Thursday, July 9, 2015

Amsterdam and Paris 2015 - Day 2 - The Six Collection, Electric Ladyland (the First Museum of Fluorescent Art), and EyeBar

Day 2 in Amsterdam - The Six Collection, Electric Ladyland (the First Museum of Fluorescent Art), and EyeBar
(Continued from Day 1)

It's amazing what 31 hours of being awake, followed by half an ambient and a comfortable bed will do for you.  Woke up feeling very rested, and we faced the day with great anticipation, for today we were going to view The Six Collection.   Udi has lived in Amsterdam for over 20 years and had never even heard of it, so when I made a reservation for a tour, he said he would take the morning off from work and join us.  

To explain The Six Collection, I'm going to quote liberally (in other words, blatantly plagiarize) from Russell Shorto's book, "Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City", one of my favorite books of the year.  

The beautiful house below is the home of the Six family.  The family has resided in this home since the 17th century.  When you step into the home (through the street-level doorway, rather than up the stairs), you enter into another world.  Living in the home is a man named Jan Six.  His father, the previous occupant, was Jan Six.  His eldest son is named...  Jan Six.  The fifty-six room home we were about to enter is not just a private residence.  It is the home of The Six Collection, arguably the world's grandest collection of art in a private home. The collection began in 1600s.  By the turn of the 20th century, it had grown in such size and prominence that Jan Six (not sure which one) asked the Dutch government for help in managing it.  They worked out an arrangement (which not everyone is happy about, leading to ongoing squabbles, becoming at times a matter of parliamentary debate) is an arrangement whereby the collection is owned by a private foundation (owned by the family), which has a legal contract with the Dutch state whereby the government provides a subsidy to maintain the collection and the family promises not to sell anything, and to open the house to the public on a limited basis.

So I went to the website, chose "English", and then filled out the form to reserve a tour of the place.  Fortunately, the request was granted.  As Mark, Udi, and I hovered around the entrance, two other couples appeared.  They, too, must have requested a tour online.  At precisely 10:00 a.m., a woman opened the door and invited us in.  The woman introduced herself as a student who was studying the works in the collection.  She would be the one conducting the one-hour tour.  

Unfortunately, no photos were allowed, so I won't be able to show you the absolutely stunning, fascinating collection of paintings, sculptures and artifacts that comprised the collection.  The tour was terrific.  The woman conducting the tour was exceptionally knowledgeable, showing us the real highlights of the collection, and the amazing and compelling stories behind the pieces.  In many instances, after showing us a portrait that was hundreds of years old, she would show us one of the actual items depicted in the painting, such as the riding crop in a painting of a rider on a horse, or the actual elaborately embroidered gloves that were on the hands of a woman in a portrait.  Apparently, the collection was once even grander.  At one point, it contained The Milkmaid by Vermeer, and The Little Street, also by Vermeer.  

Jan Six became friends with Rembrandt, and while they were friends, Rembrandt drew, etched, and  painted Six.  The highlight of the collection is what has been called the greatest portrait of the seventeenth century, Rembrandt's portrait of Jan Six.   The canvas shows a man in middle age, wealthy dressing to go out. He wears an immaculate gray cloak with an orange coat draped over a shoulder.  He's wearing one glove.  Many art critics have said that the greatest is most clearly expressed in the hands.  The gloved hand is almost a cartoon, while the other is composed of a few quick strokes.  Yet somehow, the ungloved hand is pink-white living human flesh, with blood beating in its blue veins.  The gray cloak is perfect, while the orange coat is roughly done, the buttonholes being just dabs and slurs of paint. It's an amazing painting.

I wish I could show you more, but photos weren't allowed, and there really was no discreet way to sneak a few (which is what I usually do when I'm told that I'm not allowed.) You can read more about the Six Collection in the link below.  I cannot recommend this place highly enough.  If you know you're going to be in Amsterdam, request a tour.  If you do go, let me know what you think.  (My friend and co-worker, Brad, is going to be in Amsterdam in September, and he already has booked his  reservation for the tour.)

While we were waiting for the Six house to open, we hung out and admired the Amstel canal, upon which the house is located.  We were impressed with the nest-building capabilities of a duck who attached himself to piece of wood that was connected to a boat moored in the canal.

