The return of the sculpture on Dudok’s Bijenkorf to the Coolsingel
For almost twenty years now, Rotterdam art lovers have been trying to bring the sculpture by Hendrik van den Eijnde, the only remnant of the old Bijenkorf department store by architect W.M Dudok, back to the place where it belongs: the Coolsingel. The omens are favourable: it may happen soon.
As early as 2005, Aad Koster, board member of the Roterodamum Historical Society, raised the alarm: the Bijenkorf sculpture had been wasting away for decades on a business park in Woerden. There, at the Bijenkorf’s distribution center, the artwork was placed in 1973.
The sculpture is often referred to as the “gevelsteen” (plaque) but that’s not entirely correct because the artwork was not embedded in the facade, but balanced on a concrete beam that protruded from the corner of the building.
The official name of the stone is De Werkende Mens (The Working Man). On one side, van den Eijnde made a procession of craftsmen, led by a musician with a guitar-like instrument. On the other side, modern means of transport can be seen: airplanes, boats, trains. And on the head, in bold Art Deco letters, is the name of the store: De Bijenkorf.
The ravages of time
The robust artwork is in good condition for its age. Some moss grows here and there and there is a single sooty smear that may be traced back to the fire after the bombing on May 14, 1940. But I like it when you can read the ravages of time on an object.
Back to Rotterdam
Wouldn’t that sculpture by van den Eijnde look much better on the Coolsingel? Preferably in the original location, as a reminder of Dudok’s regretted monument? Some Rotterdammers became very enthusiastic about that idea. Others mainly saw bumps in the road: cables and pipes, financing, weak soil.
And one connoisseur claimed that the sculpture does not represent great artistic value and is not the artist’s best work. Well, it remains subjective and it’s not quite my field of expertise, but I think it’s a cool object with an overwhelming 1930s look.
But of course much more important is the emotional value of the work. This sculpture is the only physical remnant of a legendary building. The brutal demolition in 1960 was a historic mistake because if the Bijenkorf had still been there, it would have been Rotterdam’s second contribution to the Unesco World Heritage List, next to the Van Nelle factory. I dare to make that claim. For that reason alone, the sculpture deserves a place on the Coolsingel.
For a long time it was mainly artists who kept the memory of Dudok’s Bijenkorf alive. Colleague photographer Jan Sluijter, for example, who built an extensive collection of photos of the building, or film-maker Peter Veenendaal who made the beautiful documentary City of Light. And don’t forget yours truly: the artist impressions I made clearly show the position of the sculpture at the time.
On May 20, 2015 I was interviewed about the artwork by the magazine 010NU of Open Rotterdam TV. I showed the place, next to the pavilions with the McDonalds and the tourist information, where the old Bijenkorf once stood.
Politician Bart-Joost van Rij of the Leefbaar Rotterdam party, also in the broadcast, was not immediately convinced. He argued in favor of finding a place in the future Forum building. But, as we know, that never came into being. At least not as the iconic cube that was envisioned at the time. And next to the cash register at the Primark, that’s not really the ideal place for such a sculpture.
Slowly the plan for the repatriation of the artwork gained more and more support. Local media, like RTV Rijnmond and Algemeen Dagblad, picked up the story. Co Engberts, of the Rotterdam PvdA faction, asked questions in the city council. And the Bijenkorf itself, owner of the stone, also gave its blessing.
On February 8, 2018, I was interviewed by local TV station RTV Rijnmond, together with fellow supporters Jan Sluijter and Co Engberts. The place of performance was, of course, the location of the sculpture at the time in Woerden . We were introduced as activists; well, of course we are.
On February 22, 2018, the Rotterdam city council voted on a motion about the Bijenkorf sculpture, submitted by the PvdA faction, with the support of Leefbaar Rotterdam, D’66 and the SP. The motion instructs the municipality to cooperate fully with the relocation of the monumental work to the Coolsingel. And it was passed unanimously.
Meanwhile, on the Coolsingel, hard work was being done on the refurbishment of Rotterdam’s main boulevard, to a design by Adriaan Geuze and his bureau West 8. His main intervention was to reduce the number of lanes for cars from four to two, which were positioned east of the tram tracks. This created space on the west side for a nice wide cycle path and an esplanade for pedestrians. And for works of art such as Van den Eijnde’s sculpture, exactly where it has been until 1960.
It became clear, however, that this space was not unlimited when a team from the municipality, led by urban planner Monique Marijnissen, set out to determine the final location. The esplanade is fool of trees, lampposts, bicycle racks and planters. Underground are the aforementioned cables and pipes and let’s not forget the Beurs metro station. In addition, a route must be kept clear for emergency services at all times.
Still, that search led to a beautiful spot. Not quite exactly at the old location but about 35 meters to the north. Seen from the moon, that distance is not noticeable. The intention is for the stone to be placed in the same orientation as it was at the time: at an angle to the current Coolsingel. A silent witness to the fact that the city map has changed radically: before the war, the Coolsingel bent to the right here to connect with Schiedamsvest.
Restoration specialists Meesters-In in Ameide made a plan for the restoration and relocation. Designer Jan Konings devised a pedestal on which the stone comes into its own perfectly. And I made an image that was presented to the world on January 21, 2022 through the broadcast of TV Rijnmond below. In this item, Luuk de Boer of Roterodamum tells about the crowdfunding campaign that was completed with a positive result a few months later.
In Ameide, work on the restoration has started. This summer the pedestal will be made on which the pieces of the artwork will be assembled. The official inauguration is planned for Open Monuments Day, September 9. I predict a high new entry in the Rotterdam Public Sculpture top 10.
Furthermore, I have the opinion that Dudok’s Bijenkorf should be rebuilt in its entirety. But that’s the next chapter.