Even before the founding of the experimental CoBrA group, in 1948, Amsterdam was an important crossroads for avant-garde artists and activists in postwar Europe. By the early 1960s, Constant was projecting visions of his New Babylon onto its labyrinthine cityscape, where they blended with street actions of the nascent Happening movement, amorphous groups of disaffected anarchic youth culture, protests against the war in Vietnam, aspirations of pro- and ex-Situs, exiled from the Situationist International in Paris. Out of this maelstrom emerged the Provos, a movement that quickly took root not only in the Amsterdam City Council, but as far away as Milan, New York, and Los Angeles. The Kabouter and other groups picked up where the Provos left off, preserving the city’s place as mecca for the new transnational culture of protest, until the squatters, street artists, and musicians of Zebra House launched another new epoch: Dutch Punk.
Dutch Counter Culture and Provo holdings at the Beinecke
Provo, 1965, no. 1, special edition.
Provokatie, 1965-66, nos. 1-15; two versions of nos. 3 and 8: the original issue and the censored edition.
Provo, nos. 1-12, 1965-67.
Provo witte plannen, 1965-67, eight handbills.
Handbills and posters related to the Provos, c. 1965-70.
"Avis à la population....," 1966, announcement of a Provo happening in Brussels.
10 maart '66, 1966, book of reproductions of photographs, newspaper clippings, and cartoons of the protests and police brutality that occurred surrounding the marriage of Princess Beatrix and Claus von Amsberg.
Carlos Piesaar Correspondence, collection, in Dutch, of approximately 20 letters to Carlos Piesaar from family, friends, Provo artists, and sympathizers, received during a brief incarceration for Provo-related activities in 1970; includes drawings and newspaper clippings.
Other Dutch counter culture publications
Gard sivik, nos. 1-33, 1955-64.
De vrije: anarchistisch tijdschrift, 1965-66.
Hit Week, nos. 1-32, 1965-69.
Image: witte pers zondagsblad, nos. 1-8, 1966.
God, Nederland & Oranje, nos. 1-10, 1966-68.
Handbills and posters related to the Provos and other activist groups in Amsterdam, c. 1967-70.
Aloha, nos. 1-26, 1969-74.
Kabouterkolonel, nos. 1-4, 1970.
Kabouter boodschap, 1971.
Kabouterkrant: gemeenteblad van kabouterstad Amsterdam, nos. 1-13, 1970-71.
Tijl Uilenspiegel: een blad voor autonoom links, nos. 1-7, 1979-80.
The Provo movement, active in Amsterdam between 1965 and 1972, was incited by anarchist groups that recognized that alienation and boredom are powerful energies that can be harnessed to spark social change. A Dutch sociologist originally coined the name “Provo” to negatively denote the surge of disaffected Dutch teenagers who provoked authorities in the postwar period. Roel Van Duy, a philosophy student at the University of Amsterdam, saw a potential to reclaim the term politically. He explored these possibilities the first issue of Provo magazine, published in July 1965.
The group fused three elements of counterculture in that period: an emerging contingent of disillusioned young people, the provocative methods of the performance artist Robert Jasper Grootveld, and the revolutionary ideas of Van Duy. The Provos staged theatrical and provocative “pranks” and happenings that combined nonviolent public actions and absurd humor. These events attracted large crowds and often ended in decisive action on the part of the police. Authorities also monitored the Provos publications. For example, the first issue contained a diagram, reproduced from the 19th-century English journal Practical Anarchist, which detailed how to make a pineapple bomb. The instructions were useless, but the editors were arrested for inciting violence, although they were later released without charges.
The general populace of Amsterdam sympathized with the group; at one point, five Provos were even elected to seats on the City Council. The ideas disseminated in the magazine and through the group’s street actions influenced urban planning, social housing, and cultural life in Amsterdam and Europe more broadly. The group contested prohibitions on marijuana, air pollution from traffic congestion, and the tobacco industry. For example, along with staging protests, Grootveld also defaced billboard cigarette ads by writing “cancer” overtop in black tar, and created an “Anti-Smoking Temple” in a studio space, where he staged ritualistic happenings until he burned the building down in the midst of one such event. As Provo became more widely accepted in society, defended by moderate liberal politicians and studied by sociologists, the group began to lose its momentum. By 1972, the leaders decided to officially disband.