Frey Feriyanto in the gallery during "Unleashed and Beyond" with Hans Lemmen and Roger Ballen, 2020.
How (and when) did they start their gallery, what has changed in the art world since then, what is their profile, what do they collect themselves, and what is the impact from Corona at their gallery? This week with Frey Feriyanto (Galerie Helder) In the role of Rama in wayang theatre, based on Hindu epic Ramayana, Indonesia 1979.
Were you exposed to art while growing up?
Yes and no. I grew up in Indonesia until I was 18, writing children's poems and playing high school. Fascinated and almost hypnotized, I often watched open-air wayang performances well into the night. I loved that, especially the mythical Hindu epic Mahabharata and the Ramayana. I knew almost every character from those stories.
Flanked by an endlessly penetrating gamelan orchestra in the midst of an intense tropical nature, everything worked on my mind, and I was in my element. I grew up with these stories, mixed with animism, and in a predominantly Muslim society – my grandfather was a respected imam. Later I went to a Christian high school.
In my room, there were three A4 posters that I had bought on the street on my way home from elementary school: they were pictures of paintings entitled "The Old Guitarist", "Starry Night" and "Mona Lisa". Those images fascinated me, while the atmosphere was unknown to me. I was strongly attracted to that mysterious world. I only got to know the names of the artists years later in Europe. I looked at it every night, before going to sleep. I thought it was fascinating and didn't know why.
My mother taught me how to look at an object through a camera lens. She was a photographer-journalist for a newspaper. I was allowed to help her in the darkroom. I got to know life from the street. I always felt that life is like a river, it flows from the source to the ocean. Every morning when I woke up I was curious what the day would bring me; sometimes very euphoric, I knew that nothing stays the same.
Starring "Diary of a Thief" (Jean Genet) in school theater, Indonesia 1980.
How did you come into contact with the art world?
I wanted to build my own house from a young age, that was an essential desire. After food I thought housing was important, simply because of the necessary practical protection. In the Netherlands I therefore went to study architecture in 1985 at the University of the Arts in Utrecht. That same year I learned what art meant to me: it hardly gave me any grip, but it did give me a new inexplicable dimension to the unknown. I learned to love art because I was curious. And I discovered the names of the makers of those three little posters from my bedroom in Indonesia. I graduated in Architecture as well as in Visual Arts (autonomous) in 1992. Immediately afterwards, I started working at various architectural firms in Amsterdam and Jakarta. Later I carried out assignments on my own, from Barneveld to Bali.
One of Frey's presentations at the 1990 School of the Arts.
During this period I rediscovered the sounds of the gamelan orchestra from my early childhood, in the works of modern European composers such as Claude Debussy, Erik Satie or – more recently – the minimalists John Cage and Philip Glass. Connecting the past once again with the present. I find the transformation of things in life fascinating. Art is now self-evident, because it is part of my daily life and I like to surround myself with it. I also cannot imagine a nice house or space without art. Art resonates in my mind.
With one of my artworks purchased with KunstKoop in a monthly magazine, 2000.
What was your first job in a gallery? Or did you immediately start a gallery yourself?
Right after my academy days in the early nineties, I met Erik Bos, from the Nouvelles Images gallery in The Hague, one of the oldest galleries in the country. Since then, art has become an even more intense part of my life and I could regularly be found in that gallery. I went on studio visits, both in the Netherlands and abroad, for example in London, at the studio of Michael Raedecker, one of the emerging Dutch artists at the time whose work was purchased by collector Charles Saatchi at an early stage, and in Berlin from Ronald de Bloeme, who had just moved there. I found everything fascinating and instructive and it broadened my understanding of art.
At an art fair with (seated) Frank Megens and Erik Bos (Galerie Nouvelles Images), 2001.
At Nouvelles Images I helped installing exhibitions which gave me energy. It was intense, because of the large gallery spaces and the many works that had to be presented, often by several artists at the same time. We regularly attended foreign fairs such as Arco Madrid, Frankfurter Messe and of course also fairs in the Netherlands. I learned a lot about the gallery from Erik Bos – unfortunately, he passed away much too early - and the good memories and special activities of Nouvelles Images remain dear to me.