After the Six Collection, Udi took us to a very nice cafe nearby, called Hoftuin, where we had yummy sandwiches in a nice garden setting.  It's located around the corner from the Hermitage, which is across the street from the Six Collection.

Adjacent to Hoftuin is a courtyard that's connected to the Hermitage.  There's a miniature version of the huge "I amsterdam" sign that is swarming with tourists, located near the Rijksmuseum on the Museumplein.

After brunch, we crossed the Skinny Bridge (the Magere Brug; see my Day One post for the story of this bridge).

This took us to Kerkstraat.  A quick right, and we were at the Reguliersgracht, where, if you're positioned properly, you  can see seven bridges all lining up perfectly along the canal.  Here's a picture below, although you can't see it very well during the day.  The way you can really see the nice symmetry is if you're taking a canalboat cruise.  All of these cruises pass through here, because it looks so cool.

We passed so many beautiful canal homes.  Each one is unique.  I loved this one, here on the Keizersgracht.  Man, I'd give anything to live here.

As we continued strolling on the Keizersgracht, we came upon FOAM, a photography museum.  I try to go to photography museums when I travel, even though most of them are really a big disappointment.  The only one that I found really worth the time and money was the one I visited in Marrakech.  This one, FOAM, was pricey (11 euros), and was a bit of a disappointment.

The neighborhood where FOAM is located is in an area called the Spiegelkwartier, which translates to the Mirror Quarter.  This area has a lot of stores specializing in art and antiques.  We browsed some of the stores.  I liked this place because of the cat-face bags hanging from the hooks outside the store window.

We strolled through this area and wandered north, up the Prinzengracht.  We passed the Woonboot Museum, a houseboat museum that shows that it's really like to live inside a Dutch houseboat.  We skipped going inside.  We passed the big church, Westerkerk, on our right.   Across the canal, you could see the perpetual line outside the Anne Frank House.  It's the most popular tourist site in Amsterdam.  I toured it 17 years ago on my first trip here.

My destination was a little museum on a quiet street in the Jordaan neighborhood.  

There it is:  Electric Ladyland, the First Museum of Fluorescent Art.

The place is pretty cool.  You ring the bell and are greeted by the museum's founder and curator, American artist Nick Paladino.  Named after the Hendrix album, it's the first museum of its kind in the world.  Check the guy out.  He's a totally cool hippie dude.   He started the place, back in 1999.

The main level is the guy's studio and display area.  Paintings, large and small, are everywhere, as are little sculptures and knick-knacks.

Everywhere you look, the place was glowing.  Totally psychedelic.

After letting you peruse the upstairs for a bit, Nick kindly asks that you put on a pair of soft slipper-like shoe covers (which he provides) before he takes you down a very steep set of stairs into the cellar, where the real acid trip begins.  

The cellar is pretty small.  It's like a little cave, actually.  The main attraction down there is the Fluorescent Participatory Environment, a sculpture that Paladino worked on for a few years.  It's a little landscape of little craters and crevices, nooks and crannies, all aglow in bright, amazing fluorescent technicolor.  It was a trip.  Here I am, standing in it.

Mark stood in it, as well.

From The Six Collection to the Electric Ladyland. You'd be hard pressed to come up with a more radical contrast.

Electric Ladyland, however, is more than just a colorful glow-in-the-dark art installation.  The curator, Nick, knows EVERYTHING about fluorescence.  His knowledge of the subject is mind-blowing.  Nick takes you through the history of fluorescence.  You won't believe how much you'll learn just listening to the guy.  Did you know that fluorescent inks and dyes are used in all sorts of products that you handle every day, like money, train tickets, and drivers' licenses?  He asked the small group in attendance if we had our drivers' license with us.  I told him I was from New York (he's originally from New Jersey, by the way) and that I had my license.  He said that it has stuff on it that glows.  When I took it out and gave it to him, he shined a black light on it, and sure enough, there was stuff all over it that glowed.  

He then went through the stuff in each of his display cases, explaining what they were and how they were used.  Some of the stuff is vintage and very very cool.  

