Leontine Coelewij is senior curator of Modern and Contemporary Art in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. She is currently working on the exhibitions Yto Barrada (scheduled to open in 2022) and Ana Lupas (2023), and coordinating the new displays of the Stedelijk Museum collection 1950-1980 and 1980 – present. Leontine Coelewij studied Art History at the University of Amsterdam, where she received her MA degree with honors in 1988.

From 1990 to 1992 she was curator of Museum Fodor, Amsterdam. In 1993 she initiated Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam, the department of the Stedelijk Museum specialized in contemporary art from Amsterdam. As curator of SMBA she organized many exhibitions from 1993 to 1999; she worked with Rineke Dijkstra, Chris Ofili, Inez van Lamsweerde, Angela Bulloch, Lily van der Stokker and many others. In 1994 she organized the site-specific project Cinema Actuel (with a.o. Dan Graham and Barbara Visser) in the modernist Cineac cinema in Amsterdam. In the 1990’s she curated several groups shows in the Stedelijk Museum together with Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen, a.o. Wild Walls (1995) and From the Corner of the Eye (1998), exhibitions which introduced the work of Kai Althoff, John Currin, Ugo Rondinone, Douglas Gordon and many others in the Stedelijk Museum In 1997 she was responsible for the exhibition Aernout Mik/Willem Oorenbeek in the Dutch Pavillion at the 47 th Venice Biennial.

As senior curator of the Stedelijk Museum she has organized many collection displays and exhibitions, like Seth Siegelaub: Beyond Conceptual Art (2015), Saskia Noor van Imhoff (2016), Magali Reus (2016), Marlene Dumas (2014), Paulina Olowska (2013), Aernout Mik-Communitas (2013), Tobias Rehberger (2008), Florian Pumhösl (2008), Enrico David (2007), Mapping the City (2006), Mapping the Studio (2005).

Her most recent exhibition projects at the Stedelijk Museum are: Bruce Nauman (in collaboration with Tate Modern, 2021), Nam June Paik. The Future is Now -in collaboration with Tate Modern and SF MoMA. (2020), Carlos Amorales-The Factory (2019), Edward Krasinski (2017), Amsterdam The Magical Centre, art and counter culture 1968-1970 (2018) and Lily van der Stokker-Friendly Good (2018-2019).

Amsterdam Magical City, art and counter culture 1968-1970.
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam 2018
Photography Gert Jan van Rooi

Diren Demir: Hello Leontine! It is good to see you. I have seen and heard a lot about you and your contributions to the Stedelijk Museum during my research. Would you like to introduce yourself to the readers?

Leontine Coelewij: My name is Leontine Coelewij. I was born in Amsterdam and I studied Art History at the University of Amsterdam. I work as a curator at Stedelijk Museum and at the moment I am curator of contemporary art with the specialization of the art from  1960 to 1990. I started my career as a curator of the Fodor Museum, which was a museum specially for Amsterdam based artists connected to Stedelijk Museum. In 1993 I started Stedelijk Museum Bureau  Amsterdam, which was a department  of the Stedelijk Museum, a small project space specially for younger artists. I worked there for about 6 years, 1993 – 1999. Then I became head of the curatorial department of Stedelijk

In the past I was really focusing on exhibitions but recently I am also working more with the collection. I am very connected to this Institution and I work based on the context of the place where I work. Which is history and the collection of the Stedelijk Museum. I work in a very international institution which at the same time has a kind of “Amsterdam flavor”, there is something in the DNA of the museum that has to do with Amsterdam. I still can find new things to be discovered in the history of the museum and the collection. Trying to rewrite the history in the exhibitions that I make.

Amsterdam Magical City, art and counter culture 1968-1970.
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam 2018
Photography Gert Jan van Rooi

Diren Demir: So since you mentioned the history of the city, context of the city and the 60’s, I want to ask you about the exhibition that you’ve curated, the “Amsterdam Magic Center; art and counter culture 1968-1970”. This is also how I have been inspired by Amsterdam. In many books and sources, also in reality, I can still encounter the 60’s of Amsterdam. When I was there I tried to see the city from these times and it was not that hard because the culture and heritage have been protected very well in the city. When we compare it to many other places, especially to Turkey for example- every cultural heritage, architecture, even historical objects are subjected to get lost very easily here. But those values are protected well there. Maybe also your vision with the Magic Center exhibition was to present the context and hidden details of the city in a different way, contributing to the heritage at the same time… Would you like to talk about the Amsterdam Magic Center exhibition?

