Were you exposed to art while growing up?
Yes, definitely. We had a work by Jan Henderikse hanging in the living room, a square of cents against a red background. If I remember correctly, there were 49 x 49 cents. Our childhood friends thought we were very rich because the money was just hanging on the wall. There was a predilection for contemporary and Avant-garde art. When we went on holiday in France, we visited Marcel Duchamp's birthplace instead of some Gothic church. My father was a great storyteller – especially about that period, the 1920s and 1930s – and we had a kind of Dadaist family humour. For me, art was to be found in the contrary or in the intensification of reality. When I started studying art history, a world opened up to me when it came to ancient art. I did not even know who John the Baptist was, and was deeply impressed by Titian and Fra Angelico, for example.
How did you come into contact with the art world?
When I was a freshman in art history, I met Rob Scholte, and one thing led to another. I got to know Martin Bril, Dirk van Weelden and the entire artist scene around the Living Room gallery. That was one of the places where it happened in the early eighties. Gallerist Bart van de Ven was a passionate man who, together with his best friend Peer Veneman, created an energetic programme of mainly young Dutch art. Looking back on it now, it was quite old-fashioned: there was still a real battle between figuration and abstraction. This new figuration - and the accompanying postmodernist ideas - were not acceptable to a lot of artists. They really thought that was a relegation. Compared to today there was a lot of discussion about right and wrong, what art meant etc. Critics still had a lot of power. A Paul Groot or Anna Tilroe review was of great influence. Much more value was attached to this than is the case today.
What was your first job at a gallery? Or did you immediately start a gallery yourself?
My first job at a gallery was at the Living Room and I believe I worked there for five years. The gallery was located in a room on the Laurierstraat where it was so cold that I had to sit there wearing gloves and a second-hand fur coat. There were far fewer collectors than now, but they were very much informed and interested. From that time I know Jeanette and Martijn Sanders and Judith Cahen, who purchased art for KPN at the time. Everything still had a kind of squat allure. When the art world suddenly shifted into a kind of Wall Street gear in the mid-1980s, it took a while to adapt. Squatter's outfits were exchanged for double breasted suits and the attendant mindset.
At the time, an Indian collector living in Brussels was already trying to convince me to start my own business and that became more and more attractive. He bought very internationally. For example, I saw an installation by Felix Gonzales Torres for the first time, a line of candies on the floor, and it was an eye opener to me that private collectors also bought so-called impossible-to-place works.
In 1992, I started gallery Bloom together with Annet Gelink. It was the first gallery we owned and we started in a time of relative crisis, under the motto: then things can only get better. The nice thing about that period was being able to deploy an international network on a friendly basis. For example, we had contact with galleries such as Cabinet, Maureen Paley, Gavin Brown and Anthony Reynolds. Money didn't play such a role yet and it was easy for us to work with artists like Douglas Gordon or Gillian Wearing.
The Stedelijk Museum made exhibitions with our generation of artists. "Wild Walls", in 1995, was controversial in that sense, and the video magazine Zapp Magazine documented all the international exhibitions of interest to us. You really had the feeling that you were creating something together.
Ten years later, I started my own business and it has been a family business since 2005. David van Doesburg and I run the gallery together and work and life have merged into each other in a natural way. We share the same passion and it is more than satisfying how our lives serve art and vice versa. We give each other space and really don't keep each other awake at night with all kinds of worries about the gallery.
How would you describe your gallery’s profile?
The gallery's profile is based on discovering young talent, guiding mid-career artists and rediscovering an older generation. It is a kick to offer artists you believe in an international platform.
We do not commit to any particular medium. Everything is represented: from photography to painting, from performance to installation art. In that respect, I am truly a child of postmodernism. I also take pride in working with women. These are still underrepresented in museums, and I am glad that artists such as Saskia Olde Wolbers, Amalia Pica, Helen Verhoeven, Maaike Schoorel and Elspeth Diederix are represented in various museums and are indispensable in the contemporary art world.
I am very proud to represent Ferdi. Unfortunately, she passed away a long time ago, but her work is still very much alive and she was once the first female artist to have a solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum. Art should have something contrary and unpredictable to me. I hate it when it becomes mainstream, for example, worn-out conceptual art. Stanley Brouwn is a genius, but today there are so many of those half-baked inventions.
What part of being a gallery owner do you like most?
Sometimes I can be deeply moved by a work of art by an artist I represent. On such occasions it is a joy to be around their work every day. Or when an artist surpasses himself, or how a "difficult" work grows on you. Organizing an exhibition is also often a highlight. It is always a challenge to present the work in the best possible way. Sometimes the beauty / vision is in an individual work, sometimes in the combination. When everything coincides, that's a moment of happiness. This is now the case, for example, with the Wolfgang Messing exhibition. Extended beyond the lockdown...
