For a couple of weeks in 2017 I was in the Netherlands, neither a tourist nor just in town for meetings. I had the opportunity to switch offices, and work with colleagues there for a bit. I stayed in Den Haag, and walked, and took the trams and trains, and I picked up food from the corner shop. (But I didn’t cycle – I’m terrified of Dutch cyclists!)

Even though it was only a fortnight, it’s a distinctly different experience compared to just visiting, whether for business or leisure. You ‘settle in’, and quickly establish routines. You’re not trying to maximise your time there. You’re just living there. And that means you also notice and appreciate different things. 

Public Art in Den Haag

Sofa-inspired public art bench featuring the city skyline in The Hague, Netherlands, placed next to a canal

I liked Den Haag. I liked it better than Amsterdam, actually. It’s slower and steadier, and I feel like there’s less pressure to be edgy and cool. You could relax into Den Haag. 

But that does not mean that there isn’t culture in Den Haag. There are still many excellent museums there, and good architecture. And there’s art all over the city streets. 

Street art – but not graffiti art

When I say ‘Dutch street art’, I don’t mean graffiti art.

I kind of automatically think of graffiti art now, when I hear the term ‘street art’. The booming popularity of the latter form is such that I forget that cities did have public art in the streets previously, even exhibitions. 

But, when my colleague took me around the city as a sort of induction, I was reminded of it. I found myself appreciating just how much of it there was in the Hague.

It’s on the public benches and in the front of shops. It’s overhead on the main shopping street and sometimes underfoot on the pavements. And sometimes, it’s literally hanging over your head in the form of iron roses. 

Decorative street downlight in the shape of massive metal roses hanging over a laneway in The Hague, Netherlands
Since there’s such a thing as ‘Dutch engineering’… I’m sure the cables are good. It’ll be all right! 

Dutch street art in the Hague

The most accessible public art in the Hague is along the shopping street Grote Marktstraat. Lining the pedestrian streets are numerous art installations, very diverse. 

I wandered back there one night after dinner, and took photos of a couple of them under the street lights. I half-wanted to take a picture of the entire exhibition – but I was still way too self-conscious for that! 

Another interesting thing is that the street itself is artistically designed. It’s supposed to be inspired by the ballroom, and the laces that ladies would wear to ballroom dances.

So the street lighting are strung out over the pavement like some kind of re-interpreted chandeliers, and the benches along this street have curves and perforations that’s supposed to be ‘lace’. 

The Hague Celebrates the Mondrian Centennial

I was lucky to visit the Netherlands that year. There was a special form of Dutch street art on display. The reason is that 2017 was the 100th anniversary of the Dutch design movement, De Stijl. Its most influential designer was Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. 

Despite not being into the art & design world, without being told, I noticed something was happening in the Hague related to Mondrian, simply because a reclaimed furniture brand that I like had earlier come up with a Mondrian-inspired collection, and I saw the style all over the city. I asked around, and found out about the centennial. 

The cool thing about this, and what I think makes it the most public of public arts, is that the entire city was in! Buildings sported the primary colour blocks in windows and facades – not just the usual suspects of museums or retail stores, but even thoroughly conservative buildings such as banks and the most boring of regulatory institutions.

Not just these either, but even private homes and right out onto the very lake next to the Binnenhof, the Dutch parliament. 

Not just buildings, but also elevators and ticket kiosks and construction site hoarding and even a piano inside the train station! 

(What’s that? Who plays on the piano? Well, as far as I can tell, anyone… I’ve not heard a bad player, though!)

The Underground Archaeological Exhibit – Underfoot

While not quite ‘art’, there’s another public exhibit in the Grote Marktstraat area that’s pretty cool. I wouldn’t have known about it if my colleague had not mentioned it. 

It’s underground, within the train station. On one of the train platforms are three sunken circles. Within are displayed relics from Den Haag’s past, unearthed during the excavation works for the train station.

Train platform of Grote Markt, with the flooring depicting a historical map of The Hague, and sunken displays of archaeological artifacts from the location

Apparently, they put the construction schedule on hold so that archaeologists could properly dig out the materials, and thereby get a better understanding of their history. They decided to leave some of them right where they were discovered, as a public exhibit. The platform itself was patterned to display an old map of Den Haag. 

I admit to feeling a wave of envy to see clear evidence of a people who appreciate their roots, and do something so that future generations also have a sense of rootedness to their nation.

I can’t imagine a multi-million ringgit project be intentionally delayed in Malaysia, so that the people won’t lose a piece of their re-discovered history. More likely, known pieces of history would be demolished to make way for flashy skyscrapers and shopping malls.

But there in the underground station I bore witness to what really makes an independent, developed country. Underneath the technology and modern design, you still know who you are. 

Carbon offset information to the Netherlands

A return flight between Kuala Lumpur and Amsterdam produces carbon emissions of approximately 8,224 lbs CO2e. It costs about $41 to offset this. 

Looking for Mondrian at the Hague now? Check out Gemeentemuseum for the Mondrian collection! Going to other attractions on the same day, for example the Escher museum? Take advantage of ticket discounts available at the ticket counters of any of the participating attractions!

Like this article? Share! Does your city value its history and arts?  

2 Responses

  1. Great tips. Keeping this for my next visit. Thanks for sharing.

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