Culture + Style

Arty Amsterdam: Beyond the Old Masters

The eye-catching sculptural Eye Filmmuseum hosts an impressive selection of exhibitions and art-house movies. (Photo: Courtesy of EYE Fillmmuseum)

Sure, the Old Masters have left their not insignificant mark on Amsterdam, but if you have already admired Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, why not go beyond the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum on your next visit to the Dutch capital? In the midst of a new golden age, the city’s contemporary art scene is thriving. Here are some suggestions for where you can get a taste.

Explore the City’s Contemporary Art Galleries

After paying due respect to the Old Masters at the Rijksmuseum, cross the Singel canal to Reflex Gallery to find out what the contemporary masters are up to. Established in 1986, the gallery hosts six rotating shows by both emerging and established contemporary artists per year. Reflex shows artwork that spans a variety of mediums and has a particularly strong taste for pieces by Japanese artists.

Head next to the rapidly changing Red Light District (De Wallen) and visit the artist-run W139 gallery. Housed in a former theater-turned-antiestablishment squat, the gallery invites artists to create site-specific works in its cavernous space, with a professed preference for risky and experimental works.

Hit the Streets

On the edge of the Jordaan district, among the charming 17th-century canal houses of Prinsengracht, a cheerful 36-foot-high mural beams down from the side of a building. The piece is by the Amsterdam-residing street art duo The London Police, whose signature “LADS” characters beckon visitors to the adjacent GO Gallery, which displays work by street artists from around the world.

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Street art colors buildings at the Street Art Museum Amsterdam. (Photo: Courtesy of Street Art Museum Amsterdam)

Urban art appetite whetted? Book a street art tour with Street Art Museum Amsterdam. The organization offers two-hour-long tours around the relatively untrodden Nieuw-West district, where you will find work by such internationally renowned street art luminaries as the Colombian Stinkfish, Argentinian Alaniz and Spanish Skount.

Get Your Photography Fix

Back in the UNESCO-listed Canal Ring area, old meets new at Amsterdam’s first photography museum, Huis Marseille. The museum, which opened in 1999, is housed in two magnificent 17th-century canal houses, which retain such Old World details as gilded ceiling frescoes, stucco work and vibrant color palettes. Tall windows framed by heavy drapes flood the space with light, all the better for admiring work by leading national and international contemporary photographers. The museum’s small bookshop, which sells monographs and prints from previously exhibited artists, is a treasure trove for photography aficionados.

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Get a leg up on 20th-century masters of photography at Foam. (Photo: Courtesy of Foam)

Nearby, farther down the Keizersgracht canal, Foam presents retrospectives of 20th-century photography masters such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Richard Avedon alongside emerging artists. With four exhibition spaces, there is plenty of room for both old and new. The museum also publishes its own magazine and houses, at the top of the building, a print sales room.

Discover an Emerging Creative Hub

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After your dose of culture, head to the roof of the EYE Filmmuseum for a sunset bite. (Photo: Courtesy of EYE Filmmuseum)

Finally, go off the beaten track and take a ferry to the Noord district, quickly emerging as Amsterdam’s creative hub. While it is only a five-minute ferry ride from Centraal Station, this former shipyard district’s expansive spaces and industrial architecture feel a world removed from the city’s Golden Age–era narrow houses and gabled facades.

The eye-catching sculptural EYE Filmmuseum dominates the landscape and hosts an impressive selection of exhibitions and art-house movies. Explore more of the neighborhood and you’ll find hundreds of artists working at Kunststadt (Art City) in the NDSM hangar, as well as graffiti-adorned derelict spaces and old shipping containers transformed into restaurants.