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 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.
'Purple People Eater' in Ferdi's studio in Baarlo, 1968 photo by Leonard Freed
Artists also critique society, such as the ironic work of Pieter Engels and Jeroen Henneman, that parodies middle class life. Others take it a step further: Gerrit Dekker and Ben d’Armagnac create structures demonstrating that art is also capable of proposing an entirely new way of (autarchic) life.
In an epoch when men still dominate the art world, women artists manage to break through. Ferdi creates colourful, soft sculpture with biomorphic forms steeped in a heady eroticism. One of her works, Purple People Eater, acquired by the Stedelijk after her solo in 1968, has been restored especially for this exhibition. The work of contemporaries such as Maria van Elk and Louwrien Wijers also reveals a highly evolved artistic vision. Aside the named above, the exhibit also features work or documentation by artists including Douwe Jan Bakker, Pieter Boersma, Marinus Boezem, stanley brouwn, Jan Dibbets, Ger van Elk, Adri Hazevoet, Immo Jalass, Robert Morris, Dennis Oppenheim, Willem de Ridder, Seemon and Marijke, Tjebbe van Tijen, and Lawrence Weiner.