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 profile, what do they collect themselves, and how has the pandemic impacted their gallery? In this part: Anne Mie Emons (Art Gallery O-68).
Were you exposed to art while growing up?
Not really, but there was some interest. I went to a secondary school where art was an integral part of almost all classes. In arts class we went to galleries, in history there was attention for art, in classical languages for art in antiquity, in modern languages for writers and artists, in geography for art in other countries, in chemistry/physics for age determination, in mathematics for relationships that are seen as aesthetic. I studied biology at university: I can't remember when we talked about art in those classes.
How did you come into contact with the art world?
My husband, John de Jong, and I started buying art in the late 1970s, graphics by well-known artists from the last century. We have never felt like collectors. We buy art: the walls are covered, from ceiling to plinth and from right to left in all corridors and rooms, except in the basement. We both had busy jobs and holidays together often meant a weekend during a conference or working visit abroad. Several times in San Francisco, where we knew the galleries on Sutter Street better than those in Amsterdam. It transpired that we often paid too much over there, as we are now selling works through, for example, Christie's to pay for the renovation of our new gallery building.
In 2011, I had already had a great career as a scientist, but I wanted something new: my own gallery. In that year I gave my farewell speech at Wageningen University and took courses at Sotheby's Institute of Art in London: 'Practical guide how to start an art gallery', 'management in the art world', but also 'contemporary art'. We had lectures in the morning and in the afternoon we went to galleries or the Frieze Art Fair. Educational and fun with twenty students from seventeen countries. I am still in touch with some of them.
What was your first job in a gallery? Or did you immediately start a gallery yourself?
I started immediately after my retirement as professor of plant cell biology. As a cell biologist you learn to look very well: electron microscope, confocal laser scanning microscope, video microscope. My group preferred to study living cells. They are very beautiful, that made a big impression on me.
I started out small with the gallery. We had a building next to our house that we rented out. When the downstairs apartment became available, I started Art Gallery O-68 there. We had discussed the name of the gallery during an evening session at such a Sotheby's course. You can give a gallery your own name if you are already known in the art world, such as Hauser & Wirth. If not: rather something that refers to the gallery. I therefore declined 'Emons gallery'. I had come up with O-68 of Oranjestraat 68, the address, and that was very positively assessed. There is only one problem with that name: O is seen as 0, and then the gallery cannot be found on the internet.
How would you describe your gallery’s profile?
As a mixture of young and established artists, working in wide variety of techniques. I must want to own a work myself, and I must have the feeling that I can take it to a better fair than the fairs I am already at. The work must be finished and durable. Thorough skill, a unique creative process, a specific visual language: that's what I'm looking for. And more and more preferably also a social context, but very implicitly. The work may be a bit provocative. Then of course I am told that it does not fit above the sofa. I like to combine young and established talent, which tends to work out very well for both parties. For example, the next exhibition 'Figure This' will show works by Anne von Freyburg from London and Rinke Nijburg, her teacher.
The main premise of the gallery is to support 'young' artists. Once every 3 years we give the O-68 AWARD (with an amount of 10,000 euros) to an artist who obtained her/his last diploma seven to fourteen years ago; a critical period in the career as I knew with scientists, and now also see with artists. It’s all or nothing. We wanted to make it an international prize, but artists felt that it should also be a local prize. Thus it became: born, studied, live or work in the border provinces of the Netherlands, North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany or Flanders in Belgium. The prize has been awarded twice. The first winner was Mariska de Groot from The Hague, who had studied in Arnhem. Light performances and installations. The second time painter Wieteke Heldens from The Hague, who now lives in New York, but was born in Ottersum in Limburg. The award will be presented again this year. Due to corona, we have extended the graduation period: between seven and sixteen years. Register until July 1, 2022, see the form on the O-68 website.
What do you think is the best part of being a gallerist?
Contacts with artists, customers, buyers, collectors, curators, gallery owners, people who write about art. Visitors are also my customers. I want to share my passion for art. Art in your own home gives you a broader perspective, more perspective on life. An artist produces art to track down something, something new that you and I didn't know. If that succeeds, the viewer recognizes that, it is visible in the work, especially if you can look at it every day. That artwork brings that artist's imagination to you and broadens your point of view, your life. I think that's fantastic. Owning art is an enrichment that brings you closer to yourself, provides insight, but also entails responsibility. You have to take care of it, as you only own it temporarily.
