15 Years of Amsterdam School

On 25 april 2016, in kunst, by Zef Hemel

Seen on 24 April 2016 in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam:


Great exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam on interior design of the Amsterdam School artists De Klerk, Kramer, Krop and Van der Mey. On the top floor of the museum, over 500 objects are on show in some fifteen rooms, each one with its own theme and atmosphere, all chronologically organized. Each room captures the visitors, together they let people experience a unique history of Amsterdam urban art. Indeed, it’s an explosion of exuberant works of very talented sculptors, designers, and architects. Why Amsterdam? How come? The movement of the Amsterdam School, now hundred years old, emerged after the New Art and Art Nouveau schools, it began in 1916, when the phantasmagoric Scheepvaarthuis at the Prins Hendrikkade opened its doors,and ended in 1928 with the celebration of the Olympic Games in Berlage’s Amsterdam South extension. Then Wall Street crashed, which ended all building not only in Amsterdam, but in all cities of the world. A depression followed, nation-states took over, a war seemed inevitable. Cities burned.

Pity that the organizers didn’t tell the whole story of Amsterdam’s Second Golden Age. All these great works of art were only made possible thanks to the fast economic growth of Amsterdam, which began after 1864, symbolized by the opening of the Amsterdam version of Crystal Palace – het Paleis voor Volksvlijt. True, there are historic films to be seen at the entrance. These fragments show a vibrant city life at the beginning of the twentieth century, the new port and the tramways, new buildings, still slums and poverty, but mostly optimistic people walking, driving, going to the movies, recreating in their new neighborhoods. Clocks are symbols of the new times. They seem  to emphasize a bright future, no looking back as if people forgot that all this great art was built on the Dutch colonies, the Great War, Sarphati, human thrift. So only after fifty years of hard work and city expansion the citizens could harvest. Amsterdam doubled in size. Amsterdam South is the fruit of this grand era. In 1929, when it ended, Berlage was halfway implementing his plan. It ended when the Dutch government intervened and started cutting the municipal budgets because of the crisis. Do visit the South expansion and experience a true urban renaissance! It lasted only fifteen years. Afterwards it never happened again, at least not in this city. Amsterdam became a sleepy, provincial town.

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Fun Palace

On 29 september 2015, in kunst, by Zef Hemel

Read in the Guardian of 19 February 2015:

The other conference I visited this weekend was ‘Flatpack Democracy Brighton’. They made me member of a forum. I told the audience about how to build local platforms of citizen-amateurs that can generate collective intelligence. Just when I was leaving the conference, Daniel Bernstein of The Synergy Centre told me my plan to erect a People’s Industry Palace in Amsterdam next year with the help of artists reminded him of Stella Duffy’s Fun Palaces initiative. Duffy is a British writer and theatre-maker. In the Guardian of 19 February 2015 she wrote about her Fun Palaces network: “At Fun Palaces we want to do away with the idea of excellence and experts altogether, especially around subsidy, and demand instead an excellence of engagement and participation.” All the Fun Palaces are local, embedded in their own communities. Artists are working with neighbours, local councillors and public buildings, to make great, inclusive work – and making it locally. “There’s a real joy in contributing to our communities, right where we are.” In 2014 more than 3.000 people across the UK signed up to make local Fun Palaces.

Just that morning Jenni had showed me the Royal Pavilion of the Prince Regent, which she had called a ‘party palace’. Striking. Back home I read new writings of Duffy in the Guardian. She announced that on 3 and 4 October in more than 130 locations across the UK locally led, community-driven, arts and sciences events will take place. Instead of new buildings, these cultural events will be focused on people. “Bricks and mortar will never replace dialogue.” Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price had inspired her. In 1961 these two architects had made designs for a venue where you could “choose what you want to do or watch someone else doing it. Learn how to handle tools, paint, babies, machinery, or just listen to your favourite tune. Dance, talk or be lifted up …. sit out over space with a drink and tune in to what’s happening.” While reading the text, I could only think of ‘Volksvlijt’. By choosing the new public library in Amsterdam as a pop-up People’s Industry Palace we are aiming exactly the same: truly welcoming everyone to participate in the cultural and economic life of the city. And yes, “those running our buildings might have to give up a little control for it to work.”

