aaa festival

Zeitgeist 1933
23 Sep 2011

Location: Spiegelzaal, Concertgebouw Amsterdam
Language: Dutch and English
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The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam is proud to be a partner in the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra's (Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest) AAA, a contemporary, interdisciplinary music series. On Friday afternoon, these two institutions present the event "Confrontations: Music, Visual Arts, Debate." For the full program of the first edition of AAA 2011-2012, and its theme of Zeitgeist 1933, see

Linking the concept of zeitgeist to a specific year is a rather artificial action. It's all but impossible to do, given that zeitgeist by definition refers to a period that cannot be clearly defined. Nevertheless, the AAA series chose the year 1933 because it immediately reveals the focus of the series: the emergence of National Socialism in Germany.

In 1933, after a long prelude, Adolf Hitler became the chancellor of a country with more than 6.2 million unemployed people as of January 30. The brown shirts of the paramilitary organization Sturmabteilung, or SA, which had been prohibited just a year before, started their arbitrary reign of terror, and was astonishingly supported by the government. In his book, 1933, Philip Metcalfe gives an unnerving picture of this first year of the new regime. He shows how the daughter of the American ambassador was unable to resist the zeitgeist and felt "at one with the tens of thousands of people in Germany who saw a new world rising up in front of them and were overjoyed to be able to be part of this." From voluntary work camps to the start of the construction of the autobahns, people rolled up their sleeves with renewed vigor. For the ambassador's daughter, it was not a problem to simply dismiss the terror as being "regrettable," for discord in the large symphony of a national rebirth could be ignored. Zeitgeist can blind people.

So what does the concept of zeitgeist entail and how is it determined? Is it really possible to see links between the current resurrection of populism and the aggressive optimism of the 1930s, as Rob Riemen maintains in his book De eeuwige terugkeer van het fascisme (The Eternal Return of Fascism)? What does the zeitgeist mean for the arts, then and now? Together with the Stedelijk Museum, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is organizing the Friday afternoon program, Confrontations. Participants include artist Sara van der Heide, who will speak and show her work. Since the current coalition cabinet, led by Mark Rutte, was installed on October 14, 2010, van der Heide has painted a Dutch cabinet every day as an act of rebellion. Other guests include Ann Demeester, the director of the Appel art centre and composer Detlev Glanert, whose composition Theatrum bestiarum is a dark and wild examination of "dangerous dreams and desires with an unpleasant aftertaste." Here, the beast in man is presented, in this case as a complaint about a different totalitarian system, the Soviet dictatorship.