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Groninger Museum

A Postmodernist Place for the Arts

The regional character of Groningen is very much down to earth, but the Groninger Museum is far from that. It is housed in what is beyond doubt the single most exuberant museum building in the Netherlands, for which Alessandro Mendini was lead architect. It is considered a highlight of postmodern architecture, and even if you don’t like it, you will be amazed at the sight of it — never in their wildest dreams, or their worst nightmares, would the good citizens of Groningen have imagined their museum looking like this, at least not until 1994, when it opened to the public. Inside you will find a varied collection of art & design, and exhibitions on painting, applied art, photography, fashion, archaeology, and local & regional history.

Johan Dijkstra: Jan Wiegers
Johan Dijkstra’s portrait of Jan Wiegers (1927)

Of special importance is the permanent exhibition of works by members of the local artists’ collective De Ploeg, founded in 1918 in response to the artistic climate in the city. Its name, meaning ‘the plough’, indicated that Groningen had to be cultivated with regard to modern art; its foremost members were Jan Wiegers, Johan Dijkstra, Jan Altink, and the printer H.N. Werkman. The group did not adhere to an artistic manifesto, but within its ranks painters developed appealing expressionist & impressionist styles during the 1920s, characterized by a close connection to the region & an international orientation. On the whole, the collective succeeded in its objective quite well, and the rich harvest gathered here at the museum’s Ploeg Pavilion is a feast for the eyes.

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In 1920 & 1921 Jan Wiegers sojourned in Davos, where he met Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, one of the founders of the artists’ group Die Brücke and a leading German expressionist, whose personality & style made a definite impression on Wiegers. After his return to Groningen, Wiegers introduced his associates to expressionism, and under his influence a more or less collective style arose among the members of De Ploeg, which lasted until about 1927. This period is generally regarded as the collective’s heyday.


H.N. Werkman, who was the printer of De Ploeg, is best known for his innovative printing techniques & avant-garde typography. He developed a printmaking process that he called ‘hot printing’, a technique incorporating found materials that added repeated design elements directly onto the paper — all without the use of a printing press. The Royal Library in The Hague owns a copy of his remarkable booklet Hot Printing, which was digitized & is now available online in the library’s digital gallery.




The Groninger Museum houses one of the largest porcelain collections in the country. (The others are at the Kunstmuseum in The Hague, the Princessehof in Leeuwarden & the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.) Of special interest is the stuff salvaged in 1985 from the wreck of the Geldermalsen, a Dutch East Indiaman carrying tea, porcelain & gold bound for Batavia, which went down near Indonesia in 1752. Among the more recent porcelain objects my favourites are seventeen watermelons from 2007 by the Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei.


Lovers of postmodern architecture will also like Wall House #2, which is one of the designs to which the architect John Hejduk owes his fame. From April to November, the house is open on Saturdays & Sundays from 12 noon to 5 p.m.

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