Unconventional Art Colours Rotterdam
Moments Contained, Thomas J Price - Iris van den Broek

Unconventional Art Colours Rotterdam

From giant feet and foxes to oilmen and Santa Claus: if nothing else, a lot of Rotterdam’s outdoor art makes you look up. It’s larger than life. It is so easy to take the artworks for granted, but take your time to admire them. They often tell an interesting story or convey a special message from an inspired creator. In recent decades, Rotterdam has generously given space to experimental works that often stand out because of their size, shape or subject matter. It suits the progressive city of Rotterdam: even the art ‘on the street’ is not just beautiful but also innovative, diverse, confrontational and provocative. What do the artworks tell us? We have selected twelve for you.

1. ‘Unveiling the Emotions Within’

Moments Contained by Thomas J. Price (2022)
The sculpture “Moments Contained” at Rotterdam Central Station is an impressive bronze sculpture of a fictional, anonymous young woman. With her confident posture and the knuckles of her clenched hands visible in her pockets, the statue suggests an inner tension that is not immediately apparent. Unlike traditional statues, she is not placed on a pedestal but stands directly on the ground, creating a direct connection with the surroundings and the spectators. The title “Moments Contained” refers to the containment of emotions, according to the artist Thomas J. Price. The artwork raises questions about who in society is deserving of being honored in the form of a monument. Public sculptures are often reserved for powerful men, but with this work, the artist aims to ignite a discussion about who deserves visibility and representation. He describes the depicted woman as stoic, resilient, and vulnerable, making her a complex and intriguing character.

2. ‘Erasmus is here’

Erasmus by Hendrick de Keyser (1622)
The oldest bronze statue in the Netherlands is in Rotterdam! Sculptor Hendrick de Keyser (1565-1621) designed this statue of Desiderius Erasmus based on painted portraits and drawings. Those portraits often show Erasmus dressed in a tabard with the characteristic bonnet on his head, reading with a serious look on his face. These elements can also be seen in the Rotterdam statue of the humanist. It was cast in 1622 and placed on the Grotemarkt. After surviving the bombing of the city, the statue was removed from its pedestal and hidden in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen during the war. Now Erasmus is back on display outside.

3. ‘Growth, one step at a time’

Everyone is Dead but Us by Ben Zegers (2020)
Everybody is Dead but Us is the not-so-encouraging title of the artwork unveiled at the intersection of the Binnenrotte and Hoogstraat in 2020. Rotterdam was founded here, and artist Ben Zegers (1962) created two giant aluminium feet to mark the spot. Why feet? They refer to the footsteps of the first inhabitants of Rotterdam and the position of the feet of Edgar Degas’ dancer from the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. The nimble feet suit the dynamics of the market and the city. And the title? It uniquely unites the present, past and future, with an appeal for change, together and now. Speaking of feet, if you walk a few metres further, you can see the artwork Horn of Plenty – measuring 11,000 square metres – on the inner façade of Rotterdam’s Markthal, created by artists Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam in collaboration with architecture firm MVRDV.

4. ‘That we may never forget’

The Destroyed City by Ossip Zadkine (1953)
The Destroyed City responds to one of the most important events in the city’s history: the bombing of 14 May 1940. French artist Ossip Zadkine (1888-1967) translated this into a dejected figure with a hole where the heart was: Rotterdam’s devastated city centre. The impressive four-metre-high sculpture and national monument depicts the emotion that many Rotterdammers must have felt seeing the destruction of Rotterdam after the war. It became one of the most famous war memorials in Western Europe and Zadkine’s lifework with its distinctive expression and cubist forms. It is a permanent reminder of something we will not and should not forget. The destruction of Rotterdam is commemorated here, at Plein 1940 at the Leuvehaven, every year for a reason.

5. ‘They stayed the course’

The Bow by Federico Carasso (1956)
As you cycle across the Erasmus Bridge from the south to the north side of the city, you will see a 46-metre-high aluminium bow towering over concrete waves at Boompjes. This is the war memorial The Bow, unveiled in 1956. Italian maker Federico Carasso (1899-1969) emerged as a sculptor in the Netherlands after fleeing the Mussolini regime. This sculpture, commissioned by the Herrijzend Rotterdam Foundation, is his best-known work. It commemorates 3,500 people on board Dutch merchant ships who lost their lives in World War II. In 1965, an eight-metre-high bronze sculpture group was added: a helmsman, three sailors and a drowned man. ‘They stayed the course,’ reads the text next to it.

6. ‘Naughty or nice’

Santa Claus by Paul McCarthy (2001)
It’s hard to miss the Santa Claus sculpture by Paul McCarthy (1945) on Eendrachtsplein in Rotterdam. It shows a Santa Claus holding a Christmas tree. His nickname is ‘Kabouter Buttplug’, which means buttplug gnome. The purchase of the sculpture caused quite a stir in 2003, which is exactly what McCarthy likes to do: social criticism with a twist. This XXL sculpture criticises consumer society. You can’t walk past it without seeing people sitting ‘on Santa’s lap’, posing for a photo. And so this indictment of consumer society became an unsolicited symbol of selfie culture.

