Sicco Mansholt. A Good European was on show from 31 August to 9 November 2014 in Het Nieuwe Instituut. Throughout the exhibition, the viewer could observe the changing of the countryside and the evolution of landscape design in the Netherlands. The exhibition also looked at contemporary issues around food through the lens of Mansholt’s life.
Immediately after the Second World War, farmer and social democrat Sicco Mansholt is appointed Dutch Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Netherlands lay in ruins and is suffering a severe food shortage. Vowing to prevent another famine, Mansholt devises a policy that leads to an unprecedented expansion of agriculture. A landscape of small farms gives way to an efficient production machine that relies on rationalisation, mechanization and public information campaigns – the instruments of modern management. During his 14 years as minister, Mansholt lays the foundations of one of the world’s most innovative, productive agricultural sectors.
Mansholt’s ideal is to feed the world. And that means addressing the growing gap between rich and poor. Thus, Mansholt becomes one of the founders of Dutch development aid. He believes Europe-wide cooperation is a necessary condition for securing the global food supply. As the EEC’s first agriculture commissioner, he succeeds in implementing a common agricultural policy, which he sees as the engine of European integration. For Mansholt, Europe is first and foremost a political project with which he makes his mark as a key architect of today’s European Union.
Assault on the natural world
But the success also has a downside, which becomes painfully apparent when food surpluses begin to appear in the 1960s. Scarcity has been replaced by obscene excess. Mansholt is the first person to recognise this, and he attempts to correct it, but does so in vain. He realises his policy is not equipped to respond to new problems in society. The gap between rich and poor has only increased. Moreover, a ruinous assault has been inflicted on the natural world. Inspired by the recommendations of the Club of Rome, he argues for reforms that are at odds with the dogma of expansion. To this day, the global food debate is dominated by the conflict between advocates of small- and large-scale farming.
Evolution of landscape design
Sicco Mansholt. A Good European charts the influential politician’s rise, fall and radical change of heart in five spatial installations. Four prominent people explain how Mansholt’s actions relate to contemporary food issues. A series of informational films shows how his ideas took hold in Dutch society. In more recent footage, eyewitnesses remember the modernisation of the countryside. Throughout the exhibition, the viewer can trace the changes in the landscape and the evolution of landscape design in the Netherlands.
In three videos, curator Marten Kuijper tells the story of the exhibition Sicco Mansholt. A Good European. Studio PolyLester has interpreted Mansholt’s story for Het Nieuwe Instituut in an installation made up of five scenes paralleling the five acts of the classic tragedy. Through the use of informational films and historical and contemporary footage of people who witnessed the modernisation of the Dutch landscape, it shows how Mansholt’s ideas took root.
Sicco Mansholt: A Good European succeeded the exhibition Mansholt: Landscape in Perspective, which took place at Bureau Europa in Maastricht in early 2014. While the show at Bureau Europa focused on Mansholt’s policy, this one concentrates on his political and social biography.