Offer of liber amicorum to Queen Beatrix on the occasion of her 25th reign jubilee, Nouvelles Images, 2005.
In 2010, I started the Helder gallery together with my partner Frank Megens. We thought the time was right to share our lifes and do it together. Looking for a purpose that further fulfilled our being together, we arrived at art. Not one second before did I ever think to start a gallery. A brief visit to the Chamber of Commerce turned out to be enough for Helder's kick-off. A gallery suddenly felt natural to come home to. What still had to be done afterwards turned out to be a continuously surprising practice.
In any case, after more than ten years gallery Helder has become my identity. I put my soul in the gallery. It is a pleasant way of living and thinking with art. I am responsible for every activity in the gallery. Frank's role is indispensable in this, as an anchor. We are an amazing duo and have a lot of fun together.
Samir Calixto dances in the exhibition 'On The Surface', 2012.
How would you describe your gallery’s profile?
The gallery shows a wide range from figuration to abstraction and conceptual art, in all possible disciplines. The final form of a work of art is less important, but how the artist views life with his artistry, the engagement. Important to me is the feeling, the emotion and that the heart beats faster from pleasant excitement and healthy tension. I always look for the poetic charge and only surround myself with what I find important and exciting. That is the basis of gallery Helder.
I am aware that such a personal approach has limitations towards a larger audience, but that is not a problem, because in this way I can represent the artists with greater involvement. An artist like Marcel Wesdorp, with his computer-based personal research into reality and beyond, continues to fascinate me. I can also look at the minimalist metal sculptures by Cecilia Vissers for a long time freeing up my thoughts. On the other hand, the works on paper of Zaida Oenema or Stephan van den Burg can also move me immensely because of their precision and innovative way of working.
Interview with Indonesian collector Dr. Oei Hong Djien in his museum in Magelang in 2013.
Art can be narrative, rational or emotional, art can be guiding in someone's life. I like to compare it to religion, that is, with the crazy stories and traditions, but without the dogmas. Art needs an adventurous spirit. You can lose yourself in it, be amazed, escape it. Actually, I am not quite sure what art can do, but I see that as a pleasant inconvenience and it challenges me to a search for what life can mean for me. I am constantly in motion, also in terms of my view of the world. At the same time, the gallery changes with me to new insights and ways of approaching art. Nothing stays the same. Like writer Anna Enquist recently said in an interview, "Life is constantly saying goodbye." When you realize that, you live to the fullest.
Colleagues from The Hague reflect on the 'Art Walk' with artists and visitors, 2013.
What do you think is the best part of being a gallerist?
The freedom to create something and to introduce people to it. Organizing the exhibitions with a certain vision that inspires me at that moment. I always had the need to be independent, to be able to make my own choices and to continuously investigate. Being able to tell a story through art. I find it fascinating to deal with new insights and ideas from the artists that I can reflect on and which give me more insight. Initially, I want to enrich myself with these experiences. Working with art gives me a lot of pleasure and an extra dimension to everyday life. In short: living with art is the most beautiful aspect of being a gallery owner. It's an adventure. How about living in the gallery? That could be the dream of someone who loves art. It is said that with art you can better understand the world and do not have to travel to get to know cultures.
In order to better understand the thinking about art, I find it fascinating to read books and to delve into philosophy, history, religion, about humanity in general and the relationships in the world. It is quite difficult to realize that we are only part of a small period in history. I feel tiny and at the same time very big in my own microcosm. Being a gallery owner takes me further to a more intense life that I would like to experience together with artists and the public. I want to get the widest possible insight to understand little by little what life is all about.
Studio visit with artist Agung Kurniawan in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 2014.
Which national / international galleries do you feel an affinity with?
