CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Marrigje Rikken

The Opportunities and Challenges of Transhistorical Displays:
The Frans Hals Museum and Other Examples

Marrigje Rikken, Head of Collections at the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem

There is no single definition of a “transhistorical museum,” but there seems to be a trend in the museum world to display artworks in transhistorical displays. There are many ways of combining objects from different periods: it can be done in exhibitions, permanent collection displays, as a set of guidelines, or as an unexpected intervention. The juxtaposition may be confrontational or harmonious, each of which calls for a different approach and type of visitor support. The reasons for opting for a transhistorical display may also differ: while one museum may seek to present Old Masters in a new context, another may wish to broaden its appeal to a new section of the public.

This statement will make some critical observations regarding the transhistorical displays in the Frans Hals Museum and several other museums. In explaining its new setup, the Haarlem museum states that it wishes to introduce visitors to a mix of early modern and contemporary art in a manner that will be surprising and content-rich while remaining accessible. The museum believes in the importance of demonstrating historical continuity: contemporary art is imbued with significance in relation to the art that has preceded it, and the relevance of old masters is emphasized by means of dialogue with the art of today. Artists allow their minds to roam freely from one era to another, and the museum seeks likewise to forge associative ties between art objects and ideas from different epochs.

The creation of transhistorical displays frequently gives rise to different fields of tension. The Frans Hals Museum, for instance, has two different locations: one focusing on Dutch early modern art, the other mainly displaying international contemporary art. There is a considerable disparity between the two sites in terms of visitor numbers and visitor profiles. In part, this points up the difficulty of serving both groups at the same time. In addition, different media – such as Old Master paintings and contemporary videos and multimedia installations – are governed by different climate and display criteria, which must not be allowed to spoil the viewing experience.

About Marrigje Rikken

Marrigje Rikken worked from 2006 to 2008 as assistant curator of seventeenth-century Dutch Paintings at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, after which she lectured in art history from 2009 to 2015 at the University of Amsterdam. In 2016 she was awarded a research doctorate at Leiden University on the strength of her thesis on the development of Southern Netherlandish animal imagery into an autonomous genre between 1550 to 1630 in relation to developments in natural history, artists’ networks, and elite collecting practices. In 2014 she became an associate curator at the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, combining this work from 2015 onward with a position as curator of history paintings at the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History in The Hague. In October 2017 she was appointed Head of Collections at the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem.

Marrigje Rikken has been a member of CODART since 2014.