Debate: The City is the Freethinkers’ Space


Debate between Carolien Gehrels, Jonas Staal, Ernst van den Hemel and Tiers Bakker

October 6, 2012

The City is the Freethinkers’ Space
Debate between Carolien Gehrels, Jonas Staal, Ernst van den Hemel and Tiers Bakker
Moderator Huib Haye van der Werf
Saturay 6 October, 14:00-17:00 hrs, Admission: regular

Carolien Gehrels of the Labor Party (Partij voor de Arbeid) - Amsterdam Council for Culture, curated the recent version of the Freethinkers’ Space, entitled The City is the Freethinkers’ Space. Gehrels argues for a classical social-democratic concept of the arts, in which the task of politics is clearly to create the conditions for the dissemination – the democratization – of art and culture throughout society. She proposes public space as the main site for this emancipatory project to take shape. She exhibits works financed by and presented in the city of Amsterdam by Thomas Hirschhorn, Nicolas Dings and Hans van Houwelingen, all situated around the “freethinker” Spinoza - a Dutch philosopher from the 17th century - as concrete examples of artistic practices which are committed to a similar ideal.

This presentation originates in the project Art, Property of Politics II: Freethinkers’ Space (2010), created by Jonas Staal, with which he presented an insight into the way in which the VVD and PVV parties use the arts to express political ideals. The starting point was the Freethinkers’ Space, an exhibition space founded in July 2008 by the VVD and PVV in their respective office areas in the parliament building in The Hague. With this space, the parties wanted to provide a platform for Dutch artists who were confronted with censorship, in particular from Islamic perspective. The Freethinkers’ Space existed from 2008-2011 but was removed when the VVD and PVV created a coalition agreement together.

The removal of the Freethinkers’ Space was fiercely criticized by Jesse Klaver (Groen Links) and Rogier Verkroost (D66 Eindhoven), amongst others. Independently from each other, they argued for it to be reopened immediately. This resulted in Art, Property of Politics IV: Freethinkers’ Space continued, a series of exhibitions curated by parties from the whole political spectrum about the responsibility of politics with regard to the relationship between contemporary art and censorship. In every exhibition, the responsible party also provides a Freethinkers Lecture, contextualizing their selection of artworks. The first new Freethinkers’ Space composed by the Groen Links (Green Party) (The Netherlands as Freethinkers’ Space) and Democrats 66 (No Popular Culture without Frayed Edges) opened in the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven in September.