We’re you exposed to art while growing up?
Visual arts did not play a major role at home. I did often visited cultural-historical exhibitions and sites with my parents, and creativity was stimulated. I think this gave me a good basis for my interest in art and museums.
How did you come into contact with the art world?
I came into contact with the art world through my Art History studies in Utrecht. As a result, I regularly went to visit exhibitions. My fellow students and I occasionally spoke to the curators of the institutions. I also made contact with a new generation of artists myself, including the artist Bob Eikelboom, whom we now represent in the gallery, and who was still at the academy at the time.
What was your first job in a gallery? Or did you immediately start a gallery yourself?
My first job at a gallery was an internship at Annet Gelink Gallery. As a result of my art history study, I had followed an internship at TENT in Rotterdam. Commerce has always attracted me. As a teenager I developed my own commercial projects from a specific interest in something; a certain type of t-shirts or vintage designer sunglasses from a specific time period. By delving into it, I discovered that there was a market for it, which I then started to capitalize on. In addition to the very instructive experience I had gained at a smaller non-profit art institution, I also wanted to orientate myself in the auction and gallery world.
I had the opportunity to do a six-week internship at auction house Christie's, in Amsterdam. After this second internship I wanted to learn more about art galleries, what exactly was the difference with an auction house, and what I would prefer to continue doing. Within two weeks a vacancy came up for an internship at Annet and I enjoyed working there, including on the Antonis Pittas exhibition. I missed that direct contact with the artist at the auction house and it gave me the idea that the gallery was the place I should focus on.
Working in a gallery is incredibly varied: in a single day you can deal with artistic content, exhibition production, business decisions and collection advice, while every so often you welcome gallery visitors and provide information about the exhibition.
How would you describe your gallery’s profile?
I would describe the profile of Galerie Fons Welters as that of a sturdy tree. Firm roots in the ground, a solid foundation and long-term relationships with artists and widespread ramifications, but also with always new leaves on it. You could see those firm roots as anchoring them in the Dutch art sector.
The gallery has existed since 1989, always at the same location in the Jordaan, and we tend to show and collaborate with artists who live, work or have studied in the Netherlands. The latter is something I have been expanding a bit since I started working at the gallery (August 2016). For example, we more often present artists who have no relationship with the Netherlands. This entails new starting points, contacts and perspectives, although there are certainly also greater risks involved. These artists are often unknown to the public, so it takes more time for the public to commit to such an artist.
Fons started the gallery back in 1989 with a special focus on spatial work; he had already done this in 1985 with his Galerie voor Ruimtelijke Werk on the Palmdwarsstraat. Although this is not a guiding principle in our programming, it is interesting to see that we often prefer sculptural practices.
The solid foundation rests on a number of our artists. In 2019, I curated a group exhibition with the core group entitled 'The Classics': Tom Claassen, Job Koelewijn, Berend Strik and Maria Roosen are inextricably linked to Galerie Fons Welters. We have been working with all four artists for 25 to 30 years. That is very special. I also think those long relationships are a nice part of the gallery, to combine those classics – who already have a beautiful track record – with a younger generation of artists. This often works both ways. Recently, we showed work by different generations of artists in the group exhibition 'Something About Us', which included work by Evelyn Taocheng Wang, Daan van Golden, Maria Roosen and Magali Reus. The gallery has also been working with other artists for 10 to 20 years now. For example, I am thinking of Jennifer Tee, Gabriel Lester and David Jablonowski.
Presenting young artists is something that has made Fons’s name. Folkert de Jong, Magali Reus and Tenant of Culture, for example, showed work early in their careers in the gallery's front space (2001, 2008 and 2020 respectively). The shows in the gallery were regularly the first exhibitions after finishing an academy, many of the artists in our programme started with us that way. Sometimes Fons followed an artist for a number of years, such as Femmy Otten, whose work Fons had already seen at the academy in The Hague, then encountered it again in Ghent at the HISK and when she was at the Rijksakademie asked to make an exhibition in the gallery.
For a long time, mainly new artists were shown in the front area of the gallery. Around 2000, this space was called 'Playstation' and more individual exhibitions were organized. The name was later changed to 'Frontspace'. I try to break down the hierarchy between the young artist in the front and the established or already represented artist in the back space. I find it just as interesting to see a smaller presentation of an artist we've been working with for years. Sometimes this is even more interesting, because you can respond more quickly to new developments and it can become a more intimate presentation. I also often present artists who are already known outside the Netherlands in the front space. For example, we showed Lena Henke's work in the front space simultaneously with David Jablonowski's solo in the back space. They are of the same generation, both German, and both sculptors. The public sometimes has to get used to such changes, and it is often thought – because it has been programmed in this way for twenty years – that artists belonging to the programme exhibit in the back room.
I hope that the hierarchy can slowly be torn down and that the front and rear space will be looked just as attentively. Because the front space is a passage to the rear space, it is sometimes skipped upon entering and only carefully examined when people are on their way out. The ever new leaves on the tree are therefore the constant influx of artists that we have not previously shown. Fons and I choose these mostly intuitively: the work has to be stimulating in one way or another. Fortunately, Fons and I often agree on that. Sometimes it takes a little more time for one of us, but that is often because the other has already seen it before.
What do you think is the best part of being a gallerist?
The best thing about being a gallerist is bringing artists and interested parties together. You have a double relationship, with artists on the one hand and collectors and professionals on the other. Both have the same interests and sensitivities that you try to bring together, and from which you also learn a lot from both sides through the long conversations over the years. Because you constantly get to know new people, that keeps on renewing itself. What I also really like is that you have a long-term relationship with an artist, in contrast to most museums and presentation institutions. There often a relatively short, very intensive collaboration takes place in the run-up to an exhibition, public programme, publication or other type of presentation. I like that I support the gallery’s artists with these kinds of activities and can follow their developments over a long period of time.
Which national / international galleries do you feel an affinity with?
I don't have so much specific galleries that I feel a connection with, more galleries whose programme and the people working there interest me and which I like to follow and visit. Examples are: Bridget Donahue (New York), Essex Street (New York), Madragoa (Lisbon), Emalin (London) and Tramps (New York).
In an ideal world, which artist would you most like to represent?
Bruce Nauman, who, despite his long career, still manages to innovate, and who for me is the foundation on which many contemporary artists build (sometimes perhaps without even knowing it). In his practice he asks basic questions about what an artist does and continues to experiment with new materials and techniques even in old age.
What has changed in the art world since you took your first steps?
This sounds like I've been working in the art world for a long time, but I don't think much has changed since. The world is constantly changing, and so is the art world. When I look at the gallery I see that digitization has of course had a great impact over the past thirty years. I'm glad I can just pull a PDF out of our systems and send it, and not have to spend hours working on slides, of which I sometimes come across the cover letters in our archive.
What / whose work do you collect yourself?
I collect contemporary art with my wife. We followed a number of artists from the gallery before I came to work in the gallery. We have a special affinity with the work of, among others, Olga Balema. We can never label it immediately and it always makes us curious. When you think you are about to get a grip on her work, she surprises you with a completely new series. Artists from outside the gallery we follow include Kasper Bosmans, Daniel de Paula and Marina Pinksy.
Has the pandemic changed the way you see the artworld?
The pandemic has shown me that people want to see and continue to buy art at all times, because in times of little certainty it can offer you something without knowing what it is exactly what you are looking for or will find. That is what Fons and I also look for in the artists whose work we show.