Skip to content

White Balls on Walls: fascinating image of a museum in panic

There is quite a stir among mostly people of certain (white) colour and age about a documentary now running in movie houses. In White Balls on Walls shows creator Sarah Vos how the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam has to get used to a new era in which old taken-for-grantedness is shaking to its foundations.

The fuss revolves mainly around the established art world's fear of rampant 'wokism': gender-neutral toilets, a priority policy for female artists and artists 'of colour', fuss over what word you can still use for white or black and prostitutes, and whether context should matter when exhibiting artworks.

That's how important context is

To start with the latter, Sarah Vos shows with a simple example how important that context can be. She lingers at length at the exhibition Kirchner And Nolde. Expressionism. Colonialism, revealing where both big names got their inspiration.

In a side note, it passes that their art consists of fairly true-to-life depictions of original works they found in Papua New Guinea. Those original works are not art by Western standards; the depictions the white artists made of them are. If you see the works side by side, you start to wonder where Nolde and Kirchner got that from. But it is ingrained in us that the works of Papua New Guinea natives cannot be art.

For all sorts of reasons that you start to find increasingly weird the more arguments you hear for them.

The canon is male and white

There is another embarrassing moment when one of the female curators explains that even during her art history studies, she was never taught otherwise than that the canon consisted of white western male artists. That until 2020, only 10% of the Stedelijk's collection was by female artists, and virtually no work by other than white artists was on display, apart from a single 'token' exhibition, speaks volumes.

Now that the museum, partly under pressure from a rather laconic councillor of culture Touria Meliani, has to diversify like hell, panic strikes. And then it's corona too. In beautiful scenes, we see alienating zoom meetings in which certain men drop out, women failing to come together at one-and-a-half metres, and mumblings about the height of two minuscule cloths in the room.

We also see Charl Landvreugd, Head of Research and Curatorial Practice, tell us that his main concern is to prevent his colleagues from being afraid of him (black man) and we see how the collection basement does contain female artworks, which have thus never been exhibited before.

Artist enough

The confidence that many people still have today that the art hanging in our museums is therefore the best and most universal can now really be taken with a huge grain of salt after seeing this documentary. It is also nice that documentary filmmaker Sarah Vos makes it clear that she seems to have more affinity with the established order that has been so cornered. She is artist enough not to really take sides, though.

In this, she is a step ahead of many of the critics of major newspapers, who - as we recently showed - happy to go along with the nothing-based panic fear of woke cancel culture.

Cons of art

Somewhere halfway through, we see an ingeniously chosen shot in which the man-sized letters of the exhibition Meet The Icons Of Modern Art are scraped off the windows. The crew has already removed the letters 'MEET THE' and we see the 'I' disappear. What remains is telling, and may provide both supporters and opponents of the new developments with plenty of substance for many heated debates: 'CONS OF MODERN ART'.

Go watch, it's worth it.

White Balls On Walls can be seen in various cinemas and at Streaming via Picl.

Appreciate this article!

If you appreciate this article and want to show your appreciation with a small contribution: you can! This is how you help keep independent journalism alive. Show your appreciation with a small donation!


Why donate?

We are convinced that good investigative journalism and expert background information are essential for a healthy cultural sector. There is not always space and time for that. Culture Press does want to provide that space and time, and keep it accessible to everyone for FREE! Whether you are rich, or poor. Thanks to donations From readers like you, we can continue to exist. This is how Culture Press has existed since 2009!

You can also become a member, then turn your one-off donation into lasting support!

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

Private Membership (month)
5 / Maand
For natural persons and self-employed persons.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Own mastodon account
Access to our archives
Small Membership (month)
18 / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of less than €250,000 per year
No annoying banners
A premium newsletter
All our podcasts
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Posting press releases yourself
Extra attention in news coverage
Large Membership (month)
36 / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of more than €250,000 per year.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Share press releases with our audience
Extra attention in news coverage
Premium Newsletter (substack)
5 trial subscriptions
All our podcasts

Payments are made via iDeal, Paypal, Credit Card, Bancontact or Direct Debit. If you prefer to pay manually, based on an invoice in advance, we charge a 10€ administration fee

*Only for annual membership or after 12 monthly payments

en_GBEnglish (UK)