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A drive-through art show picks up a new trend 

Nadine Wojcik sh
August 18, 2020

First there were drive-in movies, now the pandemic brought the concept to the art world; Museum-goers in the Netherlands can view artworks from their cars.  

Niederlande | Durchfahrtsmuseum im Ahoi Rotterdam
Image: Aad Hoogendoorn

In a typical year, the Rotterdam Ahoy exhibition halls in the Netherlands host a wide variety of events. This past May, the Eurovision Song Contest should have filled the halls with music, had it not been for the pandemic. A classical music trade fair and an event for the port and shipping industry were also scheduled and then axed because of the coronavirus. And so, the exhibition halls remained empty — that is, until teaming up with the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen to present a large-scale art exhibition that can only be visited in an electric car. 

The "Boijmans Ahoy Drive-Thru Museum" which opened to the public on August 1, was a fortuitous collaboration. The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam had been waiting for the opportunity to present its artworks, which range from medieval pieces to contemporary works. Its building had been undergoing extensive renovations since 2019 and works from its 150,000-piece collection had been in touring exhibitions at schools and other museums until the pandemic hit. 

Read more: Drive-in cinemas are booming in Germany amid COVID-19 restrictions

A large transformation

At 33,000 square feet, the Ahoy Rotterdam space is roughly the size of two soccer fields. As such, it became clear early in the planning phase that driving through the exhibition would be the ideal way to visit such a large space. Only electric vehicles can enter, and those without their own electric cars can simply borrow one on site. Up to 750 vehicles are allowed in per day. 

The experience of visiting Boijman's Ahoy drive-thru museum is unique in many respects. While driving through the darkened hall, car headlights occasionally cross from a distance. Like an artistic game of hide and seek, the 40 artworks emerge from the darkness, such as the painting of a mandrill monkey by Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka.

The museum, however, isn't the first to present the drive-through model. Earlier this summer, event organizers in Toronto put on a drivable exhibition dedicated to Vincent Van Gogh

Ahoy Drive-Thru
Eerie imagery at the Ahoy Drive-ThruImage: Aad Hoogendoorn

The tension between man and nature

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen opened in 1849 as a space to house the collections of art collectors Frans Jacob Otto Boijmans, a lawyer, and Daniël George van Beuningen, a ship owner. Many of the paintings, sculptures and video installations involved in the current show touch on the topic of confrontations between humans and nature. 

While the coronavirus, presumably transmitted from animals, is currently keeping humanity on tenterhooks, the works on show explore this field of tension between man and nature. In the video installation Nummer acht (everything is going to be alright), Dutch artist Guido van der Werve walks on ice, which a huge icebreaker ship ploughs behind him.

Read more: New Berlin museum to tell stories of exiled Germans

Large screens with the image of a man standing in a mask loom above cars driving through the exhibition hall. 
Large video installations are part of the Boijmans Ahoy Drive-Thru Museum exhibitionImage: Aad Hoogendoorn

In the video installation Springtime, artist Jeroen Eisinga sits quietly and with closed eyes in front of the viewer while hundreds of bees lay siege to his arms, neck, and head. To make the video and attract the bees, the Dutch artist had previously sprayed himself with scents of queen bees.

One might assume that because the encounter with the artworks takes place from a car seat or window, it is impersonal. But this is not the case. Audio from the video installations as well as additional information about each piece can be heard on the visitors' car's radio — and there are no obnoxious visitors blocking views to artworks with selfie sticks. 

Those without a driver's license need not fear: There is also the option to be chauffeured in through the exhibition in one of the museum's vehicles. The exhibition runs until August 23.