Sonsbeek ‘66, 5th International Sculpture Exhibition. Arnhem, 27 May–25 September 1966
In 1965–6 Aldo van Eyck designed and realised a temporary pavilion for the fifth edition of the open air sculpture exhibition in Park Sonsbeek, organised by the city of Arnhem, a modest-sized town in the middle of the Netherlands. The pavilion was to house the smaller and more vulnerable sculpture works. Prior to Van Eyck, the avant-garde architect Gerrit Rietveld, famous for his elementary chair in De Stijl colours, had also designed a sculpture pavilion for the Sonsbeek exhibition in 1955.
By the early 1960s Van Eyck had established himself as one of the most creative, new talents with his highly original build- ing for the Municipal Orphanage in Amsterdam, which was finished in 1960. The low-rise structure of concrete domes and brick infill walls consisted of a serialist composition of smaller and bigger units aligned along two interior streets. For the Sonsbeek pavilion Van Eyck provided an equally elementary structure of six parallel walls made out of concrete blocks, which he manipulated into a surprisingly rich and labyrinthine interior by inserting semicircular niches and apses into the rectilinear structure. Van Eyck described the result as an urban space intentionally conceived in opposition to the natural idyll of the nineteenth-century park, which followed the formal language of the English landscape garden.
The walls and apses were materialised with a standard B2 concrete brick of a very rough texture. The joints were also treated in a crude direct way which contributes to a minimal- ist poetic sculptural effect. Walls and apses were about four meters high and positioned on a grid of 244 × 244 cm and offered cross-connections by plain door openings with concrete lintels. These were situated at incidental yet strategic moments in order to create diagonal views and shortcuts for the visitors to further explore the pavilion.
Sculptures were positioned on plinths made out of the same concrete masonry blocks as the pavilion walls. This created a sense of homogeneity rendering the architecture and its ‘inhabitants’ – the artworks – as one coherent installation or environment so to speak. A few plinths were left empty, as an invitation to visitors to take a seat themselves.
The scenography aimed to create the experience of an almost spontaneous encounter with the artworks on display. This was not only communicated through the spatial typology of streets, alleys and small piazzas, but it was also crucially achieved by a relatively high density of artworks gathered together in the narrow spaces which forced one to walk by the sculptures in close proximity. A drawing by Van Eyck shows room for up to 73 sculptures in and around the pavilion. Next to a range of contemporary works, among others by artist-friends of Van Eyck, such as Visser, Tajiri and Constant, there are also representatives of an older generation of avant-garde artists such as Arp, Noguchi and Giacometti. A special place was reserved for Brancusi: Sleeping Muse was encased in a transparent, circu- lar Perspex case set in a window in the concrete brick wall.
In 2006, the pavilion was reconstructed in the outdoor sculp- ture park of the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, just north of Arnhem. The roof was however materialised more durably. Whereas the historical pavilion had an improvised roof of translucent polyester sheets which acted as a velum protect- ing the interior spaces from direct sunlight, the contemporary version has a transparent covering fixed onto a galvanised steel structure.
Text Dirk van den Heuvel. First published in the catalogue accompanying the Art on Display exhibition.