Groote Museum: Look at yourself and the world with different eyes

The Groote Museum (‘Big Museum’) is the recently opened museum of in Amsterdam Zoo Artis. Its main theme: you. Discover how you are connected with all other life on earth and see the connection between man, animal, plant and microbe. By using your own body as mirror, visitors will discover that you have many similarities with other life. What do a human baby and a crocodile share? Maybe more than you think.

The main building of Artis opened in 1855 to members of the Society Natura Artis Magistra (“Nature is the teacher of art”). Located on the top floor was Amsterdam’s first museum, which later became the Groote Museum. It was full of cases and cabinets filled with objects: from shells to skulls, from micro-organisms to skeletons. Knowledge about nature was shared here. The ground floor was a meeting place, an important place in the cultural life of Amsterdam. In that time, people wondered what the relationship was between Man and other forms of life. Nature was behind glass, and was categorized. Western man was above nature, and the separation between the two was complete. The museum closed its doors in 1947. Now, 75 years later, the Groote Museum has reopened, with a completely new museum concept that allows the visitor to see themselves and the world with different eyes, and where the separation between man and nature is taken away.

Everything is connected
You enter the Groote Museum via the monumental staircase, which opens into the central hall that connects the West and the Oostzaal. The visitor is taken on a personal and emotional journey, starting from your own body. The museum shows a combination of art and science in an unusual way, allowing visitors associations to make and see the connections by themselves. Using installations, art, animations, films, photos, sound, collection items and stories, the visitor gains new insights – which ones, that’s up to the visitor. The museum has twelve zones in which a body part, such as the heart, eyes or brain, is the starting point. The visitor will move, observe, smell, listen, feel, taste and stand still, and will sometimes be confused for a while. Similarities with animals, but also with plants, are made known – even though plants are often – literally – ignored. There is still much unknown about plants and the museum reveals a piece of these still unknown world.

Exhibitions and meetings
The Oostzaal is a dynamic place, a space for participation and interaction. Breaking with traditional museum concepts, the east wing combines two functions of the museum in a unique and innovative way. In this space, the exhibition and spaces for meetings are integrated. The visitor can, together with employees, investigate ‘big questions’ in different ways, from lecture to games and experiments.

Artists, scientists and experts
In addition to a small team of makers, artists, scientists and experts also played an important role in the design of the museum. For example, climate artist Thijs Biersteker made a large installation directly connected to a plane tree on the Artisplein. The art installation literally connects the museum with the outside world and shows the sap flows in the 200-year-old tree, comparing it with the circulatory system of the visitor. Filmmaker and sound designer Pablo Lamar from Paraguay created a soundscape that disrupts visitors unexpectedly. Every now and then, suddenly a hammering woodpecker, a thundering train or a laughing woman can be heard through the museum halls. In the ‘smells tunnel’, conceived by Ton van Harreveld, the visitor is put in touch with their long-term scent memory. The goal is not to recognize the smell, but to experience the memory or emotion it evokes.

Changing world
Groote Museum fits in seamlessly with vision that Artis holds for the future, based on an all-encompassing view of nature. Haig Balian, artistic director of the Groote Museum: “The realization that these rapidly changing times call for new insights is the motive to create this innovative museum. We must first realize what and who we are, in order to reshape life and its relationship with other life on Earth.” Rembrandt Sutorius, Artis director: ‘At Artis we embrace all life. From the invisible life in Micropia, to the animals and plants in the park and the infinite worlds of the Planetarium. The reopening of the Groote Museum is an important step in our future plan. After a visit, you will look at everything that lives in Artis from a different perspective: with greater insight and a greater sense of belonging. With this we inspire visitors to make a difference in the challenges of today and tomorrow.”