Visual Sociology of Art in Amsterdam

A visual sociology of my weekend trip to Amsterdam during my secondment in London! Learn more about the Stendhal Syndrome Pavillion, the psychological condition elicited by artworks. The Oasis of Matisse was wonderful, but offers an opportunity to apply the sociology of gender.  The Zero Exhibition recreates an experimental exhibition from the 1950s and 1960s.

Stendhal Syndrome Pavillion

At 9 pm in Amsterdam, where it is still light outside, the Van Gogh Museum is still buzzing with art lovers wondering around. I took this photo sitting inside one of the Stendhal Syndrome Pavillion boxes by artist Alicia Francis. It is an area for respite after viewing so many masterpieces in one place.

This is the Stendhal Syndrome Pavillion by artist Alicia Francis, at the Van Gogh Museum. The Stendhal Syndrome was coined by psychiatrist Graziella Magherini in 1979 to describe people being so emotionally overcome by the beauty of art that it manifests as a physiological reaction. The “syndrome” is named after French author Stendhal’s description of seeing Renaissance masterpieces in Florence in 1817.

“As I emerged from the porch of Santa Croce, I was seized with a fierce palpitation of the heart; the wellspring of life was dried up within me, and I walked in constant fear of falling to the ground.”

Stendhal is not accepted as a psychological condition but researchers continue to study it. Nevertheless the Santa Maria Nuova hospital in Florence still treats supposed cases after admirers see the statue of David and various works at the Uffizi Gallery.

The Oasis of Matisse exhibition

When I visited the Stedelijk Museum I spent around three hours at the The Oasis of Matisse exhibition, an excellent and comprehensive retrospective on his evolution as an artist. The focus on his relationship to colour and the move from Fauvism to his cut outs was very interesting. There was also a running theme of how he was influenced by other artists from Impressionism (including Monet and Van Gogh) and Cubism (Picasso, featured here back left).

The sociologist of course sees something more: how these artists collaborated to achieve the idealism of women’s bodies. Matisse, like his contemporaries and artists before them, drew nudes to express sexual freedom, which of course is defined through White, Western heterosexual male desire. When their art is displayed side by side here, all of these famous men were converging in the way they thought about and represented women’s bodies. They developed a singular way of defining beauty: generous curves and smooth lines.

Zero Exhibition

The Zero exhibition, explores experimental artists from the 1950s and 1960s. The first two pieces are from the second Nul exhibition held at the Stedelijk Museum.

Heinz Mack. Model for a Moving Multiple, 1965.

Pol Bury, 107 Balls in 6 Different Sizes. This artwork is from 1964.

Heinz Mack, Light Grid in Space, 1961. The Zero exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum stimulates sensory experiences.

Heinz Mack, Do you Really See the Wind? Greetings to Tinguely, 1962. Zero exhibition, Stedelijk.