of his tour. The royal family emerged from the new structure, waving to the crowds, signalling that he would be a modern king, committed to new architecture and new art forms such as film. His choice also signalled that he would be a visual king. A king who intends to be seen and to look around him for inspiration and input. A king, also, who looks out for his subjects. The king took EYE to send a silent signal about his intentions for his reign, and in one stroke delivered a strong royal recommendation to visit the museum, just by being seen there.
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