Netherlands: Gezelligheid

Imago Mundi

Contemporary Artists from the Netherlands

Can Gezelligheid make a difference? Our desire for it is universal. It means so many (different) things to so many (different) people, but when we feel it we all do it in the same way. This untranslatable but multipurpose Dutch expression, derived from the Middle Ages, when gezel referred to a friend, companion, or journeyman, evokes that free-spirited vibe of connectedness; that reciprocal atmosphere or shared aesthetic, which is at the core of Dutch culture. It is the kind of relaxing contentedness you get from having finished your duties, like a well-earned drink with friends after a job well done. So it equates to some form of wellbeing and ‘social capital’ which ultimately comes from collaboration and consensus. But for many people across Europe, right now, life is about struggle, something to be endured, between brief moments of light or happiness. Or else, there is a quality of ‘nothing special’ about it, with few intense feelings either way. Yet some of these Dutch artists are here to tell us that it does not have to be this way. Some reveal the value of our everyday lives and its simple pleasures.

Marijke Vijfhuizen - Crowd (2016)

Some affirm that far from being a burden, the ordinary and the intimate can and must be celebrated while it is possible. Others insist that our existence is full of wonder, stubbornly refusing to become embittered by reports of impending doom or arguments about the collapse of free societies. Some remain storytellers, aiming to make us laugh or cry, to reach a kind of beauty and poetry, be it amusing or cruel. And some of these Dutch artists seem to have found a source of nourishment – their own creativity – against all odds, which results in intense satisfaction, while keeping themselves open to new or different horizons.

Eva de Visser - Contrast (2016)

Marianne Venderbosch - Blue (2016)

Indeed, the Dutch have had to face great geographical challenges – making do and making good – by directly contending with the formidable powers of the North Sea. Their tenacious engineering has mostly overcome these problems, at least while no new climate changes set in. Nearly a third of the Netherlands’ iconically flat landscape lies below sea level and much of it is devoted to agriculture. The pioneering Dutch have worked extremely hard to reclaim their homes, harness the winds and maintain their prominence in international trade with world class services, agriculture and design. With just 17 million people and a population density of 488 people per km2, the Netherlands is the most densely populated country in Europe and more than 40% of its people live in the agglomeration of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. Pragmatism, innovation, secularism, cultural liberalism and a free market have historically made the Netherlands a tolerant, forward thinking and successful nation.

Patrick Bergsma - Gently Down the Stream (2016)

Wil Jansen - Love (2016)

In her famed polemical and impassioned thesis – The Art of Describing (1984) – Svetlana Alpers argued that 17th century Dutch art was descriptive rather than narrative, that it depended on the “frequent absence” of a positioned viewer, “as if the world came first”. Great contrasts in scale and the apparent lack of a prior frame – with paintings which often seem to be cut off at the edges or extend beyond its bounds – made Dutch pictures psychologically boundless. Meaning was not ‘read’, as in the Italian textual, emblematic or allegorical traditions, but rather ‘seen’ or visually recorded, to derive new knowledge or sensitivity from familiar sights. Frames were like an afterthought, “not a prior defining device” and a Dutch picture, she argued, was more “like a mirror or a map, but not a window”, with its insistence on the craft of representation. We can see examples of her ideas in contemporary Dutch art history and even in some of these fresh little works.

Släcker -“Spaß mit Molli... oder Was passiert wenn die Jimmi nicht auftaucht" (2016)

Monika Auch - Stitch My Brain (2016)

Perhaps it is another case of the Dutch speaking their minds, not mincing words or biting their tongues, and presuming the liberty of telling it like it is. Or perhaps it’s the continuation of an egalitarian approach, especially from a moral standpoint; a cautiousness toward hierarchies and social status; an acceptance of foreign traditions and a stereotypical aversion to anything non-essential or ostentatious. Whatever our interpretations, Dutch artists have pioneered movements and styles that intertwine technological concepts, personal themes and social commentary. The legacy of so many masters, world-renowned museums and design feats, make the Netherlands one of Europe’s most interesting creative hubs, with an enormous array of artists.

Sigrid Calon - / \ | & (2016)

This is a ‘small framed’ sample of just 141 of them. Making Amsterdam my research base – a city where human values and scale are still well expressed and some artists clearly thrive as self-styled cultural nomads, slipping between East and West, old and new, high tech and slow craft – we tried to gather them from across the country. In this project I have experienced an adamant tolerance of coexisting cultures, rather than multiculturalism in the conventional sense, as well as the excitement of creative people simultaneously moving in the same direction.

Joyce Eijkhout -Yo Bitches (detail) “Jikke” (2016)

Dominique Almeida - Saramacca Dreamer (2016)

Momentously, just eighty years ago, Dutch historian and cultural critic Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) wrote: “We are living in a demented world. And we know it. It would not come as a surprise to anyone if tomorrow the madness gave way to a frenzy which would leave our poor Europe in a state of distracted stupor, with engines still turning and flags streaming in the breeze, but with the spirit gone... [These] are not merely the shapeless anxieties which beset us in the small hours of the night when the flame of life burns low. They are considered expectations founded on observation and judgment of an overwhelming multitude of facts... We see forms of government no longer capable of functioning, production systems on the verge of collapse, social forces gone wild with power. The roaring engine of this tremendous time seems to be heading for a breakdown.

