Caroline O'Breen, exhibition Satijn Panyigay, January 2022, Hazenstraat 54.
In the section 'The gallery of' we talk to a selection of gallerists from the Netherlands and Belgium: when and how did they start their gallery, what has changed in the art world since, what is their gallery’s profile, what do they collect themselves, and what had been the impact of the pandemic on their gallery? In this part Caroline O'Breen
(Gallery Caroline O’Breen)
We’re you exposed to art while growing up?
Sure, I grew up with art. My grandfather was an art collector, collecting prints of Old Masters and 19th century art, but also non-western art. He had his children portrayed by Jan Sluijters and Frans Oerder. He later left that art collection to his children and is now part of my collection again.
Art and also design as part of your life and your interior was very common. My mother took me to exhibitions, and I remember very well that I was really struck by modern art for the first time during the exhibition 'La Grande Parade' (1985) at the Stedelijk Museum, in Amsterdam; I was fourteen years old then. The explosions of colours in the paintings of Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko: I found it overwhelming. The Malevich exhibition at the Stedelijk in 1989 had a similar on me.
Kostverlorenkade solo of Ellen Mandemaker.
How did you come into contact with the art world?
The Stedelijk Museum was my introduction to the Amsterdam art world. When I was in college, I often went to their openings, that was always a party for me, everyone from the art world was there. Although I was a shy girl, I found it very interesting.
The art scene was also closely linked to the nightlife; I regularly visited the RoXY and Vrieshuis Amerika where artists and artistry went hand in hand and formed the basis of an extravagant and unconventional club scene. Through my studies Cultural History and Museology I became interested in the gallery world on a theoretical and substantive level.
Bethanienstraat exhibition Laurence Aëgerter & Marjolein Blom, September 2015.
What was your first job in a gallery? Or did you immediately start a gallery yourself?
I did an internship at several galleries. Coincidentally, an internship was offered at gallery Vieleers, a gallery in figurative art in Amsterdam. In terms of art, this gallery was not innovative, but I was given lots of freedom there. I was allowed to organize exhibitions, I met the artists and I learned a lot about the business side of running a gallery.
Opening at location Bethanienstraat.
How would you describe your gallery’s profile?
The gallery's focus is on contemporary, autonomous art photography. I represent work by artists who use the medium of photography and I am fascinated by artists who approach that medium in an unexpected, different way. This often results in unique works of art.
Examples of this are Anne Geene, who uses real plants and leaves in her photographic work, and Jaya Pelupessy, who develops new photographic techniques for each series, which refer to the photographic process and result in autonomous and unique works of art. I also represent artists who are exclusively engaged in photography, such as the documentary style oriented works of Anastasia Samoylova and the images of monochrome, tranquil museum rooms by Satijn Panyigay.
I don't regard myself as a gallery solely focused on photography, I want to keep it more fluid, and also present sculptures and installations. In addition, my programme has a strong focus on female artists, besides I attach great importance to showing art by artists that reflect on the environment and the climate and how we deal with it. I find it very inspiring how artists can broaden our thinking and perspective on nature and, by extension, the protection and preservation of the environment.
Sint Nicolaasstraat exhibition Jaya Pelupessy, November 2017.
What do you think is the best part of being a gallerist?
I work a lot with artists who are growing in their career and then it is very special to see how an artist develops over time, how the work changes and deepens. As a gallerist you contribute to strengthening the artist’s position in the art world through all the activities you carry out as a gallery, such as curating exhibitions, sales and art fair presentations. How valuable it is when I see that it pays off! As a gallerist you make connections between different areas; between the artist and the public, between content and commerce and between the emotional and the business. You always have to make that translation and you therefore have to deal with all those facets. I find that very intriguing and inspiring and that makes this profession varied and educational. Discovering an artist who has added value for the arts also gives me enormous satisfaction.
Sint Nicolaasstraat exhibition of Carolien Scholtes with curator Hans Rooseboom, April 2018.
Which national / international galleries do you feel an affinity with?
There are several galleries with which I feel related in the Netherlands: Wouter van Leeuwen, Flatland Gallery, tegenboschvanvreden, Akinci and internationally: Robert Morat, Webber, Mirko Mayer, Galerie Binome, Dorothee Nilsson, Peter Sillem, Galerie Intervalle.
Hazenstraat 15, exhibition of Alle Jong.
In an ideal world, which artist would you most like to represent?
In his recent series that was shown at Foam not long ago, Alec Soth showed beautiful portraits. They are personal, direct, intimate and everyday. Soth knows how to elevate the ordinary to the sublime. I find Sophie Calle interesting; taking her personal life as a starting point, she manages to expose social conventions and platitudes. Very conceptually layered, distinctive and tough work.
Shirin Neshat is an Iranian artist who combines text and photography in a special way. Very aesthetic and poetic work, in which she investigates the male-female relationships from her Islamic background.
Hazenstraat 15 exhibition of Anastasia Samoylova, May 2020.
What has changed in the art world since you took your first steps?
The gallery has especially changed a lot. I once started as a pop-up gallery under the name Seelevel Gallery, which I ran together with Manon Funcke. We rented a beautiful, 250 m2 anti-squat space on the Kostverlorenkade. We also organised exhibitions at other institutions, such as the Amsterdam Center for Photography, Gijs Stork's Warehouse, and the former Trouw building. After a few years I continued the gallery alone and changed its name. I have gone from a number of small locations to something bigger and bigger. I have been in the current space in the Hazenstraat since September 2020.
The function of the gallery has also changed. When we started, we wanted to move away from the traditional gallery with a fixed space and six exhibitions a year. We organized event-like opening and already focused on online sales in 2011, which almost no one did at the time. We didn't have very many sales, and gradually we realized that the traditional gallery concept with a regular program still yielded more results. Today it is different, online sales are taking on an increasingly important position, so perhaps we were a bit ahead of the curve at the time.
Location Hazenstraat 54 exhibition Matthieu Litt, March 2021.
What / whose work do you collect yourself?
I haven't been collecting that long, because in the beginning all profits were reinvested in the gallery. Now I am collecting more and more works by the artists I represent; Anne Geene, Satijn Panyigay, Jaya Pelupessy, Ola Lanko, Jitske Schols, Margaret Lansink, Tanja Engelberts, Antoinette Nausikaä, Anastasia Samoylova, Sarah Mei Herman, Maura Biava, Miho Kajioka and Witho Worms. I also have photography from Marina Abramovic, Daido Moriyama, Popel Coumou, Melanie Bonajo and Thomas Manneke.
Has the pandemic changed the way you see the artworld?
I have always been a proponent of a transparent art market where prices are clearly communicated. The growth of the online market – due to the pandemic – made this even more urgent; people do a lot of online research into works of art, and it is nice if they can inform themselves as fully as possible. Although the online art market is not my preference – because in the end art is all about seeing, feeling and experiencing a work of art – a good digital infrastructure is essential and indispensable for the gallery. The corona pandemic also made me realize all the more that you have to be able to adapt to changing circumstances and sometimes need to be inventive to promote your gallery as well as possible.
Hazenstraat 54, exhibition Anastasia Samoylova, March, 2021.