For many, the late sixties are synonymous with the anti-Vietnam War hippy protests and the massive student unrest in Paris. In the major summer exhibition 'Amsterdam, the Magic Center', the Stedelijk looks beyond these widely-known facts, offering fresh insights into the transnational developments of the era, and exploring Amsterdam as a vibrant international hub and laboratory for artistic and social innovation.
The “Magical center Amsterdam”, to use the words of artist Robert Jasper Grootveld, a member of the Provo movement, reaches its zenith between 1967 and 1970. By which time, Amsterdam has won itself a reputation as a city where anything goes. The Dutch capital flourishes as a progressive and artistic haven, a place that attracts hordes of young people from all over the world. It’s also a time when art is in the throes of change. Artists rebel against the establishment and seek alternative, new platforms: on the streets, in magazines or on TV. Idea begins to take precedence over (the traditional) form – art can be a happening, an intervention in the city, or a television programme. Humour and irony are popular strategies for thumbing the nose at ‘serious’ art.
Installation view, Amsterdam, the Magic Center: Art and counter culture 1967-1970, 2018, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij
THE STEDELIJK IN THE 1960S
Featuring works from the museum collection, the show sheds new light on the radical innovations and artistic and social experiments of the era. Counterculture, experimentation and the spirit of the underground emerge from the shadows and define the city’s cultural life from 1967 onwards. The Stedelijk Museum, that had become a home for the avant-garde after the war, plays a dual role: on the one hand, in the guise of modern champion, it advocates the new (with exhibitions such as Op losse schroeven in 1969), yet the critical contingent labels it a conservative bastion of elitist art. 50 Years later, the Stedelijk looks back at a series of historic happenings, events and conceptual artworks that took place or were presented in Amsterdam, often with the city as décor. The posters by Daniel Buren were a street art intervention, and the Leidseplein became the setting of Wim T. Schippers’ absurd Christmas tree, ablaze in mid-summer. Public participation was vital to many of these activities – such as the inflatable objects of the Eventstructure Research Group that appeared on Museum Square and the surrounding streets, in which people of all ages played or strolled. Louis van Gasteren and Fred Wessels built the Sunny Implo, a sphere with points of light, sound and imperceptible motion; the idea was to put your head inside, and experience a soothing, psychotherapeutic effect. The makers insisted their sphere should be an essential part of the urban landscape, installed on every street corner. Their plan didn’t come to fruition – the Sunny Implo gets no further than a debut appearance in the Stedelijk entrance in 1970.