Kaleb de Groot -Johann Joachim Winkelman (2016)

Denneke Kouters - Untitled # 1 (2013)

. But immediately the antithesis forces itself on our minds. Never has there been a time when men were so clearly conscious of their commanding duty to cooperate in the task of preserving and improving the world’s well-being and human civilization. At no time has work been as much honoured as it is today. Man was never so ready to apply his full courage and all his power to a common cause. At least hope has not yet been lost... If, then, this civilization is to be saved, if it is not to be submerged by centuries of barbarism but to secure the treasures of its inheritance on new and more stable foundations, there is indeed need for those now living fully to realise how far the decay has already progressed...” (In the Shadows of Tomorrow, 1936)

Annemieke Alberts - Mirrors (2016)

Marleen Kappe - 4.31 p.m. Just Over There (2016)

We are all slowly, and often reluctantly, waking up to the responsibilities of ecological disaster, species extinction and pollution. And it is not only our external conditions that are at stake. Our inner ecology and its connection to the natural world are also at risk. Many artists are fully aware of this. Indigenous and spiritual traditions have long turned their attention to the ‘inner life’ in order to understand an outer one. Like looking into these small (microcosmic) frames to identify some of the larger (macrocosmic) truths. But how can we face the facts? Have we already bought into a lifestyle of separation? Perhaps these artists are witnesses to our disregard of what was once sacred, the erosion of our private world, or the damages of abusive imaginations. How do we protect that individual light which fires and forges meaning and sustenance in our lives? Are we entering another ‘dark age’ of apathy? Do we admit this could be happening?

Lucas Lelieveld - Backtrack (2016)

Paula Albuquerque - Realtime Ellipsis (2016)

Obviously, technologies that facilitate our inter-relationships are fast multiplying. This project is a case in point. Yet the spectres of our collective greed, selfishness and ignorance also exert their gravitational pull. Perhaps our Dutch artists sense that something is over, like the effects on our ecosystems; that nature and society will not simply resume their previous rhythms; that some promises have expired, that our distractions hide what is actually happening. So, what can we do? I believe in the importance of the artist-witness. Globally, contemporary art is at another crossroad. Finding new social territories, no longer geographical ones, in which to establish more effective paradigms to uplift or regenerate the human condition is essential. I hope Dutch artists are still navigating this ‘New World’ with lucidity and relentless honesty.
I am reminded here of the great, late Robert Hughes, who was not afraid to voice his opinion, about the ultimate project of art: “... to make the world whole and comprehensible, to restore it to us in all its glory and its occasional nastiness, not through argument but through feeling, and then to close the gap between you and everything that is not you, and in this way pass from feeling to meaning... It is done by individuals, each person mediating in some way between a sense of history and an experience of the world.” (The Shock of the New, BBC Series, 1980)

Ossip - M.A.N.Z (2016)

A gem in the heart of Europe, the Netherlands offers even the most oblivious tourist extraordinary examples of social cohesion and opportunities for art production and consumption. But it is their spirit of experimentation that fascinates me most. If something does not exist, the Dutch will find a way to design it, make it or recycle it! Maybe this stubborn faith in the future, trampolining off the past, is just my traveller’s daydream. But if, as I would like to believe, human creativity originates from the same creative source that animates life itself, then a genuine artist naturally aligns with that source in the act of creating. Works of art mostly speak of their authors and contexts, giving us something from their inner lives. This Dutch collection and the entire Imago Mundi global project are testimony to this basic premise, which ultimately celebrates what is possible when we work and play collectively and courageously look beyond the frame.

Suus Kooijman - On the Way (2016)

“In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest, where no one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.” Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmi

Rosa Maria Falvo
Art Curator

Udona Boerema - Tiny Mountains - (2016)

Credits: Story

Art direction, photography and production
Project Management
La Biennale di Malindi Ltd
Rosa Maria Falvo
Project coordinator
Oriano Mabellini
Barbara Liverotti
Editorial coordination
Enrico Bossan
Luciano Benetton
Rosa Maria Falvo
Jelle Bouwhuis
Translation and editing
Simona Caldera
Emma Cole
Valentina Granzotto
Francesca Stopper
Pietro Valdatta
Jeroen Allart
Black Headed Gull
Art direction
Namyoung An
Marco Zanin
Marco Pavan
Special thanks to
Fondazione Sarenco
Oksana Ignatush
José Jonkergouw
Catherine van Lith
Natasha Calandrino Van Kleef
Albert Zwaan
Bas Louter
Harma Heikens
Gerben Willers
Cees Andriessen
Anke Roder
Colin Huizing
Idi Boudewijn
Jelle Bouwhuis

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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