Corporate Entity

With Corporate Entity Rotterdam acquired the magnum opus of sculptor, draftsman and graphic artist Wessel Couzijn. The monumental bronze sculpture, commissioned by Unilever, is not only one of his most imposing works, but marks a turning point in his artistic development.

Couzijn, who was born in Amsterdam, emigrated with his parents to the United States and spent most of his youth in New York. He trained at the Art Students League and then at the Amsterdam State Academy of Fine Arts, where the sculpture classes, in particular those taught by Professor Jan Bronner, made an impression on him. For a long time Couzijn’s sculpture, architectural in character, revealed its indebtedness to Bronner. After winning the Prix de Rome in 1936 he stayed in Rome and Paris for a few years. The outbreak of the Second World War and the subsequent persecution of Jews, made Couzijn – of Jewish origin – flee to the United States. In New York Couzijn met the American sculptress Pearl Perlmuter and they married in 1945. A year later they moved permanently to Amsterdam.

Couzijn quickly acquired a reputation as an innovator of Dutch sculpture, creating pieces that, because of their expressiveness, three-dimensional design, and choice of subject matter, were considered highly unconventional. Along with his wife and fellow sculptors Carel Kneulman and Willem Reijers, Couzijn – from his interest in humanism – shared a preference for figures captured in non-contrived everyday activities and scenes. During the 1950s his work became more abstract. Until the mid-1950s Couzijn worked in chamotte clay, after that he used wax – especially combined with found objects – and experimented with alternative cast methods.
In the late 1960s he increasingly exchanged wax, bronze and found objects for welded stainless steel and Corten steel. With the introduction of these new materials and techniques, his work gradually took on more alienating forms. The best-known sculptures from this period are Auschwitz (1966: Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo) and The Bed (1967: Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam). These are images full of impending doom in which
fireguards and an iron bed are lent dramatic force by Couzijn’s evocative and amorphous bronze shapes. Corporate Entity marks the transition from a predominantly abstract to a more surreal visual language, as well as the changeover from bronze to more non-traditional materials and techniques.

In 1958 the board of directors at Unilever asked Couzijn to make a large sculpture, which would be placed above the pond and before the entrance to the new brick office building, designed by A.J.B. van de Graaf, at Burgemeester s’Jacobplein in Rotterdam. This commission might also be seen in conjunction with a non-executed design Couzijn made in 1951 for a competition for a national monument for Rotterdam’s merchant shipping to commemorate its role in the Second World War. He proposed a large abstract monument. The jury, however, doubted its technical feasibility, and under mounting pressure from public opinion finally chose a conventional design, The Bow, by Frederico Carasso. Unilever’s commission, seven years later, can partly be seen as compensation for the lack of a Couzijn monument looming above the Maas river.

In 1959 the design for Corporate Entity, with its threefold structure, was formally approved. In the raised middle section a human figure with wing-like limbs can be seen rising above the two side sections. The Icarus-like motif is in keeping with earlier works by Couzijn done in the 1950s, including the large bronze relief The Messenger (1959) at the former Vrije Volk building in Rotterdam. The motif in Corporate Entity is a symbol for the spirit of human enterprise attempting to break away from the limitations of everyday existence. In his design for Unilever, Couzijn wanted to depict a person conducting business from above, who intends to create order within a complex organizational structure. Since Unilever thought Couzijn’s original title The Manipulator was too negative, the sculpture was finally entitled Corporate Entity, a name that refers to both the man at the top, guarding the unity of the company, as well as Unilever’s organizational form as a public limited company. However, with the sculpture and the ambiguous title, Couzijn appears to be alluding to the less attractive side of company hierarchy.
The making of the twenty-thousand kilo Corporate Entity was a true tour de force which took three-and-a-half years to achieve. It is arguably the largest bronze sculpture to be cast in the Netherlands. In a shed on the Amsterdamse Weteringplantsoen specially constructed for the purpose, Couzijn with his assistants made an actual size casting pattern from sheets of Perspex and wax. Thereupon the sculpture was cast in sixty separate parts in special ovens according to the cire perdue method. These were then finished off and welded together in Soest. In late 1962 the sculpture was transported along waterways to Rotterdam, where it was assembled and installed. Following the unveiling on 11 June 1963, the sculpture speedily acquired the nickname ‘The Scrap Swindle’ – partly because its tormented appearance resembled old iron, and also because the title refers to a notorious swindle with European funding money at the time.
In September 1992 Corporate Entity was relocated to its present site on the Weena after Unilever acquired a new head office designed by Jan Hoogstad. Couzijn’s major work gained more prominence in the city, but alas lacks the large reflecting pond and rear wall for which it was designed.

Roel Arkesteijn


Boelema, I., and A. Overbeek (ed.), Couzijn. Beeldhouwer / Sculptor, Weesp 1986. / Hammacher, A.M., Beweging in brons. Enige gegevens over de sculptuur van Wessel Couzijn voor het hoofdgebouw van Unilever n.v., Rotterdam (Unilever N.V.) 1965. /
Jans, L., H. Scheerder, F. Villanueva, A cire perdue, Amersfoort (Hermen Molendijk Foundation / Centre for Visual Arts) 1993.

Publicatiedatum: 12/05/2015