For nine years, the Stedelijk Museum has been Amsterdam's most forlorn and hopeful institution—shuttered, vacant, and in terrible need of an overhaul that was always just about to get started and would surely be finished sometime soon. Finally, all the delays have been overcome, overruns absorbed, and embarrassments set aside: The Netherlands' modern-art mecca can finally reopen. Its collection, which stretches from van Gogh to last week's wunderkind via Mondrian, Malevich, Picasso, de Kooning, and Warhol, is returning to public view. Unfortunately, the museum that contains such bounty has disappeared.
The flamboyant neo-Renaissance palazzo from 1895 hasn't vaporized, of course. Seen from the old front entrance—now the rear—its red-brick facade, striped with white stone bands and topped by fanciful Dutch gables and pyramidal turrets, looks cleaner and more exuberant than ever. But approach it from the bustling greensward of the Museumplein—or Museum Plaza—and the original building appears to be cowering behind a glossy white bathtub. This outsized plumbing fixture, clad in para-aramid, a synthetic-fiber panel, and finished with airplane paint to give it that enameled luxury look, is the long-awaited, crushingly disappointing extension designed by the Amsterdam-based firm Benthem Crouwel.