Provo, 1965-1967


Tipo obra:
Serial publication
16 v. : il. b/n ; diverses mides
Col·lecció MACBA. Centre d'Estudis i Documentació
Registre núm:

The Provo Group

In a series of actions and public interventions in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities between 1965 and 1967, the anarchist counterculture movement Provo unleashed multiple attacks on the social structures of the state, mixing absurd humour and cynicism with an attempt to awaken a critical spirit in citizens and bring about social change. In spite of its brief existence, the conceptual activism and political projects carried out by Provo – a phenomenon that was part artistic movement and part political party – managed to capture the spirit of a whole generation in the Netherlands, and coincided with the early days of the hippy movement.

The Provo movement – which borrowed its name from the term used by Dutch sociologist Wouter Buikhuisen to talk about “young hooligans” – was founded by Robert Jasper Grootveld and Roel van Duyn in May 1965. Its members split into two groups. Van Duyn, who was a philosophy student at the time, was the driving force behind the theoretical group that aspired to inject a revolutionary consciousness into the urban movements of the time. The main exponent of the second group – the “happeners” – was Robert Jasper Grootveld, an artist interested in magic who was a great agitator through his exhibitionist happenings.

The happenings and actions carried out by the members of Provo, who were the predecessors of the protest movements that sprung up around the hippy phenomenon barely two years later, sought to stir up social consciousness focussing on issues such as the importance of health and environmental conservation and turning private property into public property. One of the movement’s first actions was the Marihuettegame, a game designed to highlight the ignorance of official bodies and particularly police officers in regards to the use of cannabis. The game consisted of trying to getting arrested (to be released without charges, of course) for consuming substances such as tea, spices, etc.

Along with the group’s two main leaders, the artist Constant [Nieuwenhuis] – who edited issue 4 of Provo on his project New Babylon – played a key role in shaping the conceptual basis of the movement, known as “white philosophy”. This philosophy led to the “White Plans” or strategic proposals for speculative politics on the political scene, most of which drew attention to social problems and aimed to make Amsterdam a more liveable city. They included the White Bicycle Plan, which proposed the mass use of bicycles as a means of urban transport so as to reduce atmospheric pollution; the White Housing Plan that encouraged the occupation of empty buildings and apartments in order to solve the acute housing problem in Amsterdam; and the White Chimney Plan in which the members of the group painted the chimneys of the worst industrial polluters white. One of the protest and awareness-raising actions that made a particularly strong impact was the group’s opposition to the wedding of Princess Beatriz and Claus von Amsberg on the grounds that he had been a member of the Nazi Youth.

Aside form these plans, the movement also worked in other areas, such as organising concerts, philosophical talks and juggling sessions, opening up spaces for drug use in controlled conditions (predecessors of today’s safe injection sites), etc. Provo took full advantage of the print medium to spread their activities and philosophy, with publications such as De new Babylon informatief (a total of four issues, Amsterdam, 1965-1966), a platform that allowed Constant to develop his new urban planning strategies and projects, the weekly bulletin Image, the comic God, Nederland en Oranje and a numerous pamphlets and handbills. Part of these publications were known as Provocations and numbered in a series from 1 to 17.

The movement officially disbanded in May 1967, although some of its members remained active until June 1968. Many factors played a part in their disappearance: on one hand, official bodies clamped down against all types of youth revolutionary movements, not only in the Netherlands but also in other countries, leading to a certain demoralisation. Meanwhile, the main enemies of the movement were removed from office, and the more moderate political sectors began to include some of Provo’s proposals in their programmes, thus deactivating some of the movement’s arguments. The core group also fell apart, with some members deciding to join the official political world, while others became more radical in their opposition to officiality.

The Magazine

Provo was one of the movement’s most representative and significant publications. Issue one, published in 1965, featured the Provo manifesto written by Roel van Duyn and obsolete recipes for homemade bombs taken from nineteenth century anarchist pamphlets. This information was deemed highly dangerous by the police and resulted in four hundred of the five hundred-copy print run being seized and destroyed. A total of fifteen issues were published – monthly at first, and then at more irregular intervals –, as well as a special Provo gazette, with the last issue published in April 1967.

Given that official printers considered these publications too subversive to print, the members of the collective also had to undertake the printing of the magazine themselves. Provo was almost always printed in black and white, except for some covers and a few issues, which were printed in two colours. Issues 1 to 6 are printed on a cyclostyle, and from issue 7 onwards the group used offset printing. Aesthetic matters took a back seat, even though the group consciously tried to move away from the advertising aesthetic that had become widespread since the fifties. The uniformity and consistency of Provo’s style actually stems from the technical and financial restrictions that conditioned its production processes: the prime objective was to obtain as many copies as possible and achieve maximum distribution at minimum cost; this determined the format and its formal characteristics.

Provo shared two important graphic elements with the group’s other publications. Firstly, the apple, or gnot, symbol designed in 1962 as a psycogeographic representation of the city of Amsterdam, which became the movement’s unofficial logo and frequently appeared on the pages of the magazine and other publications produced by the groups, and also in urban graffiti. And secondly, the image of the lattice of a brick wall, a recurring motif that was a nod to the group’s attitude that considered walls – and by extension, the city itself – as a blank canvas on which to express new ideas.
The MACBA Archive holds the complete collection of the magazine, that is, fifteen issues and the extra gazette. It should be noted that issue one is a facsimile edition produced in 1966 by the Belgian magazine REVO.

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