Leontine Coelewij: Well that exhibition was about art and counterculture, because there was a strong movement especially with the young people who really wanted to change society in every way. Dutch society was very much compartmentalized in that time. So young people really wanted to change almost every aspect of society. So we saw the rise of the feminist movement “Dolle Mina’/ Mad Mina. Liberalisation of soft drugs, sexuality,. Inspiration from student revolt in Paris. of Mai 68. Squatter movement changed a lot of things and there was also the art scene which became much  more international. I think it’s really the moment -end of the 60’s, early 70’s- a lot of international artists came to the city to live here. Which is something that I would pay attention to. Not only for that exhibition but also in our new collection display. People like Lawrence Weiner, Marina Abramovic/Ulay, Ullisses Carrión, Miguel-Angel Cardenas. And many of them started new art initiatives and networks. So they added a new dynamic to the arts in the city.

There was a strong movement of DIY culture, doing things by yourself from the bottom up, a way of working and not waiting for the government to organize something for you. A lot of places that were not institutionalized yet, like in a lot of places pop concerts were organized. A lot of meetings were organized like the Love-Inn. Especially in Vondelpark. So there was an enormous energy by the young generation of artists and activists who really wanted to build up a new society and that energy is still something which can be inspiring even now in these years. Society has changed a lot -also for the good, i think i love changes. These changes came from these political and activist movements from that period. For example in 2001 the Netherlands were the first country with marriage for homosexual people. And on April 1st that year the first gay wedding was celebrated in Amsterdam.

What I also want to add,  I am working on a new collection display and this aspect of artists coming from abroad to Amsterdam and starting new initiatives, new art initiatives. That’s what I did. Many artists started to do this in Amsterdam within a scene bringing new perspectives.

Diren Demir: I also see your contribution to literature and books. There is a book about Nam June Paik, who is also an artist from these times. Since we are talking about the 60’s, is there anything that you would like to mention in this exhibition as well.

Leontine Coelewij: The Nam June Paik survey exhibition was a show which was mainly organized by Tate Modern and San Francisco MoMA. I added a small part which was about Nam June Paik in Amsterdam. Paik came to Amsterdam, to the city in the early 60’s. More in the context of Fluxus, so my role was a bit small there but indeed, he was another figure, he really opened up thinking about new media and ways to connect to people on a very global scale.

Diren Demir: There is also a Fluxus part in the collection of Stedelijk…

Leontine Coelewij: Yes, for the new collection display, we are in the process of making a new presentation of the collection and the first part opened in July. That was the part of the most recent collection, from the 80’s until now, until the present day. Title of this new collection display was called “Tomorrow is a Different Day”.

At the moment I am, together with a team of curators, working on the second part which is about the period of 1950 to 1980. What we are doing is trying to make a new presentation of the art collection, also with the new themes, new focus. When we talk about the Fluxus we think about people like Nam June Paik for instance but it is also interesting to look at it from a different angle. And there are two works by an artist who is not that well known, her name is Mary Bauermeister. She was an artist in Cologne in 1960’s  and her studio was a meeting point for many many artists, composers and performers  at that time. So Nam June Paik was there, also John Cage, Christo…

All these people did performances, music performances, live performances; in her studio. So she was really the center of the whole artist network. She was also an artist herself. She had her very first exhibition at Stedelijk Museum in 1962. At that time with music by Karl Heinz Stockhausen – with whom she was working at that time, by the connection with art and music, really experimental music.-

So what I wanted to do was to shift focus from these well known artists to women artists who were often neglected by art history but who played an important role in the past . We had a chance to restore Bauermeisters sculptures , two pieces in the collection, which are really very interesting. And we will contextualize these sculptures with works by other artists from her network.

Amsterdam Magical City, art and counter culture 1968-1970.
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam 2018
Photography Gert Jan van Rooi

Diren Demir: When people talk about art history, this is always the history of male  artists. But there have never been enough place and visibility for women . So this is amazing what you do. Can you tell me more about these new techniques of presentations?

Leontine Coelewij: We make a completely new presentation. You know, traditional art history and movements are not the starting point anymore . So it is not about this chronology and these movements that we know from the “traditional” art history that I had to learn when I was at school. Instead we try to find themes – which are very relevant for society, for art and creative thinking in these years. So for instance, different sort of protests, it is about migration and diaspora, it is about giving a voice to artist those who are lesser known, who come from different parts of the world, not western europe or america -large part of our collection was from these senders.- But we think there are lots of other stories to tell as well, with works from artists based in different parts of the world.

