Amsterdam’s Moco Museum of Contemporary Art has taken root beside its bigger brothers on the city’s Museumplein. And if you like edgy, subversive, and provocative art by the likes of Banksy, Andy Warhol, Dali, and Roy Lichtenstein, you need to see it. Also, if you love beautiful vintage architecture, you get a sweet bonus at what some are calling the Banksy Museum, Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is a city where museum lovers are spoiled for choice. There are more than 90 museums in the city. They honor everything from historic art masterpieces to kitsch, from tulips to cheese to cigars. There’s a handbag museum, a Bibles museum, and a sex museum. Whether you want to see Rembrandts and Van Goghs, world-class photography, or the rooms where Anne Frank hid with her family, whether you love cats or science or vintage ships, whether its spectacles, pipes, or diamonds that get you going … there’s a museum for that in Amsterdam.
Moco Museum of Modern Contemporary Art Enters the Scene
In 2016, Moco—Museum of Modern Contemporary Art—joined the list as a home for exhibits featuring popular culture icons of op, pop, street art and other contemporary funk. Underground-gone-mainstream artists like Banksy and Warhol, Koons and Haring, Yayoi Kusama and Roy Lichtenstein and others are filling the walls and spaces of a graceful and distinctly non-contemporary 19th-century townhouse on the city’s Museumplein.
Moco is a private museum. Owners Lionel and Kim Logchies have a long-established presence in Europe’s contemporary art scene. Their Lionel Gallery, in Amsterdam’s Spiegel Quarter, was named one of Europe’s top galleries by ArtNet. They have long had an affinity for so-called “subversive art,” like the clandestine street work of the mysterious Banksy. So opening a museum was a logical extension of what they’ve been doing for years. And Banksy and Andy Warhol were the no-brainer choices for Moco’s first star-turn exhibit.
Contemporary Art – Vintage Home
The stately Villa Alsberg was a less obvious choice of venue to house their new contemporary art museum. Built as a family home in 1904, it was designed by Edward Cuypers, whose uncle, Pierre Cuypers, designed the massive and distinctive neo-Gothic style Rijksmuseum and Amsterdam’s Central Station. Edward was trained by his uncle, but developed a different style, with elements of Neo-Renaissance and Jugendstil. Against the elegant backdrop of beamed ceilings, polished wainscoting, and stained-glass windows, the cheekiness of the young, vibrant, edgy art pops out even more. The dichotomy works.
I visited Moco Amsterdam shortly after it opened and was fortunate to spend time with that original Banksy-Warhol exhibit. I was delighted at every turn, both by the whimsical, colorful, or anarchic art and the beauty of its new housing. Although the small size of some of the rooms and stairways works against the flow of the large crowds, the curators have used the layout well.
The First Banksy Exhibition in Amsterdam
I’ve been a Warhol groupie for decades, but I was fairly new to Banksy’s work. I’m now a confirmed fan. I love the irony and humor with which he expresses his subversive ideas. I also love the mystery of him. The fact that no one seems to know who he is simply makes the work more intriguing. And after the 2018 stunt he pulled at Sotheby’s, when a shredder he’d built into the frame of one of his paintings kicked in just as the gavel came down on the $1.2 million price, leaving the painting of the girl with a red balloon in shreds, I loved him even more.
This unauthorized exhibit, called “Laugh Now,” is a grouping of works from private collections. It is comprised of more than 50 pieces, including his huge “Beanfield” painting. Some of the original street pieces look like they’ve been physically cut from their original outside walls, still attached to concrete slabs, or appear on traffic cones, metal signs and other surfaces. The parade of monkeys, rats, children, British policemen, soldiers and street fighters send the artist’s anti-war, anti-capitalist, anti-establishment message with both power and humor.
To see the actual semi-destruction of the print at Sotheby’s, watch this video. For some reason, the shredder only worked on half the print, leaving the piece perhaps even more valuable than it was before.
My favorite work in the group was “Forgive Us Our Trespassing.” This large painting shows a young boy in cap and hoodie, praying on his knees, in front of a large stained-glass window covered with graffiti. Moco has placed it by one of the house’s original stained-glass windows, and the result is stunning.
That original Banksy Amsterdam exhibit proved so popular that Moco brought it back. It has been extended several times and is now scheduled to remain through September, 2019. It’s quite possible that some Banksy pieces will continue to show up in the museum’s ongoing shows. But despite the strong Moco Banksy connection among locals, the museum has shown a range of contemporary artists. Salvador Dali was a popular recent choice, as was the primary-colored cartoon style of Roy Lichtenstein.
Lichtenstein, Kusama, et al at Moco
Bold, clean lines over flat, strong colors, regularly spaced dots like an amplified half-tone… these are the hallmarks of much of Roy Lichtenstein’s work. One of the most popular pieces from Moco’s exhibit of his work, the 3-D “The Artist’s Room at Arles” installation, remains in place. A reimagining of van Gogh’s iconic yellow room in the French city, its showing here has been extended indefinitely.
Two pieces by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama are currently on show through September, 2019: “Pumpkin” and “Night of Stars.” Easily recognizable from their strong lines and polka dots, the pieces have a joy about them that fills the room. An earlier show featured Icy and Sot. Two Iranian street artist brothers, sometimes called “The Banksy of Iran,” their work has been banned in their own country.
While visiting Moco, be sure to check out the garden. Filled with a constantly changing, evolving parade of whimsical and unexpected sculptures and installations, it’s always a fun discovery. Drool over a giant red Gummy Bear; puzzle over a big bronze melting Dali pocket watch; or climb aboard Marcel Wanders’ “Tempter,” a giant hobby horse, and have yourself a ride. There is a very nice gift shop in the basement of the house.
While it’s possible, and even likely, that few or none of these specific works and artists will still be showing when you make your own way to Moco, I hope they convince you that whatever is on display is certain to be interesting, thought provoking, probably subversive, whimsical, and something you’re not likely to see in most other museums. And it will be a delightful counterbalance to all those Rembrandt’s and Vermeers and van Goghs filling your other museum hours in Amsterdam.
Moco Amsterdam has already become very popular in its short life. I recommend you buy tickets online before you go. It will definitely ease your entry. Book your Moco Museum tickets online at the Moco website.
If You Go to Moco Museum Amsterdam:
Sunday – Thursday, 9 am to 7 pm
Friday-Saturday, 9 am – 8 pm
(Open one hour later each day in July and August)
Admission Prices: (2019)
Students and Youth (16-17) €12.50
Youth (10-15) €9.50,
Children under 10 free
€1 Discount for tickets purchased online
Location and Contact:
Moco Museum Amsterdam is on the western edge of the Museumplein, between the Rijksmuseum and the van Gogh Museum.
Address: Honthorststraat 20
Telephone: +31 (0) 20-3701997
Trams #2, 3, 5, 12 stop at van Baerlestraat.
Trams 16, 24 stop at Museumplein
Moco Museum is located in a vintage home with many steps and no elevator. Consequently, it is unfortunately NOT wheelchair accessible.
Photography is allowed. Flash is not.