As a gallerist, you are in a split between the artist and the collector, which can be quite difficult at times. The biggest kick is in connecting the two, believing in your artists and gaining the trust of the customer. Paul Andriesse once said in an interview that as a gallery owner you can never do it right: if you sell a work it is because it is a good work, and if you don't manage to sell it, it is your fault. Fortunately, this is not the case with everyone, but there is something in it. The adrenaline of a sale can be addictive, especially at an art fair, something that generates a lot of energy. Most satisfying is a win-win situation, which is when the buyer is really happy with a purchase and the artist with the collection it is going to.
Are there any galleries at home or abroad with which you feel an affinity?
I feel at home with the galleries on our street. It is a mixed company, and although we all have our own vision and preferences, we are very collegial and we organize things together. Small events such as the Hazenstraat Biennale or a Saturday afternoon drink.
I used to work a lot with Christina Wilson from Denmark and Vilma Gold from London. Unfortunately, both of them quit. I also still miss Juliette Jongma. These kinds of closures show how tough the life of a gallery owner can be. The stress should, of course, not overshadow happiness. In that respect, Marian Goodman and Paula Cooper are really the classics for me.
They have proven how a woman can get to the top and stay there with a unique programme. I am less fond of those nouveau riche galleries representing the Pierre Puvis de Chavannes-like artists of today and mainly focus on collectors with a lot of money and little know-how. I feel related to galleries that stick their necks out. In that sense, Marianne van Tilborg and Ellen de Bruijne deserve praise in the Netherlands.
In an ideal world, which artist would you most like to represent?
Ik had het een uitdaging gevonden om met Louise Bourgeois te werken. Vast een heel moeilijke vrouw – ze liet zelfs haar kranten strijken – maar het moet fantastisch zijn om zo’n carrière te kunnen begeleiden. Ze is iemand die pas op latere leeftijd echt succesvol werd en een voorbeeld is voor zoveel jonge kunstenaars. Ook David Hammons had ik graag vertegenwoordigd en Tino Sehgal staat hoog op mijn lijstje. Hij is voor mij de meest inspirerende performancekunstenaar na Ulay en Marina Abramovic, ook omdat hij het erg moeilijk maakt om zijn werk te verkopen – het mag bijvoorbeeld niet gedocumenteerd worden – maar dat dan wel gebeurt. En van Nederlandse bodem natuurlijk Marlene Dumas en Stanley Brouwn.
What has changed in the art world since you took your first steps?
The art world has changed incredibly since the 1980s in both a positive and negative sense. First of all, contemporary art itself has become much more popular and the number of customers has also grown enormously. A completely different segment has emerged. In the past, you had a few great collectors who really collected in depth, and now you also have many who want beautiful work that is qualitatively in proportion to an Eames or Maarten Baas. Art is no longer the final piece in the renovation - at least it shouldn't be - and today there are people who put a daring work in their home without immediately wanting to get to know the entire oeuvre of such an artist. At the same time, many galleries have become a kind of multinationals with offices in London, New York, Tokyo, etc. Of course, there is no competing against that and the question is whether you should want to. The emphasis on stock markets is extreme, but that may change after the pandemic. There are so many of them, and it is a pity that many people only view art in a commodity context. Every work then gets an aura of money, whether it is expensive or cheap.
The art world used to be a completely white world and it is the greatest achievement of this time that this is changing. Maybe a bit too forced – please don't let it be a fad – but that may result in a quick catch up.
I collect a bit randomly, resulting in a fairly eclectic collection. If you are constantly busy with art, you buy in a different way. For example, you grant your collectors the best works of your own artists. I have beautiful things on the wall, ranging from Diane Arbus to Navid Nuur. Last year my father gave me a work of Stanley Brouwn. It is a "Use This Street" of the Kerkstraat, where I was born, and for me that is now the showpiece at home. It hangs close to a collage by Jimmy Robert, an artist we have been working with for a long time and who has frequently incorporated Brouwn's work into his oeuvre. His art seems very ephemeral and subtle, but at the same time has a political and social significance. As if someone is whispering the most violent statements to you.
Has the pandemic influenced your thinking about the art world?
We've been in a lockdown for so long that I'm starting to get a bit lethargic. Even posting a letter takes effort. Everything goes in slow motion, while at the same time I am bursting with energy. During the first lockdown everyone resorted to the internet and came up with special editions etc. Now I notice that collectors are getting a bit tired of all those viewing rooms. Art is something you have to experience physically. I hope that post-Corona the gallery visit will get a boost, that people can again take in an entire exhibition. Moreover, toasting to a good sale is slightly in person than from behind the relative chill of a computer screen.
See the artists represented by Stigter Van Doesburg