'Once Upon a Time… The Collection Now'

permanent collection at Van Abbemusem, Eindhoven

Starting on 2 November 2013, the Van Abbemuseum presents a completely new narrative presentation of its collection. Entitled 'Once Upon a Time… The Collection Now', the exhibition brings together artworks, archives, histories and relations in historical constellations that connect individual artworks to the social and political contexts in which they were made and exhibited. The works are shown over five floors, starting with a Picasso from 1909 and ending in works from 2013. Never before has the museum exhibited such a comprehensive selection with over 600 elements being brought together to tell stories of aesthetics, ethics and politics over the last 100 years. Besides giving attention to art from the last century, a significant part of the exhibition is devoted to art after 1989 and to new acquisitions not previously shown. The design of the visitors’ experience has also led to a number of surprising interventions in the architecture of the 2003 extension.

Besides the artworks, the museum introduces four other elements which play an important role in the presentation:


Museum Index,

The View from Here,


Basement: ‘Civilian virtue, artistic sense and community spirit’: Eindhoven around 1936

The journey begins with the establishment of the Van Abbemuseum in 1936 and the situation that prevailed at that time in Eindhoven. Parts of the regionally oriented collection of the museum’s founder, the cigar manufacturer Henri van Abbe, are shown alongside other work from the period up to the start of World War II. The withdrawal of government sponsoring in today’s situation places Henri van Abbe’s private initiative in a new light.

Ground floor: 1909-1975 – Modernity in Western Europe and the United States

The ground floor is devoted to paintings, photography, archive items and documentation from the period 1909-1975. From an art historical viewpoint this is the era of the avant-gardes and of modernism. The revolutions and wars of the twentieth century, the rise of the consumer society and its critics, and the ascendancy of New York, all receive attention. The period concludes with the late-sixties rejection of traditional norms and values, and the emergence of the art market. Significant moments and events in the history of art are illuminated and placed in a wider social perspectives.

First floor: 1965 - 1985 – Countercultures and DIY archive

On the first floor, which is devoted to the period 1965-1985, artists explore the consequences of the counter culture that developed post-1968. Dropping out, punk, feminism and gay rights influenced not only aesthetics but the ethics of art. New forms of dissemination and participation arose. This floor is constructed in the form of a DIY archive, in which visitors can explore for themselves the art forms of the period and create small presentations for others. The multiple media of the time, such as prints and multiples, artists’ books, posters, video works, LPs and audio tapes are all brought together in a single archive of the time. In a cinema and two project rooms on this floor attention is given to special developments of this period. For the first presentation, one room highlights the work of female artists at this time, the other artists' initiatives from Eindhoven in the eighties.

Second floor: 1983 - the present day – The global and the local

The circuit on the extensive top floor begins with the decline of postmodernism, followed by the post-1989 period in which we find ourselves today. In the last twenty years, artists have concerned themselves with broad themes such as communication and conflict. Immigration and the body, the rise of networks, the rapid availability of information and the transition to a uncertain global power balance. Different cultures and creeds come into contact, sometimes clashing violently and sometimes blending. Works by Michal Heiman, Gülsun Karamustafa, Tintin Wulia, Wilhelm Sasnal and a new donation by Nedko Solakov show the recent broadening geography of the collection. In the project room, new acquisitions by Michael Rakowitz, Antonis Pittas and Oliver Ressler are included.

Third floor: 1973 - 2006 – History strikes back

At the very top of the museum, three artists share an approach to the long span of history’s unfolding and the changing function of heritage. We see documents of a lost time reflecting the volatility of our existence, but also offering prospects for the future.

Artists in the exhibition

The exhibition contains works by, amongst others, Alptekin, Appel, Baer, Beuys, Billing, Braque, Broodthaers, Chagall, Delaunay, Dibbets, Van Doesburg, Dumas, Fontana, Gestel, Gordon, Haacke, Hamilton Finlay, Heiman, Immendorff, Irwin, Jonas, Jorn, Judd, Karamustafa, Kiefer, Klein, Kusolwong, LeWitt, Lissitzky, Mareschal, Mondriaan, Murtazaoglu, Muñoz, Nauman, Perjovschi, Picasso, Qiu, Rosler, Sasnal, Schwitters, Sluijters, De Smet, Solakov, Stella, Toorop, Ugay, Warhol, Weiner and Willink.

Importance for the present moment

Once Upon a Time… The Collection Now is constructed from the point of view of the early twenty-first century, in which globalisation, networking and new forms of initiative and protest have emerged. In selecting the artworks, the museum considered specific public moments. That may be circumstances in which the artwork was made, but also the exhibitions in which it was first exhibited. These are the moments in time when people talk about an artwork and give meaning to it. These stories are about how artworks become part of a wider culture and they determine economic and social value. By not only showing the artworks but also the history of their display and interpretation we may be able to define better their importance for our present era, as well as understand how they came into being.

Curators: Christiane Berndes, Charles Esche, Diana Franssen

Van Abbemuseum | Bilderdijklaan 10 | 5611 NH Eindhoven | Netherlands