Friday, December 31, 2010

An afternoon at the museum

I love museums. And the more traditional they are, the better it is. I remember how I loved the British Museum, with its big rooms, and long wooden en glass cabinets. The museum I visited a few days ago, has little to do with art. However, that is open for discussion of course. The Louwman Collection is one of the world's most distinguished vintage automobile museums. A few months ago it relocated to a new purpose built building in The Hague. Does it live up to the expectations?

1935 Duesenberg SJ

My feelings toward automobile museums are a bit ambivalent. Cars are machines that are best enjoyed in motion, or when used, which is maybe a better description. I love vintage car rallies, even though there is always one that does not survive the challenge. But the cars in museums are so disconnected from their purpose. A painting was always meant to be admired while hanging on the wall, but that is not the case with automobiles. Of course, I know, you can’t have Talbot Lagos or Duesenbergs participating in a rally anymore – however one of my Flickr contact once came across a Duesenberg on a country road, parked with the keys still in it and nobody to be seen. Still, there are some car museums that have their charm. I liked the Kleinwagen und Roller Museum (microcar and scooter museum) in Germany’s Bad Iburg, but alas, it has long closed up. And I love the car museum in the German town of Melle, where all cars are privately owned and see regular use.

I have known the Louwman Collection for a very long time. As a kid I visited the museum when it was still in our area. It was located in the building of the Dutch Toyota distributor, and when that company moved to the other side of this small country, I visited a few times in its new location. Which did not have much prestige, because it was noting more as a modern warehouse. But it served its purpose, and once inside the display was very well laid out. But with the purchase of a collection form Germany and the one from a Dutch museum that closed its doors, more space was needed. And I suppose the Toyota distributor sure could use the space itself too, since sales have soared the past few years, making Toyota the second best selling nameplate in this country.

The Louwman Collection is one of the “money no object” kind. It is the private hobby of one of the richest families in the country, that made its fortune with importing Chrysler, Dodge, Toyota and Suzuki. A zoo used to be another hobby of the family, but that was a money pit, so they got rid of that. Not after begging for money and getting it from the provincial authorities and several towns in the area, and closing the gates a few years after the millions were transferred to the zoo. The vintage car collection was spared this fate, and continued to grow. Crown jewels are two Duesenberg SJ models, worth several million euros. But the remarkable so called ‘swan’ cars, once belonged to a maharadja, just as a silver Rolls Royce did, various automobiles from the very early days of motoring, Bugattis, one of the original Goldfinger Aston martin DB5s and many, many more cars give a great overview of the automotive history. The collection is displayed now in a brand new building, with a love it or hate architecture. I don’t like it, but hey, that’s me.

The museum's lobby

Once inside, after parking your car for €5 (!), one is greeted by a grande hallway, where a few interesting cars are displayed in a way, that visitors can walk around them, and peek inside. But next, a déjà vu is what comes to mind when you visited the old museum. The oldest vehicles are displayed exactly the same as before, beautifully illuminated in black hardly lit rooms. But after that things get very traditional: vintage cars displayed on both sides of the rooms, behind ropes. There juts does not seem to be any themes, and it is my humble opinion that the management missed a lot of opportunities here. I fondly remember the last room in the old museum, that was nothing less than an apotheosis: all the masterpieces were grouped together, with the Duesenberg taking the main stage. Oh, all the old luxury cars are still there, but divided over several rooms. I miss that old room, which was like a grand desert buffet after a great dinner. Some of the magic is gone, just like that interesting collection of vintage Japanese cars I was hoping to see again. But the only surviving pre-war Toyota, no matter in a deplorable condition, makes up for that of course. Even the Toyota Museum in Japan does not have one.

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