Robert Jasper Grootveld, co-founder Provo movement dies


On Saturday evenings their parents were watching the TV with their left eyes, and the cars in front of the houses with their right, seated on refrigerators and washing machines, with mixers in the one hand and copies of De Telegraaf in the other, and the children went to the Spui. […] When the electrical clock on the Lutheran church indicated it was midnight, the high priest appeared from an alley in full regalia, sometimes with painted face, sometimes masked, and started to walk magical circles around the nicotinian demon, his disciples clapping and singing the Cough Cough song all the while.

Thus describes Harry Mulisch in his book Report to the Rat King the happenings of self-proclaimed ‘anti-smoke mage’ Robert Jasper Grootveld who died last week at age 76.

I’ll just say it: Grootveld was instrumental in harnessing the counter-culture movement of the 1960s and helping decide its course, and as a result the course of the Netherlands. BN/De Stem calls him (Dutch): “the man who put Amsterdam on the map,” and Marijuana Library holds the Provo movement responsible for the Netherlands’ current drug laws.

When timid student Roel van Duijn started the Provo movement in the mid-1960s, performing artist (and window cleaner!) Grootveld was one of its first members and one of its leaders. Provo was a sort of precursor to the hippie movement, and one of its goals was to shake up society, wake it up from its TV-adled stupor, something Grootveld had already been doing by himself for some time.

One of Provo’s methods was a game called marihuette. The rules were simple: provoke a police reaction by pretending to have or smoke marijuana. The more extreme the response, the more points you got. Grootveld knew a friendly, but naive and utterly old-fashioned police man called Houweling who would receive tips from him. Writes Teun Voeten in Marijuana Library:

“One day a whole group of us went by bus to Belgium,” says Grootveld. “Of course I had informed my friend Houweling that some elements might take some pot along. At the border, the cops and customs were waiting for us. Followed by the press, we were taken away for a thorough search. The poor cops . . . all they could find was dogfood and some legal herbs. ‘Marijuana is dogfood,’ joked the papers the next day. After that, the cops decided to refrain from hassling us in the future, afraid of more blunders.”


In the late ’50s. Grootveld was already well-known as a kind of performance artist. His inspiration, he claimed, derived from a pilgrimage to Africa, where he had purchased a mysterious medicine kit formerly owned by a shaman. Somehow, the kit helped Grootveld formulate a critique of Western society, which, he came to believe, was dominated by unhealthy addictions A short hospital stay soon convinced Grootveld that the worst of these was cigarette smoking “All those grown-up patients, begging and praying for a cigarette was a disgusting sight,” he recalls. (Even after this realization, however, Grootveld remained a chain-smoker.)

Volkskrant rattles its pencil case (Dutch) and a whole lot of quotes tumble out:

The man who artist Max Reneman called “the first Dutch philosopher of the spoken word since Erasmus and Spinoza.” […] The man who according to Remco Campert released the youth from its chains. The man about whom comedian Freek de Jonge said in 2005 that “the sole reason the twentieth century did not pass by this country entirely was one man, one man who gave this country an entirely different image, who looked at the status quo and changed it.”

But also:

He is a phenomenon, not a friend. When Grootveld was invited to a happening in Copenhagen he tried to borrow some clothes from Harry Mulish, who might throw something his way now Rat King was doing so well. The writer walked past his well-filled wall of clothes and tossed some out-dated garments towards the ‘magician.’

This scene is symbolic. For this is the constant in Grootveld’s tragic life: everybody tries to profit from his genius madness, his miraculous attractiveness, and his ability to create waves. That’s what provos Roel van Duijn and Rob Stolk did. They came to Grootveld’s playful happenings at the Spui. But where the anti-smoke mage’s message was peaceful and absurdist, so that the police looked the other way, the provos sought fights with the authorities who greedily struck back. Grootveld became disappointed and turned his back on the movement.

When the 1960s faded from public view, so did the Provo leaders. Writes BN/De Stem:

[Grootveld] often claimed it was “incomprehensible” that he and his actions weren’t recognized anymore. And fame had eluded him also, he complained in weekly De Groene Amsterdammer in 1997: “Famous, famous… those who are famous are honoured, and I was never honoured. I was well-known, infamous perhaps…”

Parool reports (Dutch) that his friend Henk J. Meier urged city hall to erect a Grootveld statue for years:

But Mayor Job Cohen said at the time that the city will not erect statues of people that are still alive. Now Jasper has finally met that ever so important criterium.


  1. […] sounds like a perverted marriage of the ideas of Robert-Jasper Grootveld (who came up with floating, polystyrene gardens long before Studio Noach, and was taken to his […]

  2. […] the Spui Grootveld was carried around the Lieverdje statue three times while people shouted “hi – ha […]

  3. […] On 27 April the Hoge Veluwe National Park in Otterlo, Gelderland will be celebrating 40 years of free-to-use white bikes for visitors, originally suggested by members of the mid-1960s Provos, a Dutch anti-establishment cultural movement whose co-founder passed away in 2009. […]

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