Tom Otterness’ Fairytales at Sea Along Scheveningen Beach

It’s not that obvious to most people outside the Netherlands, but the Dutch have their own “Riviera”. Possibly not as spectacular as the Mediterranean original, especially since the water impossibly can get the same shade of blue on the North Sea coast, but nonetheless it is a summer-mecca and always very busy in high season. The stretch of coast popular with visitors stretches from the mouth of the Ij river, just north of Haarlem, down to the “corner of Holland” (Hoek van Holland) just outside Rotterdam. The focal point of this wide stretch of beaches is without a doubt Scheveningen, the well-renowned seaside resort which in theory is a suburb to the political focal point of the country, The Hague.

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Scheveningen in summertime is busy: there are terraces lined up all along the beach, people are taking advantage of the sun when possible, the seagulls steal the fish snacks people just purchased from the stands. Really, it’s not that far off from Nice or Cannes, although celebrity spotting might be different. What you definitely can spot if you pay close attention is a group of sculptures occupying one of the most attractive spots on the recently re-opened boulevard along the Scheveningse beach.

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The 23 sculpture groups found here are called ‘SprookjesBeelden aan Zee‘ – or in a language we better understand: the ‘Fairytale Figures by the Sea‘ – and they are the creations of the American Tom Otterness. These works of art became a reality as per the initiative of the Museum Beelden aan Zee, one of the hidden art gems of The Netherlands and the only institution in the country focusing fully on modern and contemporary sculpture. The museum is a privately funded and managed venue that opened in 1994 by the Dutch art collectors Theoand Lida Scholten. Ten years later, in 2004, the couple popped the idea about this freely accessible sculpture park a stone throw away from the beach to Tom Otterness and the American artist wasn’t late to grasp the opportunity with both hands.

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Tom Otternessis by far no stranger of public art of fame and huge fan-appreciation. The Wichita, Kansas, born (1952) American artist is without doubt most famous for his art made freely available for the public and especially the pieces he created in New York: his ‘The Real World‘ from 1992 in the Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City, loved and admired by New Yorkers and visitors alike.

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What puts Tom Otternessaside from the crowd is the ability to combine humour with deeply serious insights. At first glance his figures are always amusing, fun, playful, entertaining. His style is often described as cartoonish and cheerful, very accessible. People can often freely interact with his public art, touch the figures. His style is made up of geometric shapes like cubes, cylinders, spheres that depict fun-looking human characters. His art is, however, often highly political and even with the most innocent looking themes the observant viewer will notice details with strong deeper meanings.

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No exception with his fairytale figures in The Hague. While all sculpture groups – there are 23 of them – depict characters from fairy tales (known and less known ones), there is often a slightly disturbing element to them, a bit of seriousness among all the fun. If you pay attention you will notice signs of oppression, greed, power depicted in his works.

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At the end though, what remains memorable is the fun the characters offer. Children go crazy around the statues, grown-ups almost even more. Well, at least they do end up behaving a bit like children, but most importantly the sculptures seem to catch their viewers off-guard, luring a smile even on the most strict-looking spectator’s face.

Just like art should be, right?

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The group of the 23 sculptures have been in storage for some two and a half years while the Scheveningse Boulevardwent through some serious renovations. Since April 2013 Ottersen’s characters are back and all playfully occupying a chunk of the new walk-board, fascinating and surprising curious visitors. Like us.

Go and have a look when you can: it’s free and open 24/7. Here’s a little video animation with the figures, enhancing the playfulness the characters can offer. Kind of like a modern fairytale.

Practical Information

If you would like to learn more about the Fairytale Sculptures by the Sea you can visit the SprookjesBeelden website, maintained by the Beelden aan Zee Museum in Scheveningen, The Hague. There are many-many reasons from a cultural point of view to visit The Hague in general (let’s just say Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earringat the Mauritshuis), but a visit out to Scheveningen is always highly recommended.

While it is best on days with nice weather, it’s certainly worth the short trip out even on gloomier days; Tom Ottersen’s statues will surely cheer you up. If you’re not by car, the easiest way of reaching Scheveningen is by jumping on Tram 1 or 9 in the centre of town and jump off at Kurhaus/Circus theatre. Very easy. The admission to the museum is € 12, but of course the Fairytale Sculptures are always free to check out, 24/7. The Dutch Museumcard is valid to the museum as well.

If you would you like to see more of Tom Otterness’s public art, New York is your city of choice. Especially the already mentioned Battery Park installations are worth every single second of your time, and similarly the art you find in the Subway at the 14th Street and 8th Avenue transit stop. San Jose, CA, Toronto in Canada, Phoenix, AR, Claremont, CA, Seoul, Korea and Munster in Germany are some of the other places where Ottersen’s fun figures can be found.

Ready to see some more fun sculptures? Check out our post about Fernando Botero’s sculptures from around the world.