So the title of the new collection display is “Everyday, Someday and Other Stories.” “Everyday” is about the fact that everyday reality became part of the art during that time within pop art but also with performance art in that period, engaged with daily life gestures. “Someday” in the title refers to the fact that during these years, between 1950 and 1980, people were really looking towards the future, and it is about the idea that you could really change something in the society and someday things will be different. “Other stories’’ is just about the fact that we want to tell stories about art and about the world that we live in. One of the rooms in the collection display is called “Streams of Knowledge” which is about traveling and how information flows in streams from one culture to one another. We have works which were influenced by Japanese sculptures. But we also have a piece by a young artist from Latin America and her name is Sarah Zapata. It will also be a mix of contemporary interventions.

Diren Demir: So the contexts, point of views, understandings and dynamics in the history of the Stedelijk have been always changing. In the history of museums, or in the history of art , exhibition and curatorship history of the Netherlands, what has been changed with the focus of Inclusion and diversity. These are starting to be known and accepted in the world more and more day by day. What these values could be able to change now in the NL and in the museum?

Leontine Coelewij: Well that is a very large question, but indeed. Like many other countries in the world we are thinking about the role of museums in society. Which is different than considering the role of a museum used for city marketing and tourism. But especially in our museum we think more and more about what is our role in society.  What is the meaning of the museum for audiences.

Also for example, giving the voice to the artist themselves, not only texts about the artist written by the institution, but also having the artist to have a voice and explain the works themselves…

This is something that is working on many different levels. Our own team of curators is gradually changing into a more diverse group of people with many different backgrounds. Now we have people who are makers, designers, people who were born in different countries, who give different discussions, different reviews to collections from different angles. Also last year we decided that fifty percent of our acquisitions should be of women makers and artists of colour.

There are a lot of things changing including the ICOM definition of the museum. There was a new definition proposed which is really discussed worldwide. But this shows a lot of museums thinking about social change. But it is a process, a process of looking at yourself and looking at the history… So we are looking in a critical way at the context of social and also colonial context of our museums in the 19th century.

Amsterdam Magical City, art and counter culture 1968-1970.
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam 2018
Photography Gert Jan van Rooi

Diren Demir: When we look at the visions of a museum, any kind of museum, usually education comes first and maybe the city history, or maybe participation of the people.  But now you have also mentioned social change. I believe and feel any kind of curatorship practice can also become a sort of activism. Especially colonialism and Post-colonialism have never been mentioned in the history and contexts of many institutions and these are the subjects that people find the courage to talk about very recently. What would you be fighting for if you would perceive curatorship as a form of activism?

Leontine Coelewij: I do not consider myself an activist. But I think what we do should be relevant to our time, which is not continuing to tell old art history that we have been seeing for many many years but telling new stories. The idea of looking at art in a different way than we did before is something I would really consider as my road. Also giving new perspectives on art and art history… So I do not consider myself as an activist but I just want to be relevant for our times. This is a challenging role.

Diren Demir: Thank you very much. Since our time is about to be finished, as the final question, I would like to ask what we are going to see in the museum in the near future.

Leontine Coelewij: New collection display is opening in February 2022. And we will also have an exhibition by Hito Steyerl opening in January. It’s curated by my colleague Karen Archey . I will curate a project with Yto Barrada, she is a French-Moroccan artist. It is also about colonial issues, narratives about feminism and ecology.  She is a really wonderful artist. I am working together with her on this solo exhibition in October next year.

Diren Demir

Diren Demir (İstanbul, 1997). Disiplinlerarası bir sanatçı ve yazar. Diren, eserlerinde toksik-eril kültürü yok etmeye veya dönüştürücü çözümler üretmeye odaklanıyor. Diren'in eserlerinde “açığa çıkarma” temasına sıkça rastlanır. Beden-iktidar ilişkisi üzerinde çalıştığı çatışma alanlarından biridir. Genellikle kendi bedeninin “saf varoluşunu” kamusal çıplaklıkla ilişkilendirerek kullanır. Kalıplaşmış cinsiyet hapishanelerini yıkma yolunda beden bağlamını kullandığı queer temalı çalışmalarının yanı sıra; yazılarında, derlemelerinde ve araştırmalarında da LGBTİQ+ tarihine atıfta bulunarak yerin ve şehrin hafızasını cinsiyetsizleştirmeyi amaçlar.