One of the most unlikely stories from the Amsterdam art world is that of the Greenbox Museum of Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia. The name itself is a mouthful, and the super-specialized museum is little more than, well, a box, painted in a lovely pistachio shade. (Green is, perhaps not coincidentally, the national color of Saudi Arabia, as well as the color of Islam.) But this curiosity cabinet of a museum has made quite a splash in the art world, not least because of its social media prowess; the museum boasts hundreds of thousands of fans on Facebook - more than the Louvre itself and, within the Netherlands, just below social media favorites like Heineken, KLM and Shell.
What is so special about the Greenbox Museum, then - a museum with "no predictions, no prognosis, and no business model," as owner Aernout Helb claims? The appeal is manifold. For starters, it may well be the only museum in the world dedicated to contemporary Saudi art, and its novelty alone makes it worth the visit for some (I am also of this persuasion). It is also a unique window onto a world that would otherwise remain unknown to outsiders - a chance to discover the works of Saudi artists such as Ahmed Mater, who inspired the foundation of the museum; in 2008, as he researched an episode from the Qu'ran, Helb stumbled on Mater's art based on the Qu'ranic story of the yellow cow. This sparked a passion for Saudi art that ultimately led to the Greenbox Museum, which has attracted a tremendous amount of press and casual attention in its short lifespan. Beside the evident passion Helb has for his temple to Saudi art, it's the founder's open-ended expectations for the museum that make me and other visitors so keen to track its course. In the meantime, the small but brilliantly curated collection is one of Amsterdam's most unique treasures.
Greenbox Museum Visitor Information:
Greenbox Museum Location
Korte Leidsedwarsstraat 12 (near Leidseplein)
- Wed - Fri, 1 - 5 p.m.; other times by appointment.
Admission Fee: € 5 per person
- Take tram 1, 2, 5, 7, 10 or 16 to the Leidseplein stop 16; Korte Leidsedwarsstraat is the street that projects from the northeastern point of the square (the corner on which Boom Chicago is located).
Visit the Greenbox Museum of Contemporary Art web site.