At the entrance to the Central Library in Utrecht, The Netherlands, a colorful new installation features light-up signs depicting names of authors, Latin phrases, and other graphic icons. The art piece, titled Intellectual Heritage, wraps around the library’s arched main entrance as means to extend the library’s messages outside. It was designed by Dutch artist Maarten Baas.
The Central Library occupies the city’s former Main Post Office building, a brick behemoth designed by architect Joseph Crouwel in the style of The Amsterdam School in 1924. Intellectual Heritage spans 31 feet by 26 feet (9.5 by 8 meters) above the door as a surrounding for the upper semicircular window.
The colorful signage and lit-up digital screens stand out against the brick backdrop in a style and manner reminiscent of roadside advertising and graphics more suited for an entertainment district than a cultural institution. Baas said the work is open to interpretation. “Is the installation pointing to the entrance of a casino in Las Vegas or to the portal of a cultural temple? All of my work is open to numerous interpretations, and the interpretations can be of contradictory nature,” he shared in a statement.
Among the objects integrated into the display are a collection of literary-focused words and sayings in Latin, English, and Dutch, as well as the names of famous authors written in a variety of typefaces, including script and block letters. Included are the Latin phrase Lectori Salutem (Greetings Reader), the names of writers Virginia Woolf and Kafka, and the word Strip! (the Dutch word for comic books; it holds a different meaning in English).
Interspersed within the amalgamation of literary quips are recognizable graphic shapes such as arrows, a star, a treble clef, an open book, and a neon version of artist Dick Bruna’s rabbit character Nijntje (Miffy) from the popular children’s book series. Also on display are three programmable LED displays in which red text moves across the screen so as to be read by passersby. Each of the boards reveals a different text: One presents a popular poem in the city of Utrecht, another lists off notable authors and recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature, while the other is programmed to parade songs and slogans of Utrecht.
Intellectual Heritage blatantly points out the uses of the library and the ways in which the city engages with the space, from promoting book genres to naming writers to flaunting the location as a place where students congregate. In using digital signage for the piece, Baas acknowledges how technology has changed how people consume information and utilize libraries.
Baas’s message is a welcome one for viewers in New York, where the city has realized impressive recent branch libraries while Mayor Eric Adams’s has proposed cuts to library funding.
A full list of the words and images, divided by category, found on Intellectual Heritage are reproduced below:
Latin words: Lectori Salutem (Greetings Reader), Scientia potentia est (Knowledge is power), Omnibus (For all), Lexicon (Language)
Name of authors: Sartre, Woolf, Tsjechov (Chekhov), Kafka, Multatuli
Dutch words: Literatuur (Literature); Poëzie (Poetry); kunst & cultuur (Art and Culture); Strip!; NU! – U, Nu (You, Now), the shortest Dutch poem, by Joost van den Vondel; Boeken Boeken Boeken (books books books or “to book”); Bibliotheek (Library)
English words: Study Study Study, Library, Silence, M (letter with four legs for I am)
Images: Neude Library logo, Treble clef, Nijntje (Miffy), Open book, Arrows (six of different colors), Star