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From 1 until 4 May, four artists and four politicians will spend day and night in W139, to participate in a fundamental debate concerning the the deeply rooted connections between their practices. Their aim is to come to an understanding and break through of the status quo that defines the current relationship between art and politics. These artists and politicians have found themselves willing to reflect openly on their own strategies as well as the possibility of collaboration with others. The discussion will be accompanied by an exhibition in W139 of both artistic and political cases selected by the participants.

The project Allegories of Good and Bad Government is the result of a longrunning discussion between Amsterdam's alderman for art and culture Carolien Gehrels (PvdA, labor party) and visual artists Hans van Houwelingen and Jonas Staal. All three of them put to discussion, from the perspective of their own practices, the mutual influences and interests between the domain of the artistic and the political.

Gehrels made an important contribution to the debate with her Boekman Lecture on June 5, 2009, entitled ‘Government and Art in Amsterdam: Art Policy in a Post-ideological (?) Society' in which she spoke about ‘the discomforting idea that politics can have an opinion about everything but art. That everyone except politicians can have an opinion about art. That the political establishment has allowed itself to be shackled by the great liberal leader Thorbecke, who said in 1862: "government is not a judge of art".' Van Houwelingen responded through an article in De Volkskrant newspaper of June 16 2009 entitled ‘Fear of restrictive state-sponsored art unfounded', in which he writes that the fierce reactions to Gehrel's lecture ‘attest to a rhetorical status quo that has held sway for at least fifty years: government involvement in art would spell the end of artistic freedom and the beginning of a cultural dictatorship'. He concludes by
stating that ‘artists and government (..) have what it takes to ensure quality in their own domain. Alderman Gehrels is prepared to break through the status quo and she has my firm support'. In his article ‘Unite Art and Politics' in the NRC Handelsblad newspaper of 25 September 2010 Staal called for examining the possibility of a joint artistic and political project, and ends with an appeal: ‘Artistpoliticians and politician-artists! Let's not keep our knowledge and inspiration to ourselves! Let's use this time to create momentum, set aside self-interest and bring politics and art together again. Because both art and politics belong to the people. We have been divided for far too long.'

The dialogue between Gehrels, Van Houwelingen and Staal conveys the will to oppose the ideological vacuum which paralyses both art and politics and lends legitimacy to the current government's massive spending cuts on culture. What binds them is the realisation that art and politics converge on many levels, that both play a role in shaping society and that the concept of ‘people's representation' applies to artists as well as politicians.

Gijs Frieling, former director of W139, invited alderman Gehrels to put together an exhibition after her Boekman Lecture in 2009. She turned down the invitation at the time because the structure would not have allowed for an equal relationship between her and the artists. The project has been revived with the help of the current director, Tim Voss. Gehrels, Van Houwelingen and Staal developed a concept together - a gesammtkunstwerk - aimed at making a substantial move towards challenging the status quo: the persistent rhetorical stalemate resulting from thinking in terms of independent art versus statecontrolled art. The current political climate emphasises the urgent need for this project.

For the entire design of the exhibition and facilities the Amsterdam design collective Metahaven was approached. Their long-term research about the sociopolitical role and responsability of design is an important part in the organization of the project. Metahaven makes a spacial statement about politics and society: all the concrete facilities - for talking, eating, drinking, sleeping, moving - provide this project with a certain content. Artist-cook Sjim Hendrix will use food as a way to participate and reflect on the discussion.

The title Allegories of Good and Bad Government was inspired by the frescos of Italian painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1290-1348) in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena: Allegory of Good Government, Effects of Good Government on Town and Country and Allegory of Bad Government and its Effects on Town and Country.


  1. 1. Four artists and four politicians will spend four days and three nights at W139 talking about existing and potential new relationships between art and politics.
  2. 2. Their participation is based on engagement with or responsibility for the relationship between art and politics. The artists and politicians will be selected for their representative position within their research area.
  3. 3. The meeting will continue uninterrupted day and night in order to create optimal conditions for dismantling existing dogmas and set aside established agendas.
  4. 4. Each participant will submit a case that highlights a problem in their area of study with respect to the relationship between art and politics. The agenda for the discussion will be based on these eight cases. One artistic and one political case will be discussed each day from 9:00 to 13:00 and from 14:00 to 18:00.
  5. 5. The cases will be on display at W139 for the duration of the exhibition and constitute an autonomous exhibition.
  6. 6. The entire conversation will be transcribed by a clerk, without mentioning who says what at a given time. This creates a common discourse in which all participants take shared responsibility for the conversation as a whole. The public will be able to follow the creation of the text on site. The text will be a collaborative work.
  7. 7. There will be no live audience at the meeting, but the text of the conversation will be projected onto a screen at W139 in an area open to the public.
  8. 8. The conference space will be open to the public from 20:30 to 23:00 on each of the four days so that artists, politicians and other interested people can discuss the issues with the participants.
  9. 9. This gesammtkunstwerk makes a statement about the organisation of society when both artists and politicians share its authorship. This project is a collaborative attempt to find new parameters in this process.
  10. 10. Allegories of Good and Bad Government is a confrontation, a debate, a performance, an exhibition, politics and art: it is an artistic and political act of symbiosis.


Carolien Gehrels / Hans van Houwelingen / Jonas Staal

Salima Belhaj (D66) / Tofik Dibi (GroenLinks - green left party) / Carolien Gehrels (PvdA - Labor party) / Nicoline van Harskamp / Jeanne van Heeswijk / Hans van Houwelingen / Jonas Staal / Michiel van Wessem (VVD - Popular Party for Freedom and Democracy)

Spatial design:

Sjim Hendrix

Introduction to the work of Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1290-1348):
Gijs Frieling