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Sonsbeek 2008: Grandeur

In 2008, the art critic and curator Anna Tilroe was in charge as the artistic director of the tenth edition of Sonsbeek. The premise this time was not “a focus on the location through the eyes of the art”, the motto of Sonsbeek 9, but instead it was about the position of art in modern Western societies. According to Tilroe, a kind of depression had been taking place. With the theme of grandeur, or “human striving for greatness”, an attempt was made to put art in a different light.

According to Tilroe, the current age, namely the start of the 21st century, was characterized by global shifts in the field of politics and the economy, but also in terms of the climate and communications. As humans, we were now primarily consumers. Art had also changed, and was increasingly being influenced by the market. Tilroe saw major differences here compared to the art of the 20th century, which mainly focused on the superhuman and the unknown. At the time of Sonsbeek 2008: Grandeur, an artwork was no longer able to inspire fear; there were “no more optimistic visions,” as she put it in the Sonsbeek 2008 exhibition catalogue.

Despite the reduced optimism, or idealism, people’s desire for greatness still remained, and people were still always trying to transcend themselves. It was up to artists to revive this deepest of desires in the viewer. In a certain sense, Tilroe even saw this as their social responsibility, and gave the arts an important role in this process. This was reminiscent of the lost avant-garde ideal of uniting art with society. This unification was not unthinkable: for the opening of Sonsbeek 2008, there was a procession involving nearly a thousand people. The artworks (or parts of them) were literally and figuratively carried through the streets of Arnhem by people who had grouped together in guilds. The procession was a big success, and is still etched into the memory of many Arnhem residents. Afterwards, the 28 artworks, most of which were installations, were placed in the familiar Park Sonsbeek.

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