Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Claire Bishop

Committee Members

Romy Golan

Mona Hadler

Jan van Adrichem

Subject Categories

Contemporary Art | Cultural History | European History | European Languages and Societies | Modern Art and Architecture


Humor, Amsterdam, Ludic art, Play, Huizinga, Homo Ludens


This dissertation, the first extended study on art in the Netherlands in the 1960s and ‘70s, investigates the phenomenon of ludic art, taking its lead from Johan Huizinga’s definition of ‘ludic’ in his seminal Homo Ludens (1938). According to Huizinga, the ludic is characterized by masquerade, freedom, and purposelessness, to which I add my own theoretical contribution—absurdity. I argue that the key instantiation of Huizinga’s ideas is found in the utopian project New Babylon (1959­–74) by Constant Nieuwenhuys. In the 1960s, ludic art was deployed as a strategy of social critique that attacked from an oblique angle, sometimes effectively­, but often misunderstood. When ludic art of the period overlapped with the Conceptual art movement, a new genre emerged, for which I have coined the term Ludic Conceptualism.

The dissertation follows a diachronic thread of play in art, from the first iteration of New Babylon in 1959, until the death of Conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader in 1975. The roles of curators, museums, and governmental institutions were crucial factors in the production and legibility of the ludic exhibition, and I regard the manner of exhibiting ludic art as a potentially ludic endeavor in and of itself. Accordingly, particular attention is paid to Willem Sandberg and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and to four historically critical exhibitions—Die Welt als Labyrinth (1960), Bewogen Beweging (1961), Dylaby (1962), and Op Losse Schroeven (1969). A chapter is devoted to a comprehensive re-examination of the career of Robert Jasper Grootveld, an outsider previously misunderstood as a madman. By revisiting his oeuvre through the construct of play as a critical strategy, I argue that Grootveld emerges as the quintessential ludic artist, an innovator who made seminal contributions to the development of this genre. The last chapter of the dissertation analyzes examples of Ludic Conceptualism that parody public institutions as a means of indirectly criticizing Dutch culture: the A-dynamic Group, AFSRINMOR, the Sigma Center, the Internationaal Instituut voor Herscholing van Kunstenaars (International Institute for the Re-Schooling of Artists), and the television program Hoepla.

I contend that Huizinga’s Homo Ludens provided the intellectual foundation of a disparate range of artwork characterized by myriad manifestations of play. Furthermore, I argue that playful art was fostered by the social, economic, political, and cultural conditions of post-World War II Dutch society. Created in an environment that benefited by strong institutional support, ludic art enjoyed an enthusiastic critical and public reception. Ludic Conceptualism thus offers a localized definition of art that does not fit better-known categories—such as Fluxus and Nouveau Réalisme—and attends to the particular social and political context of the Netherlands in the 1960s. The new term allows for a more specific categorization of Dutch art and artists, while providing a potential template for further research into ludic work made in other locales that may have been equally misrepresented, eluded categorization, or simply neglected within the history of art.


Illustrations section available separately upon request via email to the library.