I knew Nouvelles Images in The Hague very well, of course. Obviously, I am enthusiastic about this gallery, also because I felt it showed me essence of what being a gallery owner entails. Erik Bos was always true to himself, and he was also very consistent in the choice of his artists. I think I inherited that mentality from him. I don't really have preferences or examples of what a gallery should be like, of gallery blueprints nationally or internationally. Over the years I have become realistic about this. I know what I want and what I can do, that is my limitation and at the same time my strength.
Lecture by philosopher Eric Bolle during "On the Surface", 2014.
In an ideal world, which artist would you most like to represent?
I especially enjoy discovering artists, fresh from academy or matured in their studio. In addition, nothing is more insidious than discovering talent, since nobody knows when an artist reaches his peak. That can be a long process, which is why it is so exciting. I would find it very selfish to only want to represent certain artists or movements. No, I'm too diverse for that. I don't want to push myself into the corner of certain art movements. In addition to the abstract works of René Korten and Elka Oudenampsen, I also show drawings by Hans Lemmen. They are so different and yet they suit me and the gallery wonderfully.
Performance Jan Willem Troost, during the lustrum of Helder, 2015 (photo Eric de Vries)
I like socially committed work, but also art that refers to itself. I like to visit international art events such as the Venice Biennale, the Documenta in Kassel and the travelling Manifesta. I find art with a context fascinating, for example the city with its social cohesion and political commitment. I think that's because the design world has also shaped me.
I admire the dramatic work of Kiefer and the melancholy of De Chirico, but I also enjoy looking at the serene work of Morandi and the personal oeuvre of Louise Bourgeois. In addition, I am happy to surround myself with works by artists I represent. The origin of the work is not important to me; however, it must touch me.
The lustrum five years, gallery Helder, 2015.
What has changed in the art world since you took your first steps?
In some ways the art world remains the same, I think. As in the highest segment, art is definitely business, and offers leeway for those who can afford it. International auctions with household names are constantly in the news, but those names are increasingly contemporary. And you sometimes see wonderful shifts, such as that Leonardo da Vinci's work "Salvator Mundi" was bought by an Islamic crown prince; it is remarkable that this Christian work of art is appreciated there.
At the lustrum of gallery Helder, 2015.
Social media have acted as a catalyst of change. Art seems to have become less elitist. In principle, it is accessible to everyone and in that sense more democratic. But whether art reaches the masses is the question: do the masses like art?
For several decades, the ideas of contemporary art as a free means of expression have become increasingly international. In Asia, for example, a flourishing profile and market for contemporary art has emerged over the past four decades. Art is also internationalizing and has become fond of traveling beyond the national borders. Yet, I notice that art still thrives best in its own environment, so in its own context.
At the opening of a gallery exhibition, 2019.
What / whose work do you collect yourself?
I own works by different artists from different periods and not specifically aimed at certain movements or genres. Also from artists from the gallery, from getting to know and appreciate them better, or for support. I always follow my gut. My decision to buy art was by letting myself be seduced into an unknown world. That fits well with my attitude to life. I still look back on it with a happy and beautiful feeling, with a certain wealth of experience.
I am now in the phase of life that priorities change. I now think it is more important to sell art. So I am more concerned with disseminating art than collecting.
Ensemble Modelo6, in the gallery – 2019.
Has the pandemic changed the way you see the artworld?
This period gives me a lot of time to think about the meaning of art. Its reappraisal as a fundamental vehicle of expression and development is more necessary than ever before. For too long, art has been put away on the cost side of the financial account. And compared to the consumption of all kinds of (un)practical things, art can give a much greater and often give essential, inner satisfaction.
In any case, art stimulates our thinking, to deal creatively with the world. For example, the macro level is linked to the micro level and it appears that discoveries can also occur closer to home. You don't necessarily have to go outside for an art experience, let alone travel far. When viewed from the perspective of our history - including literature, music, film and theatre - relaxation and deepening are always within reach. In addition to the adventure of the wide world, one’s personal environment also offers a wealth of possibilities. When you have art within reach, that companionship suffices to never feel lonely. The past year, has made me realise this even more sharply.
Exhibition "Far North" with Cecilia Vissers, 2021.
Click here to see all the artists represented by Galerie Helder.