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A liberating exhibition

From the 5th to 31th of May 1955 the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam hosted an exhibition under the name Kunstenaars herdenken 5 mei (‘Artists Commemorate 5 May’). This coincided with the first national commemoration: May 5th 1955 was the first time that Liberation Day was celebrated as a public holiday in the Netherlands. The exhibition was an initiative of the eponymous foundation, which was founded on the 1st of April of that year. Escher was represented by such works as Other World and Rippled Surface.

The founding committee consisted of Willem Sandberg (director of the Stedelijk Museum), Leo Braat (sculptor), Ger Lataster (painter), Pieter Herman Dijkema (Amsterdam City Council), Gerrit Bolkestein (former Secretary for Education, Arts and Sciences), Binne Groenier (chairman of the Dutch Federation of Professional Associations of Artists), Johannes Jacobus van Heel (painter) and Johan Constant Heyligers (scientific assistant at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen). The statutory objective was described as follows:

‘To organise a public event on 5 May each year to commemorate the liberation of the Netherlands in 1945, during which visual works of art [created after 1945] will be exhibited, and to strive to organise events in the other arts, displaying the fruits of the labour of the Netherlands as a nation that resurrected itself after oppression.’

The foundation had high expectations for itself. For example, the exhibition catalogue in 1955 described the purpose as follows:

‘When the foundation, with its yearly planned cultural events, is capable of successfully becoming a barometer of the spiritual life of our nation, a touchstone of the mental and material health of the Netherlands, then and only then will the set objective have been fully achieved.’

In other words, the art on display had to attest to the resurrection of the Netherlands after the war and be a measure of the country’s mental state.

The Foundation organised a national exhibition twice. The first of these was held in the Stedelijk Museum and a year later there was one in Museum Boijmans in Rotterdam. Thanks to a subsidy from the Ministry of Education, Arts and Sciences, these exhibitions could be accompanied by prizes. The participating artists were selected by representatives of artist associations Arti et Amicitiae and Pulchri Studio, together with the artist members of the Foundation Board and the AKKV (General Christian Artists’ Association). One of the selected artists was Melle Oldeboerigter, which caused a furore. Willem Sandberg, the then director of the Stedelijk Museum, rejected two of the three works submitted by the artist because he found them ‘unsuitable’ to be seen by schoolchildren because of the genitalia they depicted.

The sculptors and graphic artists were selected by an advisory committee of the artists’ association De Grafische and the Dutch Circle of Sculptors. The work of these graphic artists was looked upon very favourably. Newspapers De Volkskrant and Het Parool praised their contributions to the exhibition in 1955, even if the former was critical of Escher’s work. Unfortunately, the criticism lacks an explanation.

After the two exhibitions in 1955 and 1956, the foundation became less and less active. Occasionally there were cultural events and the orchestra of the Concertgebouw gave a concert a number of years in a row on 5 May, but that was not enough, given the high ambitions. The foundation was terminated in December 1965 and the remaining credit balance was transferred to the 1940-1945 Foundation.

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