Princess Maxima of The Netherlands
Labor Day weekend ended and bam! New York was back in full swing. Stacks of gallery openings collided with fashion week and shows were scattered all over the city this season. How to do it all?  The best bet was to go Dutch.

NY400 honoring the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s discovery of New Amsterdam sailed into town (literally) on the replica of The Half Moon.  The voyage, an annual Dutch tradition, retraces Henry Hudson’s Halve Maen (Half Moon) ship’s original 1609 voyage and his discovery of the New Netherland colony, what is modern-day New York City.  NY400 a joint Dutch-American celebration of the shared history between New York City and the City of Amsterdam was planned alongside ongoing special exhibitions at the Museums: In & Out of Amsterdam at MOMA; Amsterdam/New Amsterdam and Dutch Seen both at the City of the Museum of New York; and this past Tuesday The Met unveiled a special exhibition: Vermeer’s Masterpiece, “The Milkmaid” at a morning press preview led by the show’s curator, Walter Liedtke.

Loaned by the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, “The Maidservant (Milkmaid)” was last seen in New York at the 1939 World’s Fair.  Five Vermeer paintings in The Met’s permanent collection and works by fellow Dutch masters make for a blockbuster exhibition that gives the viewer a rich insight into Vermeer’s inspirations in creating one of his most famous pictures. The milkmaid, a subject of common genre painting, was taken up by many 17th century Dutch masters but the lustrous simplicity in the way Vermeer handles light, form and composition – the respectful distance he keeps from the subject – makes this small-scale oil on canvas his very own monumental vision.

The quietude of Vermeer was usurped on Wednesday when The Marine Band Royal Netherland Navy banged it out at the southern tip of Manhattan celebrating the 400th anniversary and the unveiling of The New Amsterdam Plein & Pavilion at Peter Minuit Plaza.  The Pavilion, a 5,000-square foot permanent structure looks directly toward the harbor where Henry Hudson sailed.  The $2.3 million structure designed by Dutch architect Ben van Berkel of UNStudio was commissioned by the Battery Park Conservancy and is a gift from the Dutch Government to New York City to honor the Dutch-American pioneers of New Amsterdam.  An ultra-chic curvaceous design of glass and painted white concrete with an electronic LED façade will provide digital information points for visitors touring surrounding neighborhoods.  The structure will officially open in 2010.

To applaud the unveiling, Battery Park Conservancy Chair, Bill Rudin with Diana Taylor, Chair of the Hudson River Park Trust co-hosted Battery Gardeners’ Luncheon in the presence of their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Orange and Princess Maxima of the Netherlands.  Just before lunch, the Princess presented the city with 120,000 flower bulbs – tulipa vvedenskyi Henry Hudson – a beautiful orange tulip to be planted this fall in New York’s five boroughs, Battery Park and Hudson River Park. Guests looked thrilled to find a Dutch terracotta pot and a few of the bulbs in the gift bags.

On Thursday I hopped the ferry to Governor’s Island where Renny Ramakers co-founder and director of Droog presented Pioneers of Change, a seriously considered exhibition of Dutch design, fashion and architecture on the themes of recycling, regeneration and renewal.  The two-weekend long event curated by Ramakers presents the work of Dutch designers in 11 officer houses on the island.  The standout was seeing designer Christien Meindertsma quietly standing on the porch of House No.03 knitting woolen carpets with 6-foot long needles using wool from different kinds of Dutch sheep. The cable-knit patterns are based on early Dutch fishermen sweaters.  Some of the finished pieces were on display inside the house. On a tour led by Ramakers she summed it up best by saying “doesn’t it feel a bit like The Truman Show,” the 1998 surrealist film by Peter Weir set in New York City.

I made it back to Manhattan just in time for the preview of Alix Smith’s solo exhibition States of Union at Morgan Lehman Gallery in Chelsea. Smith’s earlier photographic works have all explored identity and society and in States of Union she explores family portraiture and same sex marriage. She sought out long-term couples and uses visual tropes borrowed from references like the Saturday Evening Post and Old Master portraiture as a way to imbue her images with clues emblematic of security, monogamy and convention.  With a week celebrating the Dutch, I couldn’t help being drawn to “States of Union #2” where a standing woman lowers pearls into the hands of her partner seated at a desk.  Set in a domestic interior against a soft blue background, the picture appears to directly quote Vermeer.  In a conversation with Smith she noted that Vermeer has always been a strong influence in my work – his use of light in particular…but this photograph (“States of Union #2”) is based on the 1910 painting “The New Necklace” by the American painter William McGregor Paxton who was also very much inspired by Vermeer.  Before the 20th century and the popularity of diamonds, pearls were given as engagement gifts so the use of pearls seemed perfect for this project.

The picture is what the 17th century Dutch referred to as a conversation piece and with this new series Smith examines a portrait genre with almost no history of depiction encouraging the current cultural debate around gay marriage.


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