Were you exposed to art while growing up?
Art is in the blood. My father collected and dealt in art for as long as I can remember. Ever since I was little I have been surrounded by the paintings, and aged sixteen I bought my first painting at an auction. It was a large winter landscape on panel by Andreas Schelfhout, which I bought for a record breaking price at the time – in 1986 - at Diederiks, an auction house in The Hague. The work was sold by my father to a collector in New York, who still owns it today.
How did you come into contact with the art world?
My father Leslie founded the Leslie Smith Gallery in 1969, specializing in nineteenth-century art, and through him I came into contact with the art world and the art trade. I learned a lot from my father; I often went to auctions, exhibitions and fairs. I especially learned to look, recognize and determine a price: all things that are important for purchasing.
What was your first job in a gallery? Or did you immediately start a gallery yourself?
Quite suddenly I decided to work in my father's gallery. My father became ill, and one year before his death I quit my studies and started helping in the gallery with the aim of eventually taking it over. When my father passed away in 1990, I continued the gallery.
In 1998, I founded DS Contemporary, with the aim of giving young artists in the Netherlands a chance to exhibit to a large audience. It is still my aim to offer new art a place in the gallery. Over the years the focus of the collection has shifted towards modern and contemporary art. In addition, my wife Gabriëlle Davidson has joined the gallery since 2007. A few years later we decided to continue under the name SmithDavidson Gallery.
How would you describe your gallery’s profile?
The collection is very diverse and includes art from all continents. While my father started out with nineteenth-century Dutch painting, we focus on modern and contemporary art with a specialization in Australian Aboriginal art.
I believe in the power of visual art, the work must be able to speak for itself; there must be power in it and the person viewing it must be triggered to keep asking questions and to look further. In addition, we always work with artists who create works that are exciting, powerful and innovative, in order to create a broad and challenging range for our customers. We like to work with both established and emerging artists in whom we see potential. We are happy to offer these artists a place in our gallery.
What do you think is the best part of being a gallerist?
Building long-term relationships. This applies both to our customers – many of whom have also become good friends – and to the relationship with our artists, whom we closely supervise in their development. It is always very special to discover new artists.
Which national / international galleries do you feel an affinity with?
SmithDavidson Gallery is unique in the Netherlands due to our international profile and our branches in the United States and Mexico. In addition, we attach great value to long-term collaborations, both with the artists we represent and with other galleries. For example, we have good collaborations with galleries in Venice, Sydney and Marbella.
In an ideal world, which artist would you most like to represent?
Leonardo da Vinci. He was way ahead of his time. A very intriguing character.
What has changed in the art world since you took your first steps?
In the past 32 years? I would say everything has changed. When I started, I was nineteen years old and bought almost everything at auctions at home and abroad. There was no internet, so the art world was much smaller. The way I used to do business is no longer possible today. I didn't have a grand plan for what would happen to the gallery, it just came naturally.
When my interests started to shift, I came into contact with new art movements and met contemporary artists that I wanted to promote. As a result, the focus in the gallery changed automatically. For me this became a natural development, something that is no longer so easy these days. Nowadays everything has become much more professional, business-like and certainly tougher. You cannot easily get something off the ground without a plan, you have to stand firm and know what you want to achieve.
I also think that the art world has become a lot more accessible. Everyone can easily look up everything online, which makes it easier for you as a gallery to reach your target group. Our target audience has also changed a lot over the years. It is much easier to buy art online, which means that the international market has grown enormously, with a large influx of more and more young people.
What / whose work do you collect yourself?
Over the years, I have collected many different works, but the bulk of our art collection is Australian Aboriginal art. The passion for this art arose when my wife and I made a trip to Australia in 2006 and came into contact with this special art movement. During this trip we bought a total of fourteen beautiful works of art for our private collection and now, sixteen years later, our collection has expanded considerably. It fills me with pride to see what my wife and I have achieved and collected over the years, and I am really looking forward to expanding this collection over the next fifteen years.
Has the pandemic changed the way you see the artworld?
Not the thinking, but the way of doing business has changed. Naturally, the online presentation has become much more important, and since travel was impossible, we had more opportunity and time to focus on new developments within it. The relationship between gallery exhibitions, online presentation and the international art fairs is something we carefully examine as part of the strategy. We also carefully consider which places we want to be physically present. In this context it is also nice to mention that from September 1st we will have a gallery for two months in Chelsea, the heart of the New York art world.