Witte de With Cahiers

Title Witte de With Cahiers
Location Rotterdam
Publisher Witte de With, Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam; Richter Verlag, Düsseldorf
Periodicity Irregular
ISSN each number has an individual isbn
URL Witte de With Cahiers Worldcat
Published Since 1993-1998
Indexed Holdings 1993-1998


ccindex office; The Library of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Periodical's Overview

“In 1993, Witte de With undertook an innovative series of publications in the spirit of our original and deliberately experimental practice as an art center. Chris Dercon, Witte de With’s founding director, conceived the Witte de With - Cahier as an alternative to a proliferation of specific exhibition catalogues. The project answered an ambition to break new ground in the areas of documentation and art criticism, with particular emphasis on graphic design.

The Cahier was planned as a series of seven issues, released twice a year, copublished by Witte de With and Richter Verlag in Düsseldorf. Each issue was assigned to a different graphic designer, each cover confided to an artist.

This issue concludes the projected series.


The seven issues of the Cahier now form a chapter of the larger story that we are carrying into the future. A limited edition, bound in a special box will preserve the activities of five years of intense involvement with contemporary art.”[1]

Selected Subject Headings

  • Art exhibitions - theory
  • Art museums - effects of technological innovations on
  • Art exhibition audiences
  • Artists as exhibition curators
  • Chronophotography
  • Electronic publishing
  • Fetishism
  • Iconoclasm
  • Installations (art) - conservation and restoration
  • Manifesta (1st: 1996: Rotterdam)
  • Motion pictures in museums
  • Mushrooms in art
  • Optical illusions
  • Photography of sculpture
  • Playgrounds
  • Sea in art
  • Visionary architecture
  • Web sites - design


In 1990, the Dutch city of Rotterdam opened a new space for contemporary art, Witte de With. According to its website, “the Director of Witte de With is appointed by the Board, in principle for a period of six years.” The founding director was Chris Dercon, and his tenure run from 1990 till 1995. It is in 1993 though that the first Witte de With Cahier was published, and as the following director wrote in the last Cahier before he embarked on his own publishing venture within the institution, From, the Witte de With Cahiers were published “as an alternative to a proliferation of specific exhibition catalogues.”[2]

The wording is interesting, specific exhibition catalogues, as it points to the fact that art institutions were seriously reconsidering their publishing ventures and how to circulate their local programs to a wider audience[3] while carrying forward the initial scholarly aims of exhibition catalogues.[4]

We use the word scholarly because if the Witte de With Cahiers continue to be of interest is not just for its delightful design--it is after all a very beautiful publication--but also for its contents and for the seriousness of Witte de With’s exhibition and public programs during Dercon’s tenure.

All issues shared the same format; what diverged though were the artists commissioned to design the covers and the typographical treatment for each issue. For example, Daniel Buren, Lawrence Weiner, Hermann Pitz or Jan Dibbets were each assigned an issue. As one could ascertain from this incomplete list, a leaning towards conceptual art practices and methods was one of the Institution’s programs as we can also find in the Cahiers works and words from Michael Asher, Allan Sekula, Dan Graham, Stanley Brouwn, Jeff Wall or Maria Eichorn. As an example, one can find a dossier about an exhibition curated by Daniel Buren, L’oeuvre a-t-elle lieu? Rather than publish an exhibition catalogue of this group exhibition, the Cahiers served this function, allowing interesting juxtapositions with concurrent activities, while documenting the thinking and making of Buren’s project.

But the Cahiers also functioned as a vehicle to gather the contents of group exhibitions engaged with other kind of practices and discourses. Young artists were given space and we can find the works or words from Dinos Chapman, Chen Zhen, Jessica Stockholder, Joëlle Tuerlinckx and others. In a reflexive and prescient move, events were organized around themes that were of pressing interest then and which continue to date, like the relationship between art and cinema, the issues arising when ‘restaging’ installations, or that of exhibition making, with a very interesting dossier on Frederick Kiesler, a thinking pioneer on exhibition design.

Perhaps this interest on exhibition making had much to do with the fact that the cultural field of art was about to enter into its overdrive expansion towards Biennials and the "global," signaled in this instance by the publication of a roundtable on the first Manifesta, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art taking place in Rotterdam in 1996. Indicative of geopolitical shifts in Europe and its opening to its ‘East’ we believe that it is important to be conscious of these formative moments in order to understand the genealogies that have placed us in our current present, a present in which the epistemological landscapes initiated during the 1990s are now being contested or at least, reassessed.

Fortunately, the Witte de With Cahiers were also prescient as to be alert to contexts other than the Anglo-Saxon and Northern European ones, although these two were given a very preeminent place. For example, it is refreshing to read again Guy Brett’s thoughts on Kinetic art or Hélio Oiticia’s practice, a nice linkage to Brett's 1960s work for Signals; and it is specially refreshing to read articles on Victor Erice’s film El sol del membrillo, or a text on Pérez Galdós’ Tristana or Leopoldo Alas' La Regenta, two important novels from 19th century Spanish literature, ofttimes ignored by so-called world literature canons.

The oddness of these juxtapositions--conceptual art and Tristana would be one--and the pointed richness they open up attest to our belief that besides the pleasure of reading and looking at them, the Cahiers are also an important document for anyone trying to historicize the now remote 1990s; and of special interest for those interested in tracing the formation of our current cultural managerial cadre, as the artistic and institutional circuit relations then shaped remain with us considering the different positions now occupied by those involved in their creation.[5]

Besides all this, Witte de With Cahiers continue to be a testament to the belief that art was and still is a vehicle for thought, knowledge and aesthetic experience, no matter if conservative neoliberal encroachments as well as "progressive" "social practices" would have us believe in its obsolescence.

If only for this reason, we are most pleased that The Work Did Take Place and that it continues to take place.

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[1] Bartomeu Marí. "Postface," Witte de With Cahier (Rotterdam), no. 7 (June 1998): 167.


[3] Here it is important to note that the Internet was then an incipient medium and didn’t have the diffusion capacities nor speed we are now used too, making a periodical publication a good compromise between an exhibition catalogue and institutional archival silence. Aware of this medium's formative moment, the Cahiers reflected on it; see for example: “Ground Zero: an e-mail interview,” Witte de With Cahier (Rotterdam), no. 5 (October 1996): 180-184.

[4] It is not that Witte de With and Dercon didn’t publish monographic catalogues, as for example, exhibitions dedicated to Allan Sekula, John Knight, Haim Steinbach, Stephan Balkenhol, Michelangelo Pistoletto or Eugenio Dittborn all had a related publication. For a complete list of publications stemming from Dearcon's tenure please visit Witte de With's website.

[5] As an example, Witte de With organized in 1992 an exhibition of Hélio Oiticia’s work and a now classic catalogue was produced, albeit as a co-production with other contemporary art institutions; this collaboration with the Jeu de Paume in Paris and the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona point to an important conceptual and institutional cultural network, as the Tàpies Foundation was directed then by Manuel Borja-Villel and the Jeu de Paume by Catherine David. David became the director of Witte de With from 2002 to 2005, and is currently directrice adjointe at the Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Pompidou in Paris. For more information about David, please see Tamáss's infoweb record and its note 3. Borja-Villel became the director of Barcelona’s Museu d’art contemporani (MACBA) and is the current director of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, while Dercon is the current director of Tate Modern, in London. Dercon’s succesor at the Witte de With, Bartomeu Marí, became Borja-Villel’s successor at MACBA. We write this note in March 2014 and this information is bound to change.