Sicco Mansholt was a farmer and social democrat who became an influential Dutch postwar agricultural minister. After 14 years as minister, Mansholt became the EEG’s first agricultural commissioner. In that role, he functioned as one of the architects of today’s European Union. Mansholt’s policy powerfully affected the economic position of farmers, the unification of Europe, and the design of the Dutch landscape. The installation for the exhibition as designed by Studio PolyLester, tracks the rise, fall and radical change of heart of this emblematic figure of European agricultural politics.
Stamping out famine
The story begins in the village of Ulrum, in the province of Groningen, where Sicco Mansholt (1908–1995) grew up in a politically active farm family. After the Second World War, in which he organised clandestine food distributions for the Resistance, Mansholt was appointed Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The situation in the Netherlands was dire: the country lay in ruins and was suffering a severe food shortage. Vowing to prevent another famine, Mansholt devised an agricultural policy to boost productivity. He also sought to improve conditions for farmers. His efforts led to the mechanisation, rationalisation and unprecedented upscaling of Dutch – and later, European – agriculture. Scarcity made way for abundance.
Modern farming and the landscape
The modernisation of agriculture and the increase in scale it necessitated had visible effects on the landscape. Driven by Mansholt’s policy, a countryside dotted with small farms turned into an efficient production machine. Hundreds of informational films were deployed to explain the necessity of modernisation to the rural population. The Netherlands became a model of agricultural innovation for the rest of the world.
A change of heart
The success of Mansholt’s policy had a downside: massive growth went unchecked. In the 1960s, food surpluses began occurring. To rein in the situation, Mansholt argued for drastic reforms, but his plans met with heavy criticism, and opposition spread across Europe. The personal attacks became too much for him. He temporarily withdrew from the public eye and came back after experiencing a change of heart. He admitted that his policy had failed and that a devastating assault had been inflicted on the natural world. Inspired by the Club of Rome’s report The Limits to Growth, Mansholt became a radical environmental lobbyist in his later years.
Sicco Mansholt: A Good European
Studio PolyLester has interpreted Mansholt’s story for Het Nieuwe Instituut in an installation made up of five scenes paralleling the five acts of the classic tragedy. Through the use of informational films and historical and contemporary footage of people who witnessed the modernisation of the Dutch landscape, it shows how Mansholt’s ideas took root. Throughout the installation, the viewer can observe the changing of the countryside and the evolution of landscape design in the Netherlands. The exhibition also looks at contemporary issues around food through the lens of Mansholt’s life.
In conjunction with the exhibition Sicco Mansholt: A Good European, Het Nieuwe Instituut will hold a series of talks, discussions and film screenings. The movie Overstag by Louis van Gasteren will be shown on Sunday 21 September.
Sicco Mansholt: A Good European is curated by Marten Kuijpers and succeeds the exhibition Mansholt: Landscape in Perspective, which took place at Bureau Europa in Maastricht in early 2014. While the show at Bureau Europa focused on Mansholt’s policy, this one concentrates on his political and social biography.
Het Nieuwe Instituut
Tuesday — Saturday
10.00 — 17.00
Sundays and national holidays
11.00 — 17.00