‘White Balls on Walls’ Review: Time With the Gatekeepers

From its tub-like exterior to its gallery walls and spacious conference room, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam shines in white. But the Dutch documentary “White Balls on the Walls” deals with a different whiteness (and masculinity) in one of the Netherlands’ cultural institutions. The film’s cheeky title comes from a protest that the arts activist collective Guerrilla Girls (or an offshoot) staged outside the museum in 1995.

Filmmaker Sarah Voss began following museum director Rainwolf and his staff in 2019 as they set out to address diversity and inclusion. The museum’s slogan, “Meet the Icons of Modern Art,” was met with an examination of the who-decides-what-is-iconic variety. Voss tracks these efforts through the social justice demands made by the rise of the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd. There will be some awkward social distancing and doubling down on Wolff’s realization that the museum has to include a richer array of artists, welcome a more diverse demographic and, while it’s at it, hire people of color. .

With access to the behind-the-scenes process, the documentary can be instructive about the work of transforming legacy institutions, but also wary of confusing the numbers and names of the Wolfs, its administrators and curators. (“Gender balance,” says one woman at an early meeting. “That sounds very diverse.) Their internal conversations—about colonialism, gender, and Dutch identity—become more important when people of color arrive.” Charl Landvreugd, the museum’s head of research and curatorial practice, and curators Vincent Van Velsen and Yvette Mutumba, present this importance and contextualize the museum’s issues. But even they don’t always pierce the hermetically sealed feel of the documentary.

White balls on the walls.
Not rated. In English and Dutch, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. In theaters.

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