Roaring Twenties Rotterdam
Between Josephine Baker and Bombs

The optimistic sound of the Jazz Age was everywhere, women were given the right to vote and there was now radio and film. Exactly hundred years ago the city of Rotterdam went through a unique, thriving period of unparalleled ambition and zest for building. When in 1918 the Great War ended, the Spanish flu (still claiming thousands of Rotterdam victims in 1919) was under control, a new era had started. Roaring Twenties Rotterdam looks at Rotterdam through the eyes of the art-and-anything-else collector Kees Schortemeijer (1894 – 1979). Evoking a city that is no longer there. A city that was physically wiped out and where memory is missing. For this exhibition guest curator Wim Pijbes made a selection from the Schortemeijer collection, opening it up to the public for the first time.

Between Josephine Baker and Bombs

Nowhere else in the country did avant-garde and modernism flourish more abundantly than in “the stepchild of our cities”, to use the words of the main character in Bordewijk’s novel Karakter. “Amsterdam is our national city. Rotterdam our international one.” Bordewijk wrote his famous novel in 1938, and it does full justice to Rotterdam’s assertiveness on the world stage. Every week  Holland America Line and Royal Rotterdam Lloyd ships carried thousands of passengers to and from New York and Asia. Katendrecht district was developing into the first Chinatown on the European continent and Rotterdam cinema – operator Abraham Tuschinski gave the audience the opportunity to get acquainted with Josephine Baker. Dirk Hannema, Boymans Museum’s young director, proudly advertised his new art temple in The New York Times as “The best new museum in Europe“. Willem Dudok’s Bijenkorf building became ’the most modern department store in Europe’.

The Coolsingel, the first wide city boulevard in the country, was built, the modernist style Feyenoord Stadium was the biggest football stadium, the Maastunnel the first car tunnel and Rotterdam Zoo opened as the world’s first integrally-designed zoo. In 1923, on the banks of the Meuse, the San Fransisco Warehouse, opened as the largest in the world, and luxurious ocean liners such as the Rotterdam, the Amsterdam and the floating palace Statendam rolled off the Wilton-slopes. Architect

Le Corbusier praised Van Nelle’s new transparent glass factory palace: “the most beautiful spectacle of the modern age”. Rotterdam had the highest permitted traffic speed in The Netherlands and “in the meantime the sky-scrapers are working their way up in the  former land of Hoboken”, a tourist guide mentioned. On 4 May 1940, between 1.27 and 1.40 pm, the German Air Force instantly wiped out all pre-war optimism in a devastating bombing lasting less than fifteen minutes.

Through the eyes of Schortemeijer

Roaring Twenties Rotterdam looks at Rotterdam of a hundred years ago through the eyes of Kees Schortemeijer (1894 – 1979). At a city that is no longer there. At the city of Rotterdam which has physically been wiped out and where memory is missing. At a city where the demolition worker is held in equally high esteem as the contractor. Where the future always beats the past; the first, the biggest, the tallest! Cornelis ‘Kees’ Schortemeijer is the ideal chronicler of Rotterdam in the interwar  period. Collector, designer, composer, filmmaker, and, together with his wife, socially committed and politically active. An independent insurer with a substantial art collection, putting together albums of everything that was of interest to him. They contain thousands of clippings, children’s drawings, advertising material, graphs, films  and authentic art work. The first album from 1922 – 1924 was decorated by Henk Chabot; later Chabot Museum was given and now manages the entire collection. This exhibition offers, just as a glimpse, a first acquaintance with the Schortemeijer collection. 

Retro-active manifest

With the current redevelopment of the Coolsingel, the renovation of the Maastunnel, plans for a new stadium and Museum Boijmans, the transformation of the former San Francisco warehouse and the publication of the biography of and the renewed interest in Rotterdam composer Willem Pijper (1894 – 1947) going on, now is the time to refocus on Rotterdam a hundred years ago .

Roaring Twenties Rotterdam is a retro-active manifest, about a city more beautiful than it ever could  have been. Roaring Twenties Rotterdam has been put together by guest curator Wim Pijbes, emeritus director of the Rijksmuseum, with pieces from the Schortemeijer collection, enriched with loans from the Flip Bool collection, Kunstmuseum Den Haag, Museum Rotterdam and private collections. This exhibition takes place in the context of Willem Pijper in Rotterdam.