Cities own at least 42,000 artworks hidden from the public

St. Praxedis painting

Dutch municipalities have tens of thousands of artworks from the time of the Visual Artists Regulation in their possession, almost 30 years after the regulation was abolished. At least 42 thousand artworks are currently stored in attics, cellars and depots and are therefore invisible to the public.

This is according to a survey done by Nieuwsuur in which 193 of 391 municipalities participated, NOS reports. During the VAR period, from 1956 to 1987, municipalities received almost 300 thousand art works. More than 55 thousand artworks are still owned by the municipalities, the bulk of which is hidden from the public. "The works sometimes hang in drafty attics or damp basement. It is high time that municipalities do something about that stock. Either bring it to the people again, or in extreme cases, get rid of it", said Rik Vos, former administration of the national VAR collection.

The VAR regulation was introduced in 1956. It was intended to give artists a chance at an independent social existence. An artist could hand a work to a municipal committee, who reviewed it and gave the artist an amount of money in exchange. Some of the work went to the Royal Collection, the rest was managed by the municipalities. The success of the scheme was also its eventual downfall. More and more artists took advantage of it. Which lead to thousands of artworks, not always of good quality, piling up in warehouses. Many municipalities now regard their VAR collection as a difficult inheritance of past policies.

Rotterdam has the largest stockpile of VAR works in storage - as many as 15 thousand pieces - with Groningen coming in second place with 14 thousand pieces. "As a major city Rotterdam automatically accumulated a large stock of VAR works", Ove Lucas, director of the Center for Visual arts in Rotterdam and responsible for the 15 thousand works, told NOS. "The cleanup must be done carefully, because you're dealing with copyright. With the part we want to get rid of, we must consider who the artists were and invite them. That's pretty labor-intensive work."

Many municipalities are currently hard at work sorting out their VAR collections, NOS reports. Alkmaar has gotten rid of all 2,500 of its works by giving them back or destroying them over the past few years. Some of the 9 thousand works in Eindhoven are on loan. Amsterdam offered the works on the so-called HPD - a relocation database where institution that manage collections can show their interest.