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Marcel Wanders Expands into Publishing

Wanders may not seem like the most political of designers but his new book, "Amsterdam Creative Capital" discretely contributes to the nasty debate about the role of foreigners in Holland.  It is a lively celebration of all the creativity - local and "foreign" that Amsterdam has bred since its earliest days.

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 10-12-2009

“I love my family,” Marcel Wanders announced to a large gathering at last week’s launch of his new book  “Amsterdam Creative Capital”.  By family he means that group of creative people from all over the world who have influenced and inspired him and who he in turn has influenced and inspired.

It’s a feeling that he has been so overwhelmed by that he decided to hone in on the dynamic creativity that has always flourished in the city that has supported and nourished his own impressive career.  

“Amsterdam Creative Capital” celebrates the current vibe, as well as the historical and contemporary creativity that has fed this city.  On a political level, it feels like this book was created to reinforce the idea that creativity doesn’t just happen, but is the result of an attitude and an interdependence between disciplines, industry and government.  

“Amsterdam is a very special place,” Wanders says.  “It has always welcomed people with different ideas and from different locations.  It’s always been about tolerance and acceptance.”

Wanders then went on to talk about the crazy times we live in.  While never explicitly mentioning any of the extremist views being spouted by the right, he alluded to the widespread need for the government and the public to remember just what sort of policies existed to allow some of the extraordinary feats celebrated in the book to be realized.

He talked about how the past creates the now, which in turn shapes the future. “What we do now will keep feeding the future,” he says.  “I think too many people today have forgotten about the past, that we don’t just hold our daughters but our mothers too.  This is one of the reasons I wanted this book.”

The opening double page spread honors Dutch dance with follow up references to renowned choreographers Jiri Kylian and Hans van Manen. “The Dutch dance tradition dates back to 1939 when the Jewish-Russian Sonia Gaskell settled in Amsterdam to set up a dance academy,” the description reads. There was no dance tradition before the arrival of the much celebrated Gaskell.

What follows is no divvying up between Dutch-born or immigrant status success stories, or between different types of creativity.  The World Press Photo, Rembrandt, the first stock exchange, Erwin Olaf, Jan Jansen sit alongside Marlene Dumas, Carolus Linnaeus, and Spinoza.  It's a discreet way to contribute to what has become a fiery and nasty domestic debate.  “I think it is really important to remember that we need our society to grow and we can be a part of how that happens,” Wanders says.

The tradition of Dutch tolerance started back in the 16th century, the book notes, and led to an influx of not only "traders and good-fortune seekers” who gave the city it’s wealth and it’s famous 17th century string of canals, but also great Europeans looking for the freedom of speech that would make publication of their books possible, like philosophers Descartes in the 17th, and John Locke in the 18th century. In more recent times the family of Anne Frank found refuge in Amsterdam after Hitler took power in Germany.

The book embraces a very broad interpretation of what creativity is.  It’s not just about design but literature, science, engineering, philosophy and business.  “Creativity is more then just painting and sculpture,” Wanders says.  “I see it in a larger way as simply those people who think about things that were not possible before – who think the unthinkable and I love that.”

“Amsterdam Creative Capital” took two years to research.  The process turned into an investigative adventure that led the team around the world.  “The first financial crisis, the first nudity on national TV, the first war reporter…I like the big things, but also the details,” says Wanders.  “We are very excited by this book.”

At the end of his presentation, Wanders announced that he is opening a new museum to be called “The House of Amsterdam” which will have a permanent as well as rotating exhibitions based on the book and Amsterdam’s broader creative history.  It will open in mid 2010.

Images: main book cover, EG/PC performing at the book launch, the book's Hans Van Manen spread.

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