The ABC of Dutch Modernisms
From Bas Jan Ader to Halbe Zijlstra

Issue no5
Oct - Nov 2022

A Bas Jan Ader

Bas Jan Ader was the drama queen among the conceptual artists, his work dominated by grand desires and our human inability to achieve them. He met a tragic death in 1975 while sailing solo across the Atlantic.

B Art & Project Bulletins

Art & Project Bulletins were a series of invitations and publications by such artists as Robert Barry and Lawrence Wiener, published by the then world-renowned Amsterdam gallery, Art & Project, the best-known gallery the Netherlands has ever produced. The Bulletins are presented in a special booth at ARCOmadrid.

C Conceptual Art

Jan Dibbets, Ger van Elk and Marinus Boezem are The Big Three of Dutch conceptual art. Dibbets became famous for photographic studies on the relationship between space and time, Van Elk with playful, performative interventions in reality, and Boezem for romantic art at the cutting edge of land art and conceptual art. All three are still actively exhibiting their work.

D Droog Design & Dutch Design

The Netherlands is a design Mekka, successful everywhere in part thanks to the ideas and marketing talents of Droog Design, a changing collective that includes only a portion of the Netherlands’ designers. Dutch design is playful, contrary, unpolished, innovative and averse to showy appearances.

E Eindhoven

More than Amsterdam, Rotterdam or The Hague, the southern industrial city of Eindhoven is the capital of Dutch modernism, thanks to the phenomenal modernists of the Van Abbemuseum collection, brought together under museum directors Jean Leering and Rudi Fuchs. This collection is currently on view at the M HKA in Antwerp.

F Funding

The Netherlands were known as a nation of state art, whose artists and art institutions were spoiled by subsidies and grants – until 2012. The current centre-right government has slashed funding for the arts: 20% reductions across-the-board, up to 40% less for contemporary art.

G Galleries

Fourteen Dutch galleries have been selected by curator Xander Karskens for ARCO Madrid. They include different generations of galleries: seniors Paul Andriesse (Marlene Dumas, Rineke Dijkstra) and Fons Welters (Aernout Mik, Atelier van Lieshout), the somewhat younger Annet Gelink (Barbara Visser, Ryan Gander) and Ellen de Bruijne (Falke Pisano), and still younger figures, such as Juliètte Jongma (Guido van der Werve). Most of these galleries are based in Amsterdam, but many good galleries have opened elsewhere, including Gallery West in The Hague and Wilfried Lentz (Wendelien van Oldenborgh) in Rotterdam.

H Happening

Without the playful, art-inspired happenings of the Provo movement in the late 1960s, the Netherlands would not have become the famously tolerant nation that it has been – at least until recently. See also X-rated.

I Icons

Marlene Dumas, Aernout Mik and Rineke Dijkstra are Dutch icons, three of the Netherlands’ most successful artists. All have exhibited at the MoMA in New York and countless other venues around the world.

J Jan Schoonhoven

(the ‘s’ in this ABC had already been given, so we chose the ‘j’)
Jan Schoonhoven is a phenomenon. His entire working life was spent at the national post office in Delft, but in his ‘spare’ time, he was working on his internationally admired minimalist oeuvre.

K Koolhaas

Rem Koolhaas is the architect who single-handedly created a world stage for an entire generation of Dutch architects. Koolhaas created his own variant of modernism, also referred to as Supermodernism.

L Latitudes

Latitudes is the curatorial collective based in Barcelona, responsible for a programme that presents several reputable and pioneering Dutch non-profit art institutes at ARCO in a booth designed by Jasper Niens.

M Museums

The Netherlands, with 17 million people, is a nation of museums. Almost every medium-sized and large city has its own museum of contemporary art. The best known are the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Gemeentemuseum of The Hague, the Kröller Müller Museum in Otterlo, the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, the Groninger Museum in Groningen and the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven.

N New Modernism

The new modernists are a new generation of artists with a lightly reflective approach, who are investigating modernist art in terms of its meaning, free of postmodernist sarcasm or irony. Falke Pisano and Katja Mater are prominent protagonists.

O Op losse schroeven (on loose screws)

This was a partner exhibition to the famous When Attitudes Become Form, curated in Basel by Harald Szeeman. The exhibition, curated by Wim Beeren, was held at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1969 and put international process-orientated art on the map.

P Public Art

For decades, the Netherlands have experimented with a range of forms of art in public space, which transcends the classic idea of a monument on a city square. An important instigator in this process is SKOR (Foundation for Art & Public Space, Amsterdam). See also Funding.

Q Queen Beatrix.

Used to represent the old traditional Holland, but she has changed into the hope of the nation, thanks to her open criticism of populist politics.

R Rijksakademie

Together with De Ateliers in Amsterdam and the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht, the Rijksakademie is a graduate level art institute where students from around the globe spend two years furthering their work. Thanks to these institutes, the Netherlands enjoys a climate for young art that is envied around the world. Artists such as Ryan Gander began their careers here.

S Sonsbeek buiten de perken

Sonsbeek buiten de perken (Sonsbeek beyond boundaries) was the famous 1971 edition of this major sculpture exhibition held in Arnhem every eight years. Curator Wim Beeren had all the important artists of the day complete projects all around the Netherlands. They included Robert Smithson’s Broken Circle/Spiral Hill, now forty years old.

T Tolerance

The Netherlands has always been a famously tolerant nation, but this image is rapidly losing ground under the influence of current political tendencies. Tolerance is being pushed aside by slightly xenophobic, nationalistic politics, of which among many other things also critical and nonconformist art has become the victim.

U Underground

The Netherlands is the country of open window curtains. It does not support a hidden life. There is no underground in the Netherlands, so is said.


The VOC was the Dutch United East India Company of the 17th century, the years when Spain was Holland’s greatest enemy. The VOC also invented the stock market, selling shares in its ventures.

W Geert Wilders

This politician can claim responsibility for the political climate in the Netherlands today, driven by populist sentiment against anything that might not appear normal or standard, anything un-Dutch.

X X-rated

The Netherlands is a rule-loving country that at the same time has always tolerated a great deal. In recent years, Holland is increasingly suffering from the freethinking liberalism that has so characterized it. There are calls for better control of the various regions, zero tolerance, a moral reawakening. One of the places having to submit to the new norms is the famous red light district in Amsterdam.

Y Young

The Netherlands is a nation of trade. ‘New’ is more highly regarded than ‘depth’. The best guarantee of newness is youth. For this reason, as an artist in the Netherlands, it is best to be young.

Z Halbe Zijlstra

Zijlstra is the Secretary of State for Culture in the Netherlands, under whose management funding for the arts is being drastically slashed. See Funding.

This text is presented at the Metropolis M ARCO booth and on this website.

lead image by Sarah van Sonsbeeck, courtesy Annet Gelink Gallery

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17 February 2012

this way brouwn

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 5 — 2022