Wim Pijbes: Museum of the Year judge

The General Director of Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum is one of our Museum of the Year judges. He tells us how he fell in love with museums, and explains why they should be accessible to all.

The first museum I ever visited was the Rijksmuseum. I went with my school when I was 12, back when I lived in a small town in north Holland. We were excited to go to the big city and see this huge museum. I particularly remember the huge staircase, which is still here now, and seeing Rembrandt’s Night Watch. The teacher told us, ‘boys and girls, this is the most important painting in the world.’

I didn’t go to museums and galleries regularly with my family. My parents owned a grocery store and delicatessen, but school was very important. We went to classical concerts and the theatre as well as the Rijksmuseum. So I was given limited but intense doses of culture.

My ambition, as the Director of the Rijksmuseum, has always been the same: the message, voice and vocabulary of the museum must be accessible to all. We are the keepers, but we have to share it with the world. As Neil MacGregor at the British Museum says, this is everyone’s private collection. I am the director but it does not belong to me, or the curators or the state. It is in the public domain and it is for everyone to enjoy.

And we are very open on the web. We are front-runners, especially in terms of copyright and how we deal with it. I think copyright is so 20th century. I strongly believe that since images are in the public collection, they should be everyone’s property.

As a Museum of the Year judge, I want to find a museum that connects on both an individual and collective level, to inspire and excite through art and culture. Museums are really the new social hubs. In the old days you went to a church to gather with a variety of people with a collective state of mind. Nowadays there are only a few places where you can find this commonality: in sports stadiums, concerts, maybe the beach, but definitely in museums. You have the same spirit but a wide variety, and that is what makes it so attractive, a place to enjoy this common energy.

British collections are excellent, and the museums are very democratic. The success of the Tate is also remarkable. It is not just the collection; it is the sum of the building, the people, everything together. The British are very good at making things exciting, even more than they may appear at first glance. I don’t know how you do it. Everything is always edgy and new. You have an influx of talent from India, the US, Australia, everywhere. Holland has the same, but on another scale.

If you ask a child what a museum is, the British Museum is what they imagine – it sets the standard. There is the Greek facade, the columns, the academic presence, and of course they have mummies! Everybody loves them.

Museum of the Year 2014 is accepting applications until 10 February. Find out more about the other judges.

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