A free ride North

Exploring Groningen

Written by Craig Berry
Former Creative Intern at VBAT | Superunion
Originally shared Feb 9, 2017

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Groninger Musem

In my on-going ambition to visit as many cities in The Netherlands during my time here I found myself travelling to Groningen over the weekend. Groningen was on my list of places to check out — being the biggest city in the north — although it wasn’t top of the list due to it being over 2 hours away by train also making it an expensive trip. But. When one of the other creative designers at VBAT (Alisa) offered some free ‘travel to anywhere in the country’ train tickets, and after thinking for a minute I graciously accepted one of the tickets and decided I would use it to check out this great northern city.

Thinking back now the train journey wasn’t so bad. I was able to get up early and beat the hustle and bustle meaning I could sit down and write whilst watching the beautiful wintery Dutch countryside go by — miles and miles of flat, open and arable land with many intersecting frozen streams as well as crossing some massive bridges.

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Groningen Train Station

Prior to travelling however I was recommended some places to visit by other people at VBAT. The Groninger Museum recommended by PJ and also the GRID Grafisch Museum by both Renata and Graham. I made sure to check both of these places out and they did not disappoint — great suggestions all round.

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Groninger Museum logo

When it comes to distinctive style, I don’t think there is any that is like the Italian Memphis Group of the 1980s. The Groninger museum oozes this Memphis style with its exuberant and colourful architecture and it’s nothing like I have ever seen before in real life. The museum is in 3 sections with each section designed by renowned designers: Philippe Starck, Alessandro Mendini and the firm Coop Himmelb(l)au. Each section with its own unique flair and taste. The inside was equally as spectacular with mosaic tiles, pastel colours and neon lights everywhere.

On display in the museum were a few exhibitions as well as the gallery’s permanent collection. The special exhibitions were focused on the sculptures and processes of Auguste Rodin and a new artist for me, Joost van den Toorn also with sculptures. Although both sculptors these 2 were worlds apart, Rodin is probably most famous for his iconic ‘The Thinker’ and ‘The Kiss’ both pieces essentially larger versions of what exist on ‘The Gates of Hell’. As much as I can appreciate traditional sculptures and statues and the craftsmanship that went into these works of art, for me they aren’t as exciting as more modern examples, tie this in with the fact that this section of the museum looked really old with plain walls, dull lighting, lots of marble, stone and glass and also that it was really busy with the older generation, I didn’t spend a long time here.

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The Thinker by Auguste Rodin

Upstairs in the museum though was Joost van den Toorn’s sculptures which were displayed in a much more interesting environment. Bright blue walls with bright lights illuminated the weird and wonderful sculptures. A lot of the pieces were contentious and looked to reference sex and violence with lots of body parts and sharp objects but in a humorous and comical, non-lewd manner. What I also liked was that most of these sculptures were sitting on plinths at eye level with the plinths decorated in unique floral patterns; I think this added to the playful nature of the work. The plaques that gave the descriptions for the work were also littered along the walls of the room, each with an interesting silhouette shape of the piece and each plaque (like every other information plaque here) was designed and typeset beautifully and effortlessly; there’s just something about the typeface which the Groninger Museum use that I really loved — it suits the building perfectly.

Across the other side of the city, close to the interestingly named Martinitoren and Martinikerk, is the GRID Grafisch Museum; a museum dedicated to the history of graphic design, printing and binding. Inside the museum, split across several floors, was an assortment of old printing presses and machines, drawers of metal type, typesetting machines as well as modern riso-graph printers. It was really cool to see these old machines, which — from the strong smell of printing ink — were still in use today. Using my existing knowledge of these machines I was able to admire them in all their glory as well as the information the lady from the museum entrance gave me. She explained to me how Groningen was an important city for graphics and reproductions in the 1900s with many paper mills, foundries, and bookbinders in the Groningen province. The area still has a great relationship with graphic arts and design with schools actively teaching and encouraging it, using some of these traditional techniques.

As well as this stuff was an exhibition called ‘Ode aan de Lino/Ode to Lino’ celebrating just that — Linocut prints. Now, I have tried linocut printmaking on numerous occasions and it’s usually ended up with me accidentally gouging the cutting tool into my hand, me throwing the badly cut lino across the room or most commonly, both. It’s something that I could never seem to do, for those who don’t know; linocut is where you take a piece of linoleum and using a cutting tool, create a relief pattern which is then rolled with ink and printed like a large stamp, allowing for repeat pattern. Hard to master but when done properly the results are spectacular, like what was on display here by local Dutch (and one Canadian) artists. Each was unique in their style, exploring layering of colours and forms.

The rest of the city of Groningen was similar to other traditional cities I’ve been to such as Haarlem and Utrecht with its canals and old houses and buildings but still beautiful. As well as visiting culturally interesting museums, galleries and institutions, I love just aimlessly wandering around these new places, soaking up all that they have to offer and as a non-Dutch person it’s all new to me. Thanks to Alisa again for the free ticket!

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