Given Amsterdam’s progressive, hip culture, their incredible array of public art institutions, and their taste for the finer things in life (good beer, bicycling, lounging around in parks, etc) it’s no surprise that there’s a lively up-and-coming local artist scene as well. As a tourist, it’s always hard to discern the real deal from kitschy, inauthentic galleries and storefronts, but I got lucky enough to stumble upon an unlikely community of artists just waiting for more people to discover them.
It all began on a walk into the center of the city to visit a cool cocktail bar. On the way in, I noticed a pretty unassuming entryway with the kind of graffitied overhead rolling metal window-cover that you might associate with a liquor store or bodega. The entryway was wide open, and people were hanging out on the sidewalk chatting and sipping beers. I couldn’t see anything for sale inside, just a blank hallway with some paint on the floor and some art hanging on the walls. “What is this place?” I asked a guy hanging outside with shoulder-length Point Break blond hair. “You should go in and check it out for yourself,” he responded with a grin.
So I did go in and check it out. There were walls covered with artwork in every direction, most from the same artist—a cursory glance at a piece of printer paper taped to a wall by the entrance revealed that there was an art exhibition opening the next day. The building opened up into a huge central room further inside, with a staircase leading up and lots and lots of junk hanging around—piles of old TVs, some very antiquated cash registers, there was even an entire Renault pickup truck rusting away in a corner. The junk was thoughtfully arranged and actually kind of tasteful looking—like an experienced interior designer used unsold flea market surplus to lay out a space.
He was nice enough to take me up those stairs in the back of the building and show me around his studio, which was a beautiful creative space full of his works in progress and unsold paintings.
Art and refuse aside, there wasn’t much else going on. People were clustered here and there, talking and laughing like old friends, but no formal event in progress. Incredibly curious but a little dismayed, I left and went about my night. Two days later, my curiosity refusing to diminish, I went back. It was earlier in the day, and the place was empty except for two people working at a paint splattered table in the entryway. I went up to them and finally got a little bit of an answer as to what this place was—it’s called Vrij Paleis, and it’s an art exhibition space, cultural center, party hall, and artist collective all in one. I was informed by Jaime Adan, one of the people sitting in front of me, that I’d missed a hell of a party the night before—the opening of the exhibition I had noticed on the calendar when I first visited. Damn. Jaime, it turns out, is a prolific painter, and the artist on display is his good friend Francesca Aikman—also a painter—who is the second person sitting at the table. She makes gorgeous monochromatic painting that play with light in a really interesting way; it appears that Jaime paints anything and everything that he sees. He was nice enough to take me up those stairs in the back of the building and show me around his studio, which was a beautiful creative space full of his works in progress and unsold paintings. At the end of my visit, he thanked me for coming and gave me a next stop—just around the corner, there was a gallery that Vrij Paleis partnered with that sold some of their art and provided additional spaces for artists to work.
Eager to dig deeper into this cool local scene, I headed straight over to the gallery. It’s called Painter’s Palace, and it originally opened in Budapest before growing to the point that an Amsterdam branch was possible. Painter’s Palace is way, way more than just an art gallery—the entire second floor is devoted to drawing and painting, and anyone off the street can come during opening hours to draw to their heart’s content with the ample supplies provided in the studio. It was here at the Palace that I met yet another artist, again a painter, named Sebastian van Haasen—a young, incredibly nice Belgian who’d recently gotten married and moved to Amsterdam, where his wife works for the municipal government. Sebastian invited me to draw with him as he painted. How could I turn that down? I mentally rearranged my schedule for the rest of the day, grabbed some paper and a pencil, sat down on the tiny little stool he provided, and whiled away the afternoon chatting with him and trying to draw something salvageable (which I then left at the Palace and forgot to take with me). Painter’s Palace is an incredibly cool institution, still largely unknown—the Amsterdam branch is only two months old. If you’re in the area and looking for a relaxing to spend an afternoon or evening, drop what you’re doing and seek out the Palace. You’ll meet some awesome local artists and get the chance to do a little bit of drawing—it’s all completely free, though they’ll happily take donations.