The World Exposition is in Milan this year. This international exhibition originally shows the latest international innovations of each western country. Of course the commission admitted the rest of the world after colonialism became lame. But from the earliest editions participating countries misused the World Expo as a national marketing tool. It became a place to show the country’s dreams and ambitions. The New Institute in Rotterdam shows the way the Netherlands presented itself on the World Expo in several years since its beginning. A trip through time that makes you chuckle in your fist many times.
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Nazis and the expo
One of the first things displayed is a World Expo brochure with a Nazi flag. We’re in the New Institute in Rotterdam, and this exhibition deals with the Netherlands at the great World Expo. Actually, it is not as much about the technical innovations, great leaps of knowledge of the human kind, or other epic stories. The romantic idea of the largest exposition on earth scattered. It’s all about nationalism. And sure enough, Nazi Germany was a nation at the end of the 1930s. The Netherlands soon ceased to be one for a few years and naturally couldn’t enter the World Expo during the Second World War. That war also broke down colonial thinking in the Netherlands. So the Dutch had to reinvent their nation (no more sugar, temples, racism, d’oh!) A decisive moment for the Dutch pavilions at the World Expo for all those years to come.
Like any country, the Netherlands used the World Expo for national presentation. Hilarious. Before the war, the Dutch showed themselves as a colonial world power. As small as the Dutch nation in Europe is, it was huge in Asia. Current Indonesia was our “milk cow”. Looking at their pre-war pavilions, it was like the Netherlands took little pride in the homeland. It was all about sugar, pottery, and indigenous culture, presented as a part of the Dutch nation. It even built a lifesize copy of an Indonesian temple! Only to be broken down afterwards as no one knew what to do with it after the Expo ended.
When the Netherlands lost their Asian colonies after the Second World War, we only had the sea left to boast about. Our eternal fight against the water became a recurring theme on the World Expo. Gigantic sea drills, dike models, the harbors, and cute little houses.
This presentation of the Netherlands is surprising. The great World Exhibition once brougth forth the monumental glass palace in London and the unforgettable Eiffel Tower in Paris. Many think of the expo as the 19th century national display of grandeur and progression. It once was. It might be the Dutch entrees, or perhaps the great technical inventions ceased to be central at it, but the exhibition at Nieuwe Instituut shows the Expo the way she really is: a change to display national identity on a gigantic scale.
That doesn’t mean that the Dutch pavilions were unimpressive. Although some editions they refused to display topics that the Netherlands should actually be really proud of, like the modernist art that the group around Mondriaan and Van Doesburg invented. You know, the abstract art in primary colors bundled among “De Stijl” (read this article about what it meant for art history). But recent years the Dutch have created impressive pavilions, among others curated by one of its biggest architectural bureaus MVRVD.
This year: Milano
The World Expo has landed in Milan, Italy, this year. The Dutch pavilion has a nice hippie-esque festival theme where visitors from all over the world can enjoy our national delicacies: kroketten, baby, yeah!
And stay tuned, because De Museologue will be there and report back!