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A Site Visit to Kröller-Müller Museum: What I Learned About Community Engagement

Drenched in rain, lost in the Netherlands’ largest national park, I was quickly pedaling on a gear-less little white bike. After only hearing the sound of wind and tires on gravel for three hours and seeing a shifting landscape of thick woods, grassy fields of beige, and rolling dunes, I was in a rush to find the sculpture garden at the museum I had started my bike ride from.

Last Friday, I, the current summer intern at Street Art Museum Amsterdam, went on a site visit to the remote oasis of the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo. After one train and two bus rides, I had arrived at the internationally renowned museum, known for its van Gogh collection (second largest in the world!) and extensive sculpture garden. My day there circled through cycles of fog, rain and piercing sun. Walking up to the main building, a heavy mist sat on the museum and trees. When I entered, I felt greeted and warmed by the marvelous fine arts pieces.

Now, a little on the not-so-little Kröller-Müller. The museum was founded in 1938 by Helena Kröller-Müller, an art collector and deep arts lover, who wanted the community of Otterlo and surrounding areas to become familiar with the arts and their evolution in the early 20th century. To quote, she wanted an art museum, “For the benefit and pleasure of the community.” The museum is rooted in the Hoge Veluwe National Par and certainly provides this experience.

There is something perfect about the way the Krüller-Müller Museum was built. It does not feel so austere and cold like so many art institutions, although it looks stylistically similar to many others with its white walls and marble floors. The ceilings are low and all the rooms have frosted skylights, making the rooms gently lit by sunlight. While taking in the museum’s sizable and thoughtful collection, it occurred to me what the museum is: a monastery for art. It is like a temple of worship for the artists, and specifically those who showed appreciation for the natural world.

After exploring the inside of the museum, I went for a bike ride through the Hoge Veluwe National Park. As I peddled down the winding path through the trees, I suddenly realized how out there I was.

I rounded a corner and suddenly I was in rolling hills of hues of tan and yellow, spotted with dark green trees set beneath a moody gray sky. The breeze swirled across my skin.

I was living in a van Gogh painting.

A view of Hoge Veluwe

While looking at his art earlier in the museum, I turned to my travel companion and said, “he really did love the world, didn’t he?”

It was a striking experience to then enter a landscape that I had only explored through his paintings. It was like when I had seen photographs of street art by Jean-Michel Basquiat or paintings by Childe Hassam before going to New York City. While both artists and myself are from wildly different times, they captured a timeless energy of the city. Suddenly, they clicked for me in a whole new way.

As the viewer, the connection and appreciation of the pieces is significantly deeper. To see street art not in a photograph and in context with the neighborhood, especially when given information about the community and history it lives in, creates a whole new meaning for the viewer. Just like seeing van Gogh’s paintings of forest floors and his painting Pollard Willows at Sunset, or Leo Gestel’s Namiddagzon, (translation: afternoon sun,) gave immersing into nature a new sense of meeting and likewise for the pieces of art. For myself, I am from the very flat, humid, and almost tropical land of coastal Florida. Seeing the Western European countryside after studying and revering artists who painted it with such love, was a gift to be amongst their muse. Que Etta James’s At Last.

"Setting Sun" by Vincent van Gogh

As someone who wants to pursue community engagement through the arts, going into nature has been critical for me. My experience at Kröller-Müller was an outstanding experience of this. The artists, from the painters to the sculptures, whether or not they ended this for viewers, showed me and taught me the power of deep listening, deep observing, to the world. For example, the Dutch painter Esther Tielemans shows Ask the Sky houses in three galleries. Her paintings act as fine art works in the traditional sense, but also more philosophically as objects defining the space. She uses the landscape of Hoge Veluwe such as space and light to create paintings that are truly harmonious with the space of the museum and in dialogue with the nature outside. Additionally, her paintings speak to the structure of the museum itself. The canvas size matches that of the museum windows and mimics how the light moves through the museum. By seeing work of an art who intently observed the nature to make a reflective project, relates to if, let’s say, I made a mural and interviewed locals and looked at the surrounding area of the mural. Or, perhaps it is a community center that needs to speak to the community’s needs.

"Ask the Sky" by Esther Tielemans

In comparison with Street Art Museum Amsterdam, there are a striking amount of similarities. First, we share the commonality of cultivating in the space surrounding ourselves. While theirs is a forest, our locality is the Nieuw-West neighborhood of Amsterdam. At Krüller-Müller, works and exhibitions connect largely to those seeking connection and contemplation on nature. Meanwhile at SAMA, our works connect to the cultures of our community or act as political commentary.

The next similarity is the goal of the two museums’ founding. As stated earlier, Ms. Kröller-Müller herself wanted art to benefit the community, just as the goals of SAMA. She provided a museum toin a rural area during a time art collectors kept collections private. At SAMA, we create When creating murals in an urban setting because we also believe in equal access to free art in a city of costly museums. Another coincidence between the museum's founding: it all began with the love of a few artists. For Ms. Kröller-Müller, she cherished works by van Gogh;- he was her starting point in art collecting and displaying. She later began procuring Cubist artworks and _______. For SAMA, it was the artists Keys, Pez, and Stinkfish who were some of our first artists, that led to an explosion of projects overseen by us around Amsterdam. Just as Kröller-Müller defended the new school of Cubist art, we are trying to project the validity of street art as an artistic medium and form of communication in a city.

The last commonality I will touch on is a bit obvious, but crucial: most of our artworks are outside. Why reflect on the outside world indoors? Both of our collections encourage viewers to be outside and appreciate nature not just with our eyes but with all of our senses.

After my bike ride through the woods, when I returned to the property of Kröller-Müller, it occurred to me that exploring deep into the park was just as critical as seeing the art. While biking through a downpour on a hilly path may seem uncomfortable (surprise, it was), I felt a greater sense of presence, bliss, and connection to be there. Going into nature is not only how we find ourselves; we find our ability to connect to something broader. This can mean something spiritual, an inspiration for community engagement, or maybe a bit of both. We can be in harmony with the world around us, and whatever that ever changing landscape may look like.

A view of Jean DuBuffet's "Jardin d'email"

Kröller-Müller, I love you.

With gratitude,


To see more of the Kröller-Müller Museum's collection click here. To see more of Esther Tielemans's work click here.

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