As far as the visual arts are concerned, the Netherlands is a country of painters. Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Mondrian and Appel have made this country what it is in this particular art form. Even today these painters are employed as the main promoters of the national art heritage and their paintings from various museum collections are almost continually on exhibit in the major museums around the World. While the giants of the past proclaim that the Netherlands is a nation of painters, for decades the younger generations of artists have been working in other disciplines. Since the 1960s, the use of media other than painting has seen an explosive growth within the visual arts, to the extent that very few artists among the younger generations paint at all.
The list of the Top 100 Dutch artists published by the news magazine Elsevier each year, in which the success of artists in the Netherlands is measured in terms of both sales and exhibitions, can serve as an indicator. At the top of the 2010 list is a very young video artist: Guido van der Werve, who achieved world fame with a romantic video film in which he can be seen calmly walking across a stretch of polar ice in front of an enormous ice-breaker. Only a few of the artists in the top 10 actually paint.
No dominant voice
Other than in the field of design, where Dutch Design, led by the cheerfully critical Droog Design foundation has created a furore, or architecture, where Dutch super-modernism led by Rem Koolhaas is now world-famous, a dominant voice is lacking in the visual arts. The scene is dominated by solitary individuals working in strongly divergent artistic mediums. For example, the paintings of Marlene Dumas, an artist originally from South Africa who has been living in the Netherlands since the 1970s and who is one of the most successful artists in the world, have nothing at all in common with the provocative art on the interface of design from the almost equally successful Joep van Lieshout; the slightly disturbing video installations of Aernout Mik, who had an important solo exhibition at the MoMA New York in 2009, speak an entirely different language from the natural photographic portraits of adolescents by Rineke Dijkstra, also a successful exhibitor at the MoMA, and the idea of art as expressed in the minimalistic films by De Rijk and De Rooij is nothing like that of the intimate sculptural installations of Mark Manders.
This super-individualism is a typically Dutch phenomenon. Elsewhere in the World artists feel a greater need to come together and to support each other in their attempt to make a place for themselves in the art world. Particularly at the beginning of their careers many artists will get together, for example to organise their own exhibitions. Curators and the media speculate eagerly on the most important trends among artists. This also happens on a national level, where a balance is made up in the form of provocative exhibitions that draw a great deal of attention. In France, this type of giant exhibition, intended to define the national image, takes place almost every year, in England once every three years and in Germany on average every five years. This culture is almost non-existent in the Netherlands. De Paviljoens’ attempt to present a modern definition of Dutch identity in the arts in Almere in the summer of 2010 was the first for thirty years.