Welcome to Amsterdam
The 2017 meeting of the Modernist Studies Association will not only take place on the centenary of one of Modernism’s many anni mirabiles, it will also be located in the city renowned for Rembrandt and Spinoza as well as De Stijl and the Amsterdamse School, a city well-known for its daring and usually successful blending of the historical and the modern. We will use this occasion to tackle head-on Modernism’s relation to our present. What does Modernism mean to us today – to us as cultural consumers, as scholarly observers, and as active participants in its projects? Modernism’s own explicit self-identification with the ever-shifting present – “il faut être absolument moderne”, “make it new”, etc. – has always tugged at its historical moorings and resisted standard attempts at periodization. It has challenged us repeatedly to redefine and reconsider the meaning of the term “modernism,” as well as to engage in endless debates about its scope, its internal coherence, and its purview.
The setting of Amsterdam will provide us with an opportunity to exercise our Eliotic “historical sense,” “a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence,” and to think about the responsibilities and demands the modernist past – and our own present – place upon us. As consumers of Modernist culture, as scholars pressured to “always historicize” and yet make history useful for life, as Modernism-inspired producers of culture, we must ask ourselves: How does Modernism interact, blend in, or jar with our – and its – present-day environment? MSA Amsterdam: Modernism Today will be held at the Beurs van Berlage right in the heart of Amsterdam and within a few hundred metres from the main railway station (Centraal Station). As we have no doubt you will appreciate throughout the conference, it is itself an early Modernist artefact worth exploring and getting inspired by. Newly renovated both inside and out, it was first designed as a commodity exchange by Hendrik Petrus Berlage, and constructed between 1896 and 1903. Its design influenced many even more emphatically modernist architects, especially the functionalists and the Amsterdam School.
Outside our venue, the city of Amsterdam is very walkable as long as you respect the cycle lanes and watch out for the many bikes on them. Public Transport, in the form of trams and buses can take you to most farther away sights and landmarks. Bike rickshaws and Uber cars are probably best for individual travel. Our conference events will include a few interesting and modernism-related must-sees and our Facebook site will highlight more modernist nuggets scattered across the city as the conference approaches, but of course you will also be able to get advice from our student helpers at the reception desk.