7. ‘Slow down’

Cascade by Atelier Van Lieshout (2010)
Strange, liquid figures drip from the eighteen large, stacked oil drums on Coolsingel. Artwork Cascade – also known as ‘the dripper’ – is unmissable at eight metres high and was made by Atelier van Lieshout in polyester, the favourite material of frontman Joep van Lieshout (1963). With this work, Van Lieshout refers to both the Rotterdam port and to those climbing the career ladder and falling or being trampled on by others in the race to the top. A similar dark worldview can be seen in his long-running art project SlaveCity. Shaking things up and pushing the boundaries is what Van Lieshout likes to do. It resulted in high-profile designs and the opening of his own housing and cultural project Brutus, with Brutus Garden. The garden is always accessible free of charge and is in keeping with the Atelier’s vision: here, art is free and always available to everyone, like oxygen.

8. ‘Remember together, move on together’

Clave by Alex da Silva (2013)
Clave, the Rotterdam Slavery Monument, was unveiled on Rotterdam’s Lloydkade in 2013 – exactly 150 years after the official abolition of slavery in the Netherlands. The triangular trade between Rotterdam, Africa and the Caribbean was still central to this spot in the eighteenth century, and thousands of Rotterdammers today descend from the enslaved. Artist Alex da Silva (1974-2019) designed a monument in the form of a steel ship topped with dancing figures to mark this history. Some figures look to the past, while others, chain-free, look to the future. This work symbolises the connection between the shared past and the common future of all Rotterdammers. ‘Keti Koti’, the commemoration of the abolition of slavery, has been celebrated at the artwork every year on 1 July since its unveiling.

9. ‘Come in!’

L’Âge d’Or by Gavin Turk (2021)
British artist Gavin Turk (1967) likes to elevate the mundane into art, and so too with L’Âge d’Or. The artwork depicts a more than 3.5-metre-high open door made of green and red painted bronze. The door is open, welcoming – retroactively – the millions of travellers and emigrants who arrived or left via Rotterdam’s quays. The work stands directly opposite museum-in-progress FENIX, which also owns it. The spot could not be more appropriate: here, on the Wilhelmina Pier, millions of emigrants left for the other side of the world for a new life in the 19th and 20th centuries. L’Âge d’Or depicts their hopes, dreams and opportunities with its ever-open door. A door is a symbolic transition between two worlds: one old and one new. L’Âge d’Or is the sixth in a unique series of eight artworks in which all doors have a different colour, shape and handle.

10. ‘Foxes and rubbish belong here too’

Bospoldervos by Florentijn Hofman (2020)
Since May 2020, an enormous fox has been keeping watch in Bospolder-Tussendijken. At sixteen metres long and ten metres high, it cannot be missed, just like the large plastic bag in its mouth. This striking work by artist Florentijn Hofman (1977) shows the relationship between city and nature. The very name of the neighbourhood – a composition of forest, polder and dykes – testifies to this. The work came about in a period with increasing attention to the ‘intrusion’ of the fox into the city and the ban on plastic bags. The Bospoldervos or forest polder fox became an ode to both developments: more nature and fewer fluttering bags in the city. The work’s humour and dimensions are typical of Hofman.

11. ‘A stairway to transformation’

Parabola Blues by Madeleine Berkheimer (2021)
Prisoners once walked the stairs that are now the basis of the artwork Parabola Blues by Madeleine Berkhemer (1973-2019). The two stairs form a V on a concrete plinth, the golden threads between them representing the connection between the past and present of the place. Like the stairs themselves, their location was also transformed: the former prison on Noordsingel became the residential complex Tuin van Noord. After a call for artists to design something for the place, Berkheimer’s sketch emerged as the winner. It was developed and unveiled after her death.

12. ‘Cut off that braid!’

De vlecht by Kalliopi Lemos (2021)

If you walk along the Westersingel, you will suddenly be confronted by a brown braid, standing upright, more than six metres high. This steel sculpture was created by sculptor Kalliopi Lemos (1951), known for her large-scale public installations, and is part of the sculpture series Tools of Endearment. The cut braid depicts both change and liberation and is a gesture of female dissent. The sculpture was unveiled on 8 March 2021 on International Women’s Day. Together with Art Index, CBK Rotterdam simultaneously launched the DIY Women’s Art Walk, which passes artworks made by women. Download it here!

Out with a guide or exploring on your own?

How will you discover Rotterdam’s outdoor art? At your own pace with a coffee to-go? Then grab this extensive walking route with a map that leads you past 65 works. You can also pick it up at Rotterdam Tourist Information. The Rotterdam Routes app also has plenty of different and surprising walks. And the CBK – responsible for the sculptures in Rotterdam’s outdoor space – also made a great overview. If you want to see, explore and learn a lot without putting in too much effort yourself, let a guide show you around and tell you all about Rotterdam’s outdoor art and more.

Walking in Rotterdam

Walking in Rotterdam

Rotterdam is a lovely city to explore on foot. You can take in an abundance of sights on a short stroll or long city walk. The options are endless, and if you want, you can use an app, or a map or join an official guide who will show you all the highlights. There are plenty of interesting sights to discover. Wander through the beautiful streets or admire the many works of art in public spaces. If you head a little further away from the centre, you can venture through Historic Delfshaven, around the lake in Kralingse Bos, across Katendrecht or along the beach at Hoek van Holland. You can also opt for a city walk or tour with a guide.

Get inspired!