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How artist Vincent Van Gogh became an attraction in China

Expo 2010 and friendship park venues

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

SHANGHAI/NANJING, China Among all the exhibits being shown at World Expo 2010 in Shanghai there is probably none as unusual as a dried blob of paint showcased at the futuristic and downright spectacular Happy Street, the Dutch pavilion. The tiny entry is far from a bizarre joke contributed by some garbage collector, but is actually considered to be a highly valuable public relations item, and is featured in China no doubt with the approval of all levels of Dutch officialdom at the Hague, at the Brabant capital of Den Bosch and at Eindhoven, the province's industrial powerhouse.

The Dutch blob of paint may well be the most original entry in the history of World Expo, which dates back to 1851 and has since been among the grandest venues of showcasing economic prowess and cultural trendsetting in the world.

This year World Expo boasts the participation of a total of 192 countries and 50 international organizations and hopes to attract about 70 million visitors. Happy Street with its lowly blob of paint along with visionary architecture and technology is counting on 7 million visitors.

Happy Street contains several small houses in which Dutch companies and institutions demonstrate areas in which they are world-renowned. Among them is the centuries-old Brabant village of Nuenen (still young by Chinese standards), which submitted the blob of paint, an archeological find, as a historic item for display. Those who recall that the village once was home to Brabant's most famous son, Vincent Van Gogh (sorry, Philips brothers) likely will have solved the blob of paint riddle by now.

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Vincent van Gogh, the Zundert, Brabant born artist, universally considered to be one of history's most important artists, created in his two short years that he lived in Nuenen, now an Eindhoven bedroom community, 192 canvases and many more drawings and prints now worth a fortune. It is not surprising at all that curious sleuths would dig around the painter's former home for traces of his craft, be it a paint holder, brushes or even discarded blobs of paint.

It is universally recognized that Van Gogh's work had an enormous influence on 19th and 20th century art. Since his Nuenen period (December 1883-November 1885) was a very productive period, the village, which has now about 23,000 residents, can very legitimately be proud of its Van Gogh connection. The painter also fostered that connection in a number of his canvases, for example, the De Groot family served as models in the Potato Eaters and in another painting, worshippers can be seen leaving the local Reformed church while the windmill De Roosdonck is part of the skyline in others. The town is capitalizing on its ties to the painter through its new Van Gogh Village Nuenen, to be dedicated this summer. By now, the link to Expo 2010 will very obvious, Vincent Van Gogh is Nuenen's and Brabant's famous Dutch son, its key to the Brabant link in Shanghai.

Expo 2010 is not the only Brabant promotion in China however. The southern Dutch province has promoted itself aggressively in Asia with an impressive list of Japanese and Korean manufacturers using the strategically located province as their gateway to the European market, while a number of them have acquired local industries or set up joint ventures. The Dutch international conglomerate Philips, which grew into a global giant from its Eindhoven, Brabant base, also set up a major factory in Nanking. This China connection blossomed into a twin city relationship between Eindhoven and Nanjing, where Eindhoven is currently building a friendship park to celebrate its ties with the city of 5 million.


The facility, which is called The Friendship Park, will consist of a Brabant garden and a number of characteristic Brabant buildings, including a traditional farmhouse (the so-called langgevelboerderij) with outbuildings and a chapel, a water mill (a replica of the Opwettense watermolen) and a windmill (a replica of the De Roosdonck). The windmill is certainly the largest in China and the water mill the first of its kind to be built in China. One of these buildings will serve as a meeting place for the Dutch and Chinese business communities, and a permanent exhibition will be modeled after Nuenen's soon to open Van Gogh Centre Vincentre.

It is obvious that the Eindhoven Friendship Park in Nanjing showcases Eindhoven and vicinity, Brabant as a province and will serve as a window on the Netherlands as a whole but it is remarkable how the legacy of Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh lives on and is emerging as an important figure in this international relationship.