Until 1st April/The Netherlands off the shelf/NAI/Rotterdam

Photographer Hans van der Meer depicts the Netherlands of today

What makes shopping streets and squares in our country so typically Dutch? How are they designed? To find out, photographer Hans van der Meer made a series of photos of town centres. He skipped large cities such as Amsterdam, The Hague and Eindhoven, preferring the shopping streets of Boskoop, Winschoten and Raalte. Why? Because the character of a country is most clearly visible in medium sized cities. What at first glance seems like an ordinary street, has often taken years of planning, multiple designs, debating and - also typically Dutch - seeking compromises. From January 22 until April 1, 2012, the photographs of Hans van der Meer are on show in the exhibition The Netherlands – Off the shelf in the NAi. A catalogue by the same name accompanies the exhibition.

A great deal has been built in the Netherlands in recent decades, particularly outside the major cities. In places like Heerhugowaard, Hellevoetsluis or Hoofddorp the population has in some cases increased tenfold. As a result, the country's appearance has changed dramatically; urban culture has slowly but surely been pushed into the country. Nowadays, a ciabatta with mozzarella and sundried tomatoes can be ordered just as easily in a small town like Nijverdal as in Utrecht.

Hans van der Meer’s photos show what is so unmistakably Dutch about the Netherlands. Over the years, the squares and streets have been repeatedly redesigned and rearranged, yet they remain familiar and at the same time interchangeable. Chain stores are popping up everywhere, just like street furniture and pavement signs. This is where regulations, coincidence and ambition coexist uneasily. The result is a fascinating compromise between different approaches and interests.

The furniture on the streets and squares can be ordered from a catalogue, on whose pages fashionable benches, tree grilles, street lamps, bicycle racks and rubbish bins are neatly displayed. Architects have never had such a wide range of paving stones and bricks to choose from. Behind this choice lies a desire for originality and identity: every city tries to distinguish itself with a different look. But the similarities between the designs, repeated in endless small variations, mean that everything starts to look the same again. This is the Netherlands off-the-shelf.

The Netherlands - Off the shelf has been co-produced by Paradox. The exhibition is designed by TomDavid Architecten, the graphic design by Kummer & Herrman.

To accompany the exhibition, YdocPublishing is releasing a Dutch/English publication under the same title. Photography by Hans van der Meer, texts by Hans van der Meer and Ole Bouman. Order The Netherlands - Off the shelf now via NAi Booksellers.

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