Gemeentemuseum Den Haag is home to one of the finest collections of Jan Schoonhoven’s work. Since the 1950s it has amassed a balanced collection of reliefs, drawings and graphic work, and its latest acquisitions were made only recently. The works are frequently used in our programme of exhibitions and in our permanent ‘Discover the Modern’ exhibit. Major exhibitions of Jan Schoonhoven’s work took place in 1967, 1984 and 2009. This exhibition focuses on his work in series, and marks the publication of the catalogue raisonné of this element of Schoonhoven’s oeuvre.
The book – recently published in collaboration with the museum – lists all known works that Schoonhoven made in series, including lithographs, screenprints and his distinctive embossed prints, made using a technique that was particularly suited to the visual idiom of the reliefs for which he became famous.
The exhibition will include a series of five drawings that Jan Schoonhoven drew in ink on paper. Each one features a different pattern. Schoonhoven had the idea of making twenty of each drawing, giving a hundred in total, as if they had been made in series. This was not only a painstaking process, it also illustrates Schoonhoven’s conceptual approach to the idea of ‘works in series’. He eventually made 25 of them. In this sense, the drawings in the exhibition can be seen as a forerunner of the conceptual art that became increasingly prevalent in western art from the late 1960s.
Jan Schoonhoven became known in the 1960s as one of the leading members of the Nul Group. This was the Dutch branch of the international Group Zero – a movement that included like-minded artists in Germany, Italy, Belgium, France and Switzerland. Its Dutch members were Henk Peeters, Armando, Jan Hendrikse and Jan Schoonhoven. These artists sought to achieve an ‘objectively neutral depiction of reality’. They wanted to put an end to the mystification of the artist, producing an unadorned serial art that did not bear any personal signature. An art appropriate to the changing society of the 1960s. An art for a new generation.
During his lifetime Jan Schoonhoven frequently exhibited his work with like-minded artists from German, Italy and other countries. This kind of international collaboration was typical of the 1960s, when for the first time artists began exchanging ideas and exhibiting together on such a broad international scale. In 1964 they organised the now famous ‘Nul/ZERO’ exhibition at Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, at which the work of Jan Schoonhoven, Armando, Henk Peeters and Jan Hendrikse was shown alongside that of their German fellow artists and kindred spirits Heinz Mack, Otto Piene and Günther Uecker. The posters in the exhibition featuring screenprints and embossed prints are for some of the international exhibitions in which Jan Schoonhoven participated.
Jan Schoonhoven drew from a very young age, and later trained as an art teacher in The Hague. He did not however end up as a teacher, but spent his entire working life at the postal service. A secure income enabled him to remain independent as an artist, and perfectly suited this man with a great fondness for order and regularity. Once he had developed his own style in the 1960s, this order and regularity became the core of his work. The most distinctive feature of his work is his mastery of the art of omission. ‘You have to seek to achieve a minimum, but it never works anonymously.’ These words of Jan Schoonhoven’s are perhaps the most apt description of his artistic quest.
Embossed printing (also known as blind embossing) is a printing technique that does not use ink. A relief is created in a printing plate, which is then pressed into paper, creating a raised image in the paper. The image is visible thanks to the effect of shadows. This technique was perfect for the visual idiom of the reliefs for which Schoonhoven became famous in the mid-1960s. During Jan Schoonhoven – Work in Series a side gallery in the museum’s permanent ‘Discover the Modern’ exhibit will display several Jan Schoonhoven reliefs made from card and papier-mâché.