Here he is, in front of a case that displayed all sorts of cool stuff, like the first fluorescent chalks and paints, coins and bills, etc.  This guy knew EVERYTHING.  I was impressed, not just with his knowledge, but the way he wove interesting personal anecdotes into the narrative.  And he was so nice.  He encourages you to engage in dialog with him, which I did.  I told him that I was a veterinarian, and that there were two circumstances where I used a black light at work.  One is when I've applied a fluorescent stain to a cat's eye to look for a corneal ulcer.  He knew about that already, but thought it was still cool.  The other is when I think a cat might have ringworm.  Ringworm is a skin fungus.  About half of the strains of Microsporum canis, the most common species of ringworm, will fluoresce with an apple-green color under a black light.  He said he had heard something vague about this, but never knew exactly what it was.  He was very appreciative that I told him about it, because he's apparently writing a book about fluorescence and might want to include this.  I wrote down the genus and species of the ringworm fungus for him.  

His tour continued with a description of fluorescent rocks and minerals.  He had many of these in a display case.  He also had several different fluorescent lights hooked up, each of which shone light at different parts of the spectrum.  Depending on the frequency of the waves of the light that he used, you'd see different colors.  It was amazing.  Here are some of the rocks in the collection.

You should keep in mind that all of this narrative is occurring while trippy tunes from the '60's are wafting out from a boom box on a nearby shelf.  Paladino pointed out a poster that he said was designed by Leon Hendrix, Jimi's brother, who also is a musician.  He said the poster paid tribute to the Hendrix song, "Little Wing".  I told him that Little Wing was a great song, and he said, in his best hippie stoner voice, "oh man, tell me about it.  Two minutes and thirty one seconds of total perfection."  It was a riot.

You have to check this place out if you ever go to Amsterdam.  Five euros very well spent.

All of that psychedelia made me hungry, so off we went to a restaurant that I had researched, a waterfront place called Waterkant.  I didn't get to try Surinamese food the last time I was in Amsterdam, and I regretted it.  Amsterdam has loads of places that serve this cuisine. After all, Suriname was one of Holland's former colonies, and there are 300,000 people of Surinamese descent in the Netherlands.  After a short walk, we came upon it.

You duck behind this sign, and the place appears. The setting was lovely - a hip, happening place on the water's edge.

 I ordered ketjap kip, a tasty sandwich.

The sandwich was great, and the cherry flavored beer that I got with it was perfect.  After lunch, the plan was to shop the "Nine Streets".  The Nine Streets is a three-block by three-block area of the city that is populated by one-of-a-kind shops and boutiques.  The walk there was so nice.  I never get tired of the architecture.  Like this townhouse.

Many of the homes have a plaque inscribed with the date that the home was built.  This place is from 1671!  Amazing.

And this typical row of homes.  Note how each one is so unique.  The one in the middle is leaning quite a bit, though.   I love the canal homes, but I'd take one of these in a heartbeat.

I mentioned that the Nine Streets had unique little shops and boutiques.  Well, here's a good example: the Amsterdam Duck Store.

Their inventory:  Ducks.  Not the kind you eat.

Next time you go to Amsterdam and you're desperately in need of a duck, now you know where to go.

Amsterdam is a biking city.  There are more bikes than there are people, in fact.  I thought this bike was pretty cool. What I really liked were some of the bicycle bells.  Some of them were pretty unique.  I took a bunch of photos of them, which I plan on putting in a future blog post.

After a little shopping, we met up with Udi at his office, which is just a street down from the Anne Frank House.  The view from his office into the back courtyard is beautiful.

Interestingly, when you're standing in the yard, you get a not-too-often-seen view of the BACK of the Anne Frank House, including the window up there where he often looked out.  Pretty cool.

Dinner was at Eye.  To get there, you take the free ferry from Central Station across the water to the North part of town.  The ferry runs all night.

Eye is located inside the EYE film institute.  The building you see from the ferry is not it.  What you're seeing is a building with a newly installed top floor that rotates 360 degrees, giving amazing views.  Pretty slick, huh?   The film institute is the low, angular building to the left of that.

I ate there with Brad on my last trip to Amsterdam, and the place was so cool that I wanted to take Mark.  The terrace provides incredible views of the River IJ, and of Centraal Station.

Although I saw no cats today, I had a great time at the two museums and the two cool restaurants.  Let's see what tomorrow brings.
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