What is the Netherlands

The exhibition by AMO at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam creates a speculative base for reflection on the Netherlands’ most intimate soft spot: its national self-image.

“At current the Dutch government has no interest in participating in World Expos” (letter by the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans, August 30th 2013) [1], arguably the most important sequence of exhibitions of all times. Paradoxically, at the same times when the Dutch state expressed its indifference, the city of Rotterdam started its lobby to host a World Expo in 2025. (See The Netherlands Pavilion at Expo Milano 2015).
What is Netherlands
Top : The exhibition consist of a circular framework based on the plan for the 1867 world’s fair in Paris by Frédéric Le Play in which the 14 historic Dutch World fair entries each have an equal stake. Photo Peter Tijhuis. Above : Where the inner ring focuses on a dialectic between governance and lyricism, the second ring presents a selection of artefacts from the respective pavilions. Photo M Immink
The exhibition “What is the Netherlands” by AMO in collaboration with Marieke van den Heuvel and Lu Liang at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam reflects on this impasse. Through a collection of fragments and reconstructed pavilions of 14 Dutch representations at World’s Fair between 1910 and now the exhibition creates a speculative base for reflection on the Netherlands’ most intimate soft spot: its national self-image. Each expo entry is a glance in the mirror, showing where the Netherlands was at a particular point in history, where it wanted to be, and how this reality and desire can be displayed through an exhibition. They present a dialogue between modernity and nationality, economy and image, corporate opportunism and collective ambitions. Sometimes exotic, sometimes packed with enormous quantities of stuff, sometimes boring and empty.
What is The Netherlands
The second ring features emblematic found objects of Dutch innovation at the world’s fair including a large scale political cartoon celebrating the Welfare State by Opland (1958) , the highly acclaimed movie Sky over Holland by John Fernhout (1967), a machine reproducing Dutch scent abroad by Woody van Amen (1970), and a 5 meter tall Meccano windmill (1992). Photo Peter Tijhuis
The exhibition consist of a circular framework based on the plan for the 1867 world’s fair in Paris by Frédéric Le Play in which the 14 historic Dutch World fair entries each have an equal stake. Where the inner ring focuses on a dialectic between governance and lyricism embedded in each entry, the second ring presents a selection of artefacts from the respective pavilions. Each section contains a reconstruction of the respective pavilion – all made specifically for the exhibition at the same scale – distinctly showing the development in size and design. The bureaucratic walls features thematic sections concerning the political machinery behind the development: discussions on the purposes and intentions handed to designers, economic realities like the budgets, and diplomatic handiwork. The lyrical side features a speculative highlight of that year – the most expressive paintings, sculpture, videos shown in the exhibition.
What is The Netherlands
The bureaucratic walls (right) features thematic sections concerning the political machinery behind the development: discussions on the purposes and intentions handed to designers, economic realities like the budgets, and diplomatic handiwork. The lyrical walls (left) features a speculative highlight of that year – the most expressive paintings, sculpture, videos shown in the exhibition. The wall on the right shows an overview of all the official budget reports for each entry. The wall on the left shows the history of announcement posters, hinting at the lyrical dimension of the Expo in general. The center piece, hanging above the circular platform is a 1,000 kg 21 bell Carillon, one of the most celebrated piece of Holland featured in 7 of the 14 pavilions. Photo Johannes Schwartz
A chronology of chairs presents a brief history of Dutch seating at the world’s fair, featuring works by Mart Stam, Martin Visser, Marcel Wanders and Maarten Baas amongst others. Highlight is a 1915 dark mahony chair by Michel de Klerk  which was selected by the Dutch in favor of a modernist chair by Gerrit Rietveld for the 1925 fair. The second ring continuous with further emblematic found objects  of Dutch innovation at the world’s fair including a large scale political cartoon celebrating the Welfare State by Opland (1958) , the highly acclaimed movie Sky over Holland by John Fernhout (1967), a machine reproducing Dutch scent abroad by Woody van Amen (1970), and a 5 meter tall Meccano windmill (1992). 
What is the Netherlands
Each section contains a reconstruction of the respective pavilion – all made specifically for the exhibition at the same – distinctly showing the development in size and design. Photo Peter Tijhuis
The roof of the exhibition space features 14 Dutch flags, one for each pavilion shown in the exhibition. The flags refer to reports in Dutch newspapers on the 1915 San Francisco world fair commenting on the excessive presence of flags (6) on the Netherlands Pavilion.
What is the Netherlands
The roof of the exhibition space features 14 Dutch flags, one for each pavilion shown in the exhibition. The flags refer to reports in Dutch newspapers on the 1915 San Francisco world fair commenting on the excessive presence of flags (6) on the Netherlands Pavilion. Photo Marieke van den Heuvel

Note
:
1. On August 30th 2013 the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans sent a letter to parliament which states that the Netherlands has no general interest in the World exhibition and therefore will not participate in the next Expo in Milan in 2015.

until 23 August 2015
What is the Netherlands
Het Nieuwe Instituut
Museumpark 25, Rotterdam

The exhibition “What is the Netherlands” is largely based on the research by Marie-Thérèse van Thoor on the Dutch entries to the World Expo from 1910 to 1958.
Curator : Stephan Petermann (AMO)
Exhibition design and concept development : Studio Mann, Marieke van den Heuvel Graphic Design Lu Liang
Model design and production : Cédric van Parys, Laurence Bolhaar, Emile Estourgie (AMO)
Films : Sophie van Leeuwen, Pieter-Bas van Wiechen, Frans Parthesius (Phosfor)
Art direction and graphic design : Maureen Mooren
Text editing : Gert Staal, James Westcott
Execution : Landstra & de Vries ism Claus Wiersma, A.B. Geluidstechniek, Raymond Leeuwenburg, Joost de Munk

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