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Maarten Baas electrifies Utrecht Public Library's entrance in bold 3D and LED texts
Intellectual Heritage installed above the main entrance
Video: Courtesy of Maarten Noordijk

Maarten Baas electrifies Utrecht Public Library's entrance in bold 3D and LED texts

The large-scale installation, titled, 'Intellectual Heritage' is an intriguing take on public libraries, merging the physical and digital dimensions. 

by Maarten Baas
Published on : Mar 22, 2023

The Utrecht Public Library has commissioned internationally renowned Dutch artist Maarten Baas to create a large-scale installation, highlighting the entrance of the Central Library at Neude Square, Utrecht, The NetherlandsThe building was formerly the main post office on Neude Square and is one of Utrecht’s most iconic buildings, a nationally listed landmark housing the oldest public library in The Netherlands. It was completed in 1924, designed by architect Joseph Crouwel in the likeness of The Amsterdam School architectural style. Now, the installation, 'Intellectual Heritage,' stretches 9.5 x 8 meters across the entrance and is installed directly above the main door, around a stained-glass oval decoration. An unexpected and eccentric intersection of bold architectural 3D signage and LED text displays of different scales, mimics advertising messages and is illuminated 24/7 at different intensities, throughout the day. The installation displays words used in literature, culture and philosophy, establishing a shared frame of reference among the educated with a visual language that is used to deliver messages and is perceived largely as pop culture—a form of advertising.

“Is the installation pointing to the entrance of a casino in Las Vegas or to the portal of a cultural temple?” asks Baas, who is best known for surprising and intriguing the public. “All of my work is open to numerous interpretations, and the interpretations can be of contradictory nature.” At the core of 'Intellectual Heritage' is a willingness to make the library an inclusive space and an attractive resource for the younger generations, increasing their reach to attract the demographic. 

The dilemma between choosing references from high culture vs those from pop culture was played cleverly by Baas, who establishes an intersection of the two. The installation displays Latin words as slogans: Lectori Salutem (Greetings Reader), Scientia potentia est (Knowledge is power) mixed with names of famous authors, from Virginia Woolf to Kafka—one of Baas' favourite writers. He couldn’t resist quoting him, considering the complicated bureaucratic process that made the work possible. A few Dutch words also take the spotlight, these include—Literatuur (Literature), Poëzie (Poetry), and also Strip, a Dutch word for comic books, with a very different English meaning, alluding to the Las Vegas Strip or the neon lights of a strip bar.

Considering that Utrecht is a student city, Baas advocates for words such as "Study Study Study or Silence"—the two main activities for students. Yet, the expressive lettering promotes energy and noise, rather than concentration and silence. The three programmable LED displays have texts that will periodically change, showcasing the same twist between high and low culture. While one LED display is a very well-known poem from Utrecht, the second is a digital list of important authors and Nobel Prizes in Literature, while the third display popular songs and slogans from the city of Utrecht.

Baas’s practice often contains elements of disruption and unpredictability and his work can be provocative and controversial; but the provocation comes with a smile, a twist or an unexpected joke. Public libraries are valued as trusted spaces, open to all, but they also face many challenges to their resilience and sustainability, including the advances in technology which affect the way people want to connect to information and culture. Digital technology will continue to have a major impact on how we obtain and consume information, and people will expect even more interactive experiences, stretching outside of the building itself. Baas’s thought-provoking piece has the ability to extend the message of a public library outside of its own walls while addressing how the physical and digital dimensions of modern life merge into one another. The project is an expression of love and respect for the cultural function of a public library and for the city of Utrecht, aiming to energise the streetscape and instil a sense of positivity and pride in the local community.

Designed to be accessible and inclusive, the installation has something for everyone, including children, who are sure to recognise the familiar animated illustrations of their beloved character Nijntje (Miffy)—the iconic rabbit created by Utrecht artist Dick Bruna. From Sartre to Miffy, 'Intellectual Heritage' is exploring new models of communication, inviting a joyful and inclusive form of interaction and leading people to culture.

Milan Design Week 2023
Teaming up with fashion brand G-Star RAW, Maarten Baas makes a return to Milan Design Week with the exhibition "More or Less". Set within the grandiose surroundings of the 16th-century Church of San Paolo Converso, the exhibition is sure to catch visitors off guard. 

More or Less: Welcome to our everyday dilemma, our ongoing challenge to make more out of less. 
Address: Chiesa di San Paolo Converso, Piazza Sant'Eufemia, Milan 
Dates: 18—23 April 2023

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