Arty Amsterdam: The Best Contemporary Galleries to check out this Summer

It was only a few weeks ago when we published our article on the The Pavillions, The Toren Hotel and some great art to see. Now Sara Darling is back again, this time in search of the best Contemporary Galleries in Amsterdam.

By Sara Darling
Famous for many industries, Amsterdam has sex, drugs and rock n roll nailed, with visitors coming by the coach-load to experience the tulips, bud and red light district. However, if you’re an artsy type, like me, there is always something new to explore. 

I have just returned from a flying visit, where I soaked up five new galleries in two days! The rest of the time involved eating, drinking and socialising at the uber trendy VolksHotel, which is the city’s funkiest co-working space. Once home to the Volkskrant Newspaper, it has been transformed into a hip haven for trendy travellers and locals alike, who can enjoy the rooftop hot tubs, panoramic bar or basement club; with self-catering rooms available it’s the ideal spot for independent travellers too. 

Amsterdam has a unique personality, and whether you’re in the mood for electronic dance music, food festivals or sparkly winter illuminations, there is something to be said of visiting our Dutch cousins all year round.  

This time I headed over to soak up some art, on possibly the hottest weekend in the world for travelling; thankfully, the galleries on my hitlist boasted aircon, and were mercifully uncrowded. I started with the gallery in Amsterdam-North that is renowned (on Instagram at least) for its huge, wall-sized mural of Anne Franks. The STRAAT museum is housed in a former 8000 m2 ship shed on the NDSM wharf, both a national monument and the largest street art and graffiti playground in Amsterdam.

The NDSM district has been a hotspot for culture since the 1980s when Amsterdam’s edgy artistic community and creative entrepreneurs found a home in the disused shipyard buildings. Today it boasts a bountiful array of artists’ cooperatives, workspaces, exhibition halls, eco-conscious initiatives, nightlife venues and project spaces – each adding their own energy to this rapidly developing area. Alongside the permanent galleries, street and public art, it is home to the third biggest flea market in Holland, which takes place every third Saturday, and just happened to coincide with my visit. And boy, it was big; plus there are pop-ups, parties and random events taking place at the newly developed wharf every week. 

My first stop was a gallery that had been on my mind since I saw the Hip Hop exhibition in the Saatchi Gallery, London. Translating to Street, the massive hangar space boasts over 150 site-specific artworks by international names, and you may be surprised at the actual talent it takes to create the details on these larger than life installations. Elsewhere in the Museum, the commercial space has a showcase of Indigenous Americans: Post Colonial Expressions, which is also worth a peek. 

It’s worth taking a one hour tour, where a guide can inform you on the artworks as it is run by a dedicated team of enthusiasts, and the next big show is by internationally acclaimed American artist and activist Shepard Fairey. The maker of the visionary Barack Obama portrait Hope is celebrating a major solo exhibition. The exhibition ‘Printed Matters: Raise the Level’ will be on show from 13 August to 1 October. Expect more than 130 objects, including new work created especially for the exhibition, including two site specific works, created on the NDSM grounds and in the museum.

Fairey became a recognised name after he created the “Andre the Giant has a Posse” sticker as a fortunate accident while teaching a friend how to make a stencil. Beginning as a street campaign, it transformed into the OBEY GIANT art campaign, with imagery that has changed how people see art and the urban landscape. The stickers spread like wildfire in the USA and were ultimately seen around the world. 

Next stop was a discreet doorway which led to another funky warehouse space called Nieuw Dakota. Inside was an experimental gallery that focuses on the out of the box exhibitions designed to provoke emotions. Often curated in parallel – with one exhibition set to complement or disrupt the narrative of the previous/next, these duos are the brainchild of Gallery Director Ellis Kat.

The current show is in contrast to the gallery’s Spring show, ‘Pigs and Sheep and Beasts which focussed on animals as subjects and ‘Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad’ (taken from George Orwell’s Animal Farm) consists of artwork devised by animals. Animal whisperer, Alywn Wills gives the animals a voice, and this groundbreaking (and extremely surreal) exhibition challenges the traditional notions of artistry as the artworks are created by species including the Night Crawlers Collective, Donkey L’Albert de Rêve, Hammie the pig, the Lobster couple and Wild duck. Expect video footage and a soundtrack of neighs, oinks, clucks and flapping wings which are complemented with an engaging written narrative by Mr Fish. 