The contacts with so many people and works of art, that is the beautiful part of this work. For example, I don't really like keeping up with websites like Artsy, but I do enjoy spending an hour zooming with my contact there and meeting her at the London Art Fair. I like to immerse myself in a work; looking as a process instead of as just seeing.
As a professor/principal investigator, I was the boss of a group of people ages twenty to sixty years old; PhD students, post-docs, assistant professors, associate professors, analysts, technicians and a secretary. Now, I am the one learning once again. And there is no hierarchy. That feels free. I think that freedom is important. I've noticed that I have a hard time working with a curator. I want to retain that flexibility of self-determination, together with the artist.
Which national / international galleries do you feel an affinity with?
In Arnhem and the surrounding area there is no such thing as a group of gallerists, as in Amsterdam. There are gallery owners at (inter)national fairs that I like to talk to. What I see of both Dutch and foreign galleries is that they are so unique and that this uniqueness is strongly related to the person of the gallery owner. If I had started thirty years earlier, it certainly wouldn't have been in Velp, not even in Amsterdam, but in London for example. I would like to mention a gallery, Onrust in Amsterdam. I would like to go there more often. But our own activity comes first.
In an ideal world, which artist would you most like to represent?
I don't know, or maybe I don't want to say in public. I do know what qualities an artist should have: open and honest with each other, smart, creative and skilled in her/his profession. And passion that runs deep inside, a sincere passion. Not only the art has to fit, that goes for the person as well.
I see the role of the artist as a help to live our lives by creating a world that we enter again and again through the artist's 'imagination'. Art stands between reality and imagination and is thus a view of the future.
My gallery programmes artist who also exhibit their work at other galleries. To bind an artist, to be the only gallery to represent an artist, you must have a lot to offer, the artist must be able to make a living thanks to your activities. I think that few galleries are able to do that at the moment. It's this romantic idea I have of a gallery. I would love that. Give artists annual assignments that they can live on.
What has changed in the art world since you took your first steps?
This is from 2011 to the present. It was already clear back then that it would no longer be as good as it used to be in the gallery world. In fact, it got worse. Every time I attended a meeting of the Dutch Gallery Association, before , I heard that galleries had stopped, had rented out part of their premises, only went to art fairs, only worked online, or found the membership of the NGA too expensive. That seems to have stabilized, and some new young galleries are being added, which is nice. Actually, I'm still exploring the gallery world. I have not yet participated enough in foreign trade fairs. In 2018, I participated in SCOPE Art Basel. In 2019, the London Art Fair, and DRAW Art Fair, a drawing fair in the Saatchi Gallery, and recently 'The Solo Project' in Brussels. My husband and I both really enjoy a foreign art fair. And it is great for the artists if work is sold abroad. So we're going to do that again.
What / whose work do you collect yourself?
About twenty years ago we started buying unique works, not necessarily from Dutch artists, but now we buy from our own artists. What would I buy if I had half a million to spend? Twenty years ago I would have said, "That painting by De Chirico that I saw at Weinstein Gallery in San Francisco and that I still remember." I would like to have a large statue of Henri Moore, another piece by Ger van Elk and a large work by Robert Zandvliet. In the early days of the gallery, I put a red dot on the piece we bought before the opening, but customers didn't like that. So now that dot comes only at the finissage. My husband and I have to agree, which is usually the case. I would like to buy larger works. Then I need an extra house again. We have already furnished an additional house with nine rooms with Art Deco furniture: Depot-o68. The stock of the gallery hangs there, for sale. Sometimes a room for one artist alone, sometimes several artists per room. We will also organize small exhibitions there. People are welcome to make an appointment.
Has the pandemic changed the way you see the artworld?
We opened our new beautiful building in 2019, which has not yet been completely renovated. Built in 1883 as a gymnasium by one of the founders of physiotherapy, Mr Minkman from Arnhem. It has been a church since 1953. Then came the pandemic, we had to close and I did things digitally. The 'Artist's Practice' newsletter was a lot of fun to do. In the empty gallery we photographed a work of art by an artist and put on appropriate attire. The artist wrote a piece about his/her way of working next to a photo of the studio. Giving artists 'exposure', even during the lockdown, was also good for us. Yes it’s online, but you have to. Having said that, sitting behind my desk is less interesting than talking to people in the gallery.