Sonsbeek 1971: Sonsbeek beyond the boundaries
Sonsbeek 1971: Sonsbeek beyond the boundaries was a radical departure from the tradition of its predecessors. Instead of sculpture, this time the focus was on international developments in the visual arts over the previous five years. It was also the first time that the exhibition had an overarching theme, in this case spatial relationships. Also for the first time, the artists had been invited to create an artwork based on their visit to Sonsbeek. Almost all of the artists visited the park, but some (including Robert Smithson) criticized its “artificial” nature. The working committee, led by curator Wim Beeren, then decided to let some artists choose, in consultation, for locations “beyond the boundaries” of Sonsbeek. This resulted in all sorts of projects and artworks throughout the Netherlands, in almost all of its twelve provinces.
The working committee also wanted to make visitors aware of the influence that (new) communication technologies, such as the telephone and the telex machine, were having on the perception of space, distance, and time. As a result, special communication centres were set up in Arnhem, Maastricht, Leiden, Rotterdam, Groningen, and Enschede, where everyone was given the opportunity to use these devices. The concept of Sonsbeek '71, which in the catalogue was described as an adventure and a dynamic manifestation, was both revolutionary and controversial. Not only visitors, but also art critics and even artists themselves criticized the spreading out of the artworks and the subsidization of “elite art”, a qualification that was circulated in the media. Sonsbeek '71 was meant to unite art and society, but instead it only made people more aware of the distance between the public and artists and art experts.