Meanwhile, in the up an coming Southeast district of Amsterdam, which is widely known as being home to the main sports and music stadium, is the newly founded Oscam (Open Space Contemporary Art Museum). Focussing on art, fashion and design, it has transformed the previously commercial Zuidoost into a place where emerging artists can collaborate and create. The museum was opened on the occasion of 50 years of Bijlmer to highlight the cultural diversity of the district and boasts an exciting programme of inspiring exhibitions and programs with young, well-known and unknown artists, which is accessible to all. 

With enough nightlife to keep anyone occupied for a month, I woke up with a slightly fuzzy head on Sunday morning, and was very thankful for the hotel’s rooftop hot tubs which helped clear away the cobwebs! After a hearty self-service (bonus points as no-one needs to know how many slices of toast I scoffed) breakfast, I was ready to explore some more. 

This time, I caught the handy Metro and hopped a few stops to the central district, which was in the aftermath of the night before. As I had managed to avoid the centre it was interesting to be reminded of the smoking paraphernalia stores, canals and women in windows as I made my way through the red light district. My first stop was right in the heart of the action, as I rang the bell of a warehouse style door, awaiting my private view at W139. 

Sex, drugs and art are the heart of W139 which can be found in the infamous red light district. Originally a theatre, the space was squatted in 1979 by five young artists in need of a place to show their work which led to it becoming a hotbed for painters, creative performances and punk rock. More than 30 years later, it still maintains some of its alluring left-field history, yet can scrub up to create a clinical white-wall outpost, whenever necessary. With room for gigs, exhibitions, book launches, parties, films and debates, W139 is perpetually in motion. 

I caught the last day of Substitutes which explored queer history, gender, and sexuality via the absence of bodies, the abstraction of the body, and the tools and language we use to maintain or describe our bodies, particularly with the use of clothes and masks. Raising interesting questions about frameworks that queer and diverse people are subjected to, the show was initiated by the artist Philipp Gufler, with works by Lorenza Böttner, Johanna Gonschorek, Elisàr von Kupffer, Louwrien Wijers, Johannes Büttner, and Bruno Zhu who opened up the conversation in a variety of interesting ways. 

Also within the city centre is a building that you will have passed countless times without giving it a second glance if you’re not intrigued by old architecture. The Oude Kerk church was founded by fishermen on the banks of the Amstel River in the 1300s and is a true hidden gem; it has 10,000 dead Amsterdammers buried under the slate floor, and a secret  tower, which has recently unearthed a time capsule. Still in use as a church, it now doubles up as a contemporary art gallery, specialising in site specific performances, discussion groups and artwork befitting of the setting, which boasts a high ceiling and stained glass windows. With a varied roster of artists and shows, there is always something to tempt you away from the hectic Red Light District, and appreciate the calming interior of this shared space which is a testimony to Amsterdam’s inclusive and experimental nature. 

Thankfully I am not a creature of habit and I thrive on new experiences, so every trip opens my eyes to something new in Amsterdam, and this visit certainly opened my eyes to how broadminded and experimental the arts scene in Amsterdam is, by visiting these impressive galleries. 

Wibautstraat 150, 1091 GR, Amsterdam  
Oude Kerk
Nieuw Dakota Ms.van Riemsdijkweg 41b, 1033 RC, Amsterdam
STRAAT NDSM Square 1, 1033 WC, Amsterdam
Gallery 13 Warmoesstraat 139, 1012 JB Amsterdam
Oscam Gallery Bijlmerplein 110, 1102 DB Amsterdam

For more info on Amsterdam visit

Sara Darling

Sara Darling is a freelance travel, fashion and lifestyle writer. In a previous life she was a fashion luvvie, but quit to follow her gypsy soul! When she is not clutching her passport, microphone or glass of fizz, she can be found avec snorkel in exotic oceans, scouring international flea markets for covetable jewellery, watching indie films or checking out photography exhibitions and wishing she could take a better picture. Follow her adventures on Twitter and Instagram on @wordsbydarling and @1stclassdarling