High density of art institutions

Dutch super-individualism can also be readily identified at an institutional level. No other country in the World has such a high density of art institutions. Almost every town or city has a museum of contemporary art. And if there isn’t a museum, there is certain to be a centre for contemporary art, a festival or some other event. Each of these institutions work hard to determine their own course, by distinguishing themselves from all the other institutions, some of which are only a stone’s throw away. In the post-war years, exhibitions were often held first in Groningen and then in Leiden, followed by Eindhoven, but nowadays every institution has its own individual programme that is carried out with vigour.

The Gemeentemuseum in The Hague and the Groninger Museum in Groningen, once partners in various projects, now battle fiercely to attract the crowds with exhibitions of 19th-century and early modern art. The Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam and the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht are constantly trying to outdo each other with big names from international contemporary art, even though their collections also contain ‘old’ art. The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Kröller Müller Museum in Otterlo and the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven all concentrate solely on contemporary art. They have world-renowned collections that have work by various artists but also have many artists in common. The Stedelijk Museum is by far the largest museum, with the most complete collection, historically speaking. The Kröller Müller Museum is largely focused on sculpture and spatial work, in particular post-1900 art, and the Van Abbemuseum is without a doubt the most daring of the three, with a strongly self-reflective profile.  For years this museum has been examining its own position in society, in intellectually arranged presentations that draw huge crowds.

Besides the many museums, the major cities have internationally operating art centres – exhibition centres with no collection of their own –, such as Witte de With in Rotterdam, BAK in Utrecht and De Appel in Amsterdam, which have a programme closely aligned with international contemporary art. Although these institutions work more in cooperation than the museums, they all have their own individual profile. The programme of the BAK has an academic, theoretical flavour, Witte de With is focused on emerging international artists from large international exhibitions and biennials, and De Appel concentrates on performance art. None of these institutions is particularly active in the field of Dutch art. This role has been taken over by large local art centres in the big cities, such as Stroom in The Hague, TENT and the CBK in Rotterdam and De Gele Rijder in Arnhem, as well as dozens of large and small artists’ enterprises, such as W139 in Amsterdam and De Fabriek in Eindhoven. Moreover, many municipalities have a programme for art in the public space, assisted by the national organisation SKOR, the foundation for Art and Public Space, which was set up to stimulate expertise in this field.

The Netherlands also has a relatively large number of art academies, each of which has its own curriculum. All of these also offer an advanced study programme, most of which have a semi-public programme. In particular the so-called second and third phase programmes, such as the Rijksakademie, De Ateliers and the Jan van Eyck Academie have become important players in the art world and their open days may attract many thousands of visitors.

The study programmes are increasingly attracting students from abroad. Because these students often remain in the Netherlands once they have completed their study – in part due to the generous subsidy schemes – the Dutch art scene is in itself becoming more international by nature, to the extent that young Dutch art is more often appreciated outside the Netherlands, more so that the art of more-experienced artists in their forties who have travelled further in their artistic careers.

One advantage of Dutch super-individualism as described here is without doubt its diversity. No other country in the world has such an extensive infrastructure for the visual arts as the Netherlands, and no other country invests as much in diversity. A drawback to this is the lack of coherence. There is no single image of Dutch art that can be easily communicated beyond the Netherlands, unless perhaps it is this incorrigible drive for individualism itself.