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A wider world

On 14 september 2015, in kunst, by Zef Hemel

Seen in the Stedelijk Museum on 13 September 2015:


Enjoyed seeing ‘ZERO: Let Us Explore the Stars’ very much. The exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum is just great. At the time, when the young avant-garde artists from Düsseldorf, Heinz Mack and Otto Piene, dived with their Amsterdam friends  Henk Peeters, Jan Henderikse, Jan Schoonhoven and Armando into the future, they really thought it was a new beginning. Starting from scratch again. President J.F. Kennedy promised a new beginning, people flying to the moon, astronauts, plastic, television, plenty. The young artists had their Italian hero: Lucio Fontana, they invited Jean Tinguely, Yves Klein, Daniel Spoerri, Piero Manzoni, Yayoi Kusama to join them and to collaborate. “Artists collaborated on artworks, performances, happenings, multiples, magazines, and other publications.” There were sparkling exhibitions at the Stedelijk in 1962 and 1965. I wish I was there. But unfortunately, I was only 5 years old then, 8 years at most. Too young, too shy, too innocent, and not living in Amsterdam by the way. Nevertheless, it was nostalgic to see all those artworks again.

They were really utopian and anarchistic, not admired by Willem Sandberg, the director of the Stedelijk, at all, who just gave them a chance: ‘OK, you can have it as long as you pay for everything.’ Their works were a kind of countdown to the future, but for the elderly, who survived the Second World War, they must have lacked seriousness, or were too radical. What did Otto Piene write in 1961? “A wider world. Yes, I wish for a better world. Should I dream of a worse world then? Yes, I wish a wider world. Or should I long for a tighter one?” Their performances were like Provo’s protests and provocations. What I liked the most? Their attempts to make interactive art, to involve the audience, to collaborate, to work outside the institutions, to let things happen, to be passionate, to be optimistic, to experiment, to be authentic, to reject compromise, to step into the future. Like planners should.

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Dark Sky City

On 24 augustus 2015, in kunst, by Zef Hemel

Seen in De Pont in Tilburg, the Netherlands, on 6 August 2015:


The exhibition on the American artist James Turrell in De Pont, Tilburg, was exciting. Thursday two weeks ago we visited the museum, but I have to admit I didn’t know his work when I entered the place. There were some four installations. Most extreme and impressive was the video on Roden Crater, Arizona. You can find it on Youtube. It was amazing. Turrell, who works with light, found the crater in 1974 on a trip with his plane flying over the desert, and then he bought it. More than forty years now he’s building an obersvatory and tunnels in the crater, which is situated near the city of Flagstaff. Flagstaff is called the ‘Dark Sky City’, because local government tries to keep the sky over the city absolutely dark at night. It is an excellent condition for Turrell’s obervatory. The first room he built is the Sun and Moon Space. He added a tunnel to it, which works as the biggest telescope on earth: 854 feet long. Turrell wishes to bring astronomical events and objects down into your personal life, because you live in space. “We drink light,” he says. In the end he hopes the volcano will contain twenty spaces, each reveiling different perceptions of light.

What I like in his work is his notion that knowledge in itself  is not enough. “It is one thing to know these things, and another is to see them happen.” All his installations are built in a way that visitors experience light personally, with their body. He’s after this primary relation to light. “You come to this room and discover these things yourself, you go through these things, it’s your discovery.” I became conscious of the fact that, in a way, the same holds with all the projects I developed as a planner over the last thirty years: Nederland Nu Als Ontwerp (1986), Creatieve Steden (2002), Vrijstaat Amsterdam (2009), De Nieuwe Wibaut (2011), Volksvlijt (2016): these were all installations in which thousands of people could experience and discover the future in a most personal way. Why? It is their future. I think this is the most powerful planning approach. You need a space where these things can happen. Roden Crater is that kind of space. I hope the Amsterdam Public Library will gonna be a sort of Roden Crater in the first half of 2016, when Volksvlijt (The People’s Industry Palace) is staged right there.

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