Reflecting on the opening weekend and the weeks (and years) leading to it, Goldstein spoke about the importance of the Stedelijk to the people of Amsterdam and how difficult it was for them during the nine long years it was closed. "When I came here the museum was in crisis, and the people missed it like hell, and they were angry — and when you see the museum, the collection, you understand why"
But the piece the public most missed during the Stedelijk's closure, Goldstein said, was "The Beanery," Ed Kienholz's 1965 assemblage based on the interior of the West Hollywood roadhouse Barney's Beanery.
"When I said the museum was going to reopen in September with our collection," Goldstein said, "the first question was, 'Will the Beanery be there?'"
The L.A. native's art-world roots — her 20 years at MOCA — prepared her well for the Amsterdam undertaking. "MOCA gave me foremost a deeply rooted love and belief in the importance of museums," she said, "and it gave me a deeply rooted kind of compass of being artist-driven and artist-centered. I always feel that if you can justify your work to the artist and can cooperate with the artist in the production of their history that you can also then fulfill all the missions of an institution."
That isn't always easy to do, however. If Goldstein came to a museum in crisis, she also left one in crisis. "One of the things I learned at MOCA," she said, "was that we had built a great museum but maybe not a great institution."
As for MOCA's continuing struggles, she added carefully: "All I want for that museum is to thrive, be supported, be loved and cherished and nurtured and to be able to always fulfill its best potential. It's an institution that really needs to be there. And it needs to be great. I know that there are still a lot of people inside that house that really care about it."
Not so unlike her situation in Amsterdam. On opening weekend, 6,000 people visited the Stedelijk, which proves that in some parts of the world at least, you can show large, intellectually challenging contemporary art exhibitions and still bring in the crowds.
"It's interesting to see how people from another culture can connect to [Kelley's work]," Goldstein said. "The subjects he touches upon, whether it's high school and religious rituals, or trauma or making fun of history, or confronting high and low culture, or handmade craft, or music or feeling like a misfit, is an experience [also found] far outside of American culture. I think people can see things through Mike's eyes. And then as we do with any art we connect it to our own perspective.
"I think what makes him so extraordinary is that [his work] is not just analytical, it was part of his psyche. It's not autobiographical, where he has to tell you the story of Mike Kelley, as much as it tells you the story of how one deals with one's experiences. He's an artist who was still defining what an artist could be. So for him an artist can make works on paper, make paintings, make sculptures, make video but also write critical texts about other artists' work. That was his whole opus as an artist.
"And he gave it his all. I think you see it in that work, you see that every single work is its own moment and that together it's this incredible cosmology."
"Mike Kelley" continues at the Stedelijk through April 1. After stops at Paris' Centre Pompidou and New York's MoMA PS1, it will arrive at MOCA in March 2014.