Graduation Show 2021: a recap.

Fri 5 Nov

Last week, the Graduation Show 2021 took place from Thursday 27-10 to 30-10. The show was a four day art event where 160 students who graduated between 2020 and 2021 presented their art projects. 

It was a huge success, as there were over 5000 art enthousiasts who visited the Wijnhaven building that was completely transformed into an exposition and event space. After such a long time of working and creating at home, it was amazing to see so many people come together at our academy and connecting through art.

The exposition was spread out over four floors, divided within the three practices: Social, Autonomous and Commercial. Because of the large diversity and variety of works, practices, concepts, topics, mediums it is almost impossible to provide you with a proper recap. The amount of inspiring, thought provoking and emotional stimulating works was so overwhelming that it was almost impossible to fully experience each and every work with the respect and attention they deserve.

Luckily, there is an online graduation catalogue where you can virtually engage with the wide variety of graduation projects. On the website, you can also find a selection of the Zoom-In video portraits in which the scope and meaning of research within Willem de Kooning Academy is displayed. The video series follows a group of 29 students throughout their graduation journey.

The implications of Covid-19 have drastically challenged the way we think about art education, physical meetings and the different ways in which work can be presented. "We as an educational institution learned a lot about flexibility. It feels like we were pushed into exploring all the possibilities of 21st century in a rapid speed by having to let go of our usual ways of organising education", said education manager Miriam Bestebreurtje. 

Education at WdKA has always been intensely focused on research, creative processes and concepts instead of merely the tangible outcomes of it. However, the fact that the examinations took place online made the emphasis on the process even bigger since it was not always possible for students to present the work in their wholeness. This also made the academy think differently about what it means to exhibit or present art. Does this need to be confined to a physical space? What is the added value of an exhibition? How can you create a space that serves all works?  

WdKA chose to open up the definition of a graduation show this year and let the graduates decide for themselves what way of presenting fits their project and practice best. By doing this, the academy created space for students to present a work in progress instead of having the pressure to present a final product. This made that some graduates chose to not present their work within a classical exposition space, but instead communicate their projects through doing a live performance, an interactive artist talk or through providing the publication shop with a copy of their work. 


So what is the added value of coming together to either present or visit the works of art? "I think it is important to have this collective moment of closure, where people from both within and outside of the academy can come together to connect and enjoy the artworks after all the hard work the graduates put in it", says Miriam Bestebreurtje. "An event like this means a lot to our own community, especially after such a long time of working while being physically disconnected."  

The Graduation Show made it possible for students to interact with their audience. This interaction sometimes even created a new layer to the projects: “It was so much fun to present my work within this interactive context. I really enjoyed the process of thinking about how to present my documentary film ‘LATER’ within the exhibition space. I noticed that there is a big difference between people watching your work online versus being able to physically engage with it as well. The interactive installation that I created, led to a lot of inspiring conversations with the audience as well as with other students”, says 2021 Honours graduate Annick Sickinghe.

Also Hizkia Pepijn Jansen (Autonomous Practice graduate 2021) valued the interaction with visitors and other students during the Graduation Show: “I’m really happy that I was able to show my work to other people after everything being organised online in the past year, which led to a lot of struggle, insecurities and dissatisfaction. It was nice to interact with people and to see their genuine interest in and admiration for that what I’ve been working on for so long. As an artist, you want to see your work come to life just as you imagined. This exposition made that possible. Besides the this, the Graduation Show was also an important moment of closure for me.”

Next to the emotional value of the event, a physical graduation show also serves as a great networking opportunity for the graduates as usually a lot of galleries and agencies come to visit. This plays a big role in the future career opportunities of the freshly graduated artists.

Besides thinking differently about ways to present the work, students were also forced to make different choices when it came to their projects. The available space and tools for students to work with was sometimes limited. This created technological difficulties as well as conceptual of opportunities that were born out of these limitations. 

Due to the huge diversity in terms of both form and content, it is challenging to provide a suiting recap. A lot of the projects were very personal and provided the viewer with insights on both fascinations and frustrations of the makers. However, there were some themes to be identified that seemed to reoccur; mental health, inequality, climate, cultural heritage, material and craftmanship, digitization and activism.  

On the last day of the Graduation Show, Saturday October 30th, the annual award show took place where both the Drempelprijs  and the Research Awards were awarded to exceptional graduate candidates by a selected group of jury members. Throughout the jury reports, it was interesting to see that they all observed a strong sense of engagement within this year's graduation projects, more so than in previous years. This could possibly be related to the difficulty of the recent period experienced by everyone.  

The Graduation Show 2021 ended with a banger of a party. whole page could be dedicated to all the remarkable happenings that took place (such as the collective preparation of an immense salad, dancing rats and audience animated genitals) but let's just leave it to: you should have been there. A selection of party pictures can be found here. For other pictures of the Graduation Show click here

Thanks to all the hard working, talented and passionate people (students, staff and visitors) who made this edition into such a big success.  

Want to read more about this year's Graduation Show? Find more articles here:  Metropolis M

This article is written by Julia de Roo, WdKA’s new in-house journalist. Questions or remarks? Feel free to send an e-mail to

Photography by Menno Boer (coordinator Image & Sound Station).

Aftermovie of Graduation Show 2021 Willem de Kooning Academy, created by Audiovisual Design students. Video by Rutger Nijkamp, Ruben Leon de Haas and Niels Houben, edit by Evy Hachmang and music by Leon van Engelen.