Museum De Paviljoens in Almere is currently showing the third exhibition in a series called De Nederlandse Identiteit? (The Dutch Identity?) called De Kracht van Heden (The Power of Present). These big, significant titles generate high expectations. According to the museum, every show within the Dutch Identity project offers a specific perspective on contemporary Dutch art and the social, cultural and geographic context it comes from. Issues like migration, interculturality, new towns, and the post-colonial history of the Netherlands play an important part, says the museum.
The show’s subtitle Kracht van Heden is derived from a 1993 exhibition organized by the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture (or Fonds BKVB). This foundation, established by the Dutch government, is the national body responsible for enabling visual artists, designers, architects, and cultural mediators to develop their work in a variety of ways. The foundation provides subsidies to such individuals and stimulates working internationally. The foundation also provides grants for projects, research, new work, travel, publications, etc. This cultural policy has helped a lot of artists to kick-start their careers in the Netherlands and abroad and has helped the Dutch art world to sustain a high level of art production, presentation, and distribution. Unfortunately, from 2013 this infrastructure will be drastically altered and the future of still-unknown Dutch talents is unclear.
The 1993 De Kracht van Heden exhibition consisted of a selection of works made possible with the help of the foundation during the first five years of its existence (1988-1992). De Paviljoens has made a selection from this group of artists and has added work from the last five years, making the show an updated version of De Kracht van Heden. The result is a jumble of different creative disciplines ranging from architecture to graphic design, from fashion to art. It shows the wide range and high quality production of the Dutch creative sector; participating artists are well established names or rising stars and the quality of the works reflects their talent.
Installation view with Sarah van Sonsbeeck, Gert Jan Kocken, Barbara Visser, Saskia Janssen, Christiaan Bastiaans and Roy Villevoy; Courtesy Museum De Paviljoens
Despite the strong works on show, the exhibition feels incoherent. The only thing that binds the works together is the fact that they all have been made possible with the support of the BKVB. As such, the exhibition is mainly a confirmation of the foundations terrific achievements. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but the exhibition itself isn’t that good. It seems like a random selection of (great) works that, in this setting aren’t optimally strutting their stuff. For instance: a corridor with photos and digital renderings of wonderful architectural projects (not the best way to present these projects anyway) isn’t helped by them being in the same room as a music video made for Lady Gaga by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin.
The show’s theme doesn’t clarify much either: what the exhibition says about Dutch identity isn’t a lot. Are we supposed to look for the Dutch identity in the works themselves? There are some works that tell us something about it, like Job Koelewijn’s small room in which a wide illusionary panorama of the Dutch Polder landscape is created. The intercultural contact Roy Villevoye shows in his works is also a part of our identity. But what does a work like the invitation to a Victor and Rolf fashion show tell us about who we are? Or are we supposed to look at the achievements of the participating artists as a confirmation of our identity as being hard working people who can make it in the international art world? Or is the subtitle Kracht van Heden the binding element?
This, of course, points back to the original exhibition, but hopefully the title is meant to tell us more than that. And it does, the works tell us something about the power of the present and art’s potential in it. The first “work” you come across is a newspaper clipping about a project by the Van Abbemuseum, which has sent a Picasso painting to Ramallah. This tells us something about the power of art in the present world doesn’t it? Why else would they include it in the show? But what does an Urchin Pouf by Herbert Meindertsma tell us about the present? If the museum truly wishes to say something about Dutch identity or the power of the present, or if they wish to create the best possible context for the great works in the show, they should have done some things differently.
Installation view with Atelier Van Lieshout, Rineke Dijkstra and Hans Aarsman; Courtesy Museum De Paviljoens
Maybe I’m attaching too much meaning to the exhibition title, but why use a big title like Dutch Identity if I shouldn’t? Maybe the show is mainly meant as an indictment against the government, which has taken the power out of the present by ruthlessly slashing their cultural budget. The accompanying exhibition materials seem to wink in this direction. The uncertain future of the social and economic context in which art is produced seems to be what the museum wants to address. And if the point of the exhibition is indeed to demonstrate the powerful results of cultural funding, to convince people of its value, then it is successful (although most likely preaching to the converted). It’s a good thing to openly doubt the current direction the government has taken in its approach to culture. However, showing the government the value of art doesn’t only take good works of art, but good exhibitions as well.
(Image at top: Museum De Paviljoens, Almere; Courtesy Jordi Huisman, Museum De Paviljoens)