"Untitled" - A sculpture by André Volten at Waterlooplein
MA Curating Art and Cultures
MA Museum Studies
MSc. Conservation & Restoration of Cultural Heritage - Photography
The Artwork on Waterlooplein
Our case study was the public artwork Untitled by Dutch artist André Volten (1925-2002), situated in front of the Town Hall/Stopera at Waterlooplein since 1986. Our client, Stichting André Volten had come to us as a public water tap had been installed in 2006 right alongside the artwork, disrupting the visual flow of the piece. Our initial research question proposed by the stakeholder was ‘What is needed in terms of agreements to have the water tap removed from the current location, so that André Volten’s symmetrical geometrical abstract artwork regains its harmony with the architectural surroundings again?’.
By going through the Design Thinking process, and taking a holistic approach to the situation, we realised that the first step in resolving the client’s problem, was to increase recognition of the artwork and the artist’s intentions. As such we redefined our research question to ‘How might we get recognition of the status of the work as public art for visitors of Waterlooplein so that André Volten’s original intention for public engagement with the work can be realised?’.
We then produced and tested a prototype and compiled a list of further recommendations for our client to take in the next steps towards resolving the issue.
Using The Design Thinking Method
To answer the research question, we approached the case by using the Design Thinking Method:
About the Artwork
Untitled by André Volten is placed in front of the Stopera, at Waterlooplein. The work consists of 48 segments of pink granite, which form a circle. The granite is imported from Portugal and chosen specifically to blend in with the stones on the streets of Amsterdam. In addition, the material is sustainable in the long run and difficult to damage. The work was made in response to an open call from the municipality to accompany the new building on the square, which houses the opera theatre and the town hall. Volten’s submission was selected from 24 others and realised in situ.
Volten’s work uses elementary forms, such as the circle, cube and cylinder. They are common forms, and Volten argues that due to this, his work is accepted by everyone. The used shapes are simple and not symbolic. Rather, they refer to the spatial environment in which they are placed. Volten’s work does not disturb the space but rather takes part in the already established infrastructure. The simplicity of Volten’s work strongly relates to British minimal art, which spread to the Netherlands in the 1960s.
Half of the circle, placed near the Stopera, is sunk half a meter below the street level, while the other half rises above on the side of the Amstel. The diameter of the inner circle measures 15 metres. Due to the tilt in the work, it is not simply a circle, but rather an ellipse. Volten intended to keep his work for the square as flat as possible and he stated in a newspaper article (Open cirkel van roze graniet: een veilig rustpunt op het plein) in Het Parool in the year of construction, 1986, that “The more horizontal you keep it, the bigger the square looks. And the prettier.”
Volten stated that the square was busy, for instance due to weddings, workers, visitors of the opera and important foreign guests. This is why Volten intended to create this work for pedestrians, as a safe circle that could be used as a type of arena. This arena, he envisioned, could be used for public theatre, offering petitions to the municipality, but also as a meeting point.
On the intention behind the work, Volten stated in the previously mentioned newspaper article in Het Parool that:
“It is meant more as an offering, a possibility for diverse usage [...]
Hopefully you can see that that circle is placed with desperation and hope.
The hope that Amsterdammers and the visitors of our city will experience this happening as an inviting gesture: that they are welcome to experience some of our city and are encouraged to actively participate in it.
The fact that the ring slopes away is not only intended to add tension, but also has to do with inviting considerations.
There is no need to climb over it, you can descend into it.”
He chose this specific place for the work because he believed big building complexes like the Stadhuis/Stopera should have a square in front of them. The form he chose because of its simplicity and its strong shape. While some wanted water and a fountain at the square, Volten believed the Amstel already provided plenty of water in the area and valued silence and space instead. He emphasized he wanted it to be a silent place, with enough room for happenings to emerge.
Product and Intervention
To increase the recognition of the sculpture as an artwork we decided further information about the work and the artist’s intentions were needed to be visible in the public space. We propose that the municipality should install a plaque about the work, Volten and the context for the sculpture’s installation.
Based on this we developed three different versions of possible plaques and created a testable prototype in the form of an online survey. The survey was used both in on-site interviews, as well as spread digitally to our personal networks, Stichting André Volten, as well as the Placemaking for Conservation network. In this way, a diverse audience was invited to participate and express their opinion regarding engagement with the work.
The results from the survey are to be used for further development of the actual plaque. To initiate this process, we have established contact with the responsible parties within the municipality of Amsterdam, to whom the plaque request has been presented.
Further Actions & Recommendations
Change the image of the artwork on the municipality website → Image has been approved by Stichting Ateliér Volten and forwarded to the responsible contact within the municipality.
Atelier Volten should add a pin onto google maps for the artwork.
Continuation of communications with the relevant persons at the municipality. We have provided a list of contacts and their roles in our report to help untangle the confusion about who is responsible for resolving the issue.
The installing of the new plaque could provide a great opportunity for a “rebirth” of the sculpture , perhaps staging some form of public event that would revitalise interest in the work, make it known to locals and visitors of the square as well as boosting participatory engagement with the work, paying homage to Volten’s artistic intentions. Feedback from members of the public also confirmed that such an intervention could be a nice way to engage with the work.
Photos used on this site: Photo 1: "Untitled". Credits: Hans van den Bogaard. Photo 2: "Untitled", 2023. Credits: Authors own. Photo 3: The interior of André Voltens atelier, at Atélier Volten, Amsterdam. Credits: Authors own. Photo 4: Portrait of André Volten. Credits: Stichting André Volten. Photo 5: Screenshot of approved pin on Google maps for the sculpture, "Untitled". Credits: Authors own.
We would like to express our gratitude to our client, stakeholder and spokesperson for The Stichting Atelier Volten Gertrude Hooykaas for working with us on this project.
We also want to thank the volunteers at Stichting Atelier Volten and to Frits Prior for providing us with his valuable knowledge and archival research on André Volten and his work.
Finally, we would like to thank our supervisor and lecturer Sanneke Stigter for providing this course, as well as teaching assistant Mayim Frieden for providing positive, constructive feedback during the working process.