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Check the 'Dutch way' and follow suit!

Amsterdam is a beguiling capital, a mix of provincial and cosmopolitan. It has a welcoming attitude towards visitors, and a uniquely youthful orientation. For many, however, it means world-class museums and contemporary art galleries; notably, the Rijksmuseum - with its collection of seventeenth-century Dutch paintings (Rembrandt, Vermeer, Franz Hals, Breitner), the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art and the Van Gogh Museum. The Dutch democratic tradition, whose legendary open-mindedness and tolerance are well known, is the product of an intense social organisation spreading over every aspect of government, interest groups and human relations. The Netherlands are a country open to foreign influences, supporting many cultural projects, nationally and internationally.
It is not by pure chance that The Netherlands are considered as a social and cultural platform for the arts: around 20% of arts funding come directly from its leading companies (Philip Electronics, Shell, Heineken, banking groups such as ABN AMRO, Rabobank and Fortis, just to give a few examples). They contribute with millions of euros, either as direct sponsors or through special trust funds. According to the Sponsor magazine, around 80 million euros are spent every year on sponsoring art, turning the country into an international art investor and promoter.

Landscape of Donostia-San Sebastian,
Spain Manifesta 5
One of the results of such deep involvement is, for instance, the Amsterdam-based Manifesta Foundation. This year, the foundation will work in collaboration with the Basque Government on the fifth edition of Manifesta, a biennial of contemporary art, that will open in Donostia-San Sebastian (Spain) on June 11 and will go on till December 30. Manifesta is as well a product of the political and cultural change experienced throughout Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Its aim is to create dialogues between East and West, North and South (so that critical issues can be raised) and give voice to new working methods within the arts. On this line, the curators Marta Kuzma and Massimiliano Gioni selected San Sebastian for its dynamic historical and socio-political background. The strong political and cultural identity and the geographical site of San Sebastian in Southern Europe turns it into a rather strategic place for the fifth edition of Manifesta. They seemed to have been proved right in their decision as the many independent artists, galleries and institutions who transformed the city into a vibrant cultural entity, indeed answered with strong commitment in the co-production and organisation of this year's Manifesta.

Quicksand Poster
De Appel Gallery - Amsterdam,
the Netherlands
Another meaningful Dutch exhibition, witnessing the socio-political metamorphosis of the world in time of rapid change, is Quicksand at the De Appel, back in Amsterdam. The metaphoric title suggests and mirrors topics like political regimes, conflicts and power abuse, seen through the eyes of an artist, a common individual who is, though, able to communicate solutions through art. Sixteen artists - all exploring new media and technology - from thirteen countries have been invited. Impressive is the only adjective to describe the way the exhibiting space and the screens have been brought together. Among the artists taking part in Quicksand, the works of Renauld Auguste-Dormeuil, Sulki Choi, Fikret Atay, and Yael Bartana are definitely worth being remembered. Fikret Atay and Yael Bartana's works were probably spotted last March in Berlin at BüroFriedrich, a project space for contemporary art run by the Dutch curator Waling Boers whose aim is reflecting and optimising the conditions of production and the presentation of ideas, concepts and conceptual artworks of (young) artists, critics and curators. But Quicksand is not just an exhibition. It is also a long-term art project in collaboration with Skor, a Dutch foundation promoting the presence of contemporary art in public spaces. Starting from April and for 9 months, 10 art works will be commissioned for the public spaces of De Pijp, an Amsterdam's neighbourhood considered as the city's most cutting-edge urban area for its architectural developments, cultural diversity and urban contradiction. Due to the space, the artists involved in the project will probably face in their works social challenges and the duality public-private, reality-fiction.

the travelling exhibition Reality Machines still in Rotterdam
Photo: Mick
As we have already seen, Dutch art easily crosses borders and can be found very often in the neighbouring country par excellence: Germany. Right these days whoever is in Berlin can enjoy an interesting exhibition, Reality Machine, conceived by the Dutch Institute for Architecture in occasion of the official opening to the public of the impressive, new Dutch embassy designed by Rem Koolhaas. Reality Machine is a selection of provocative and conceptual art works by Dutch contemporary photographers, fashion and graphic designers.
Many European countries should pay more attention to the Dutch way. For inspiration and, probably, to follow suit.

Text: Marzia Belvisi
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