‘A one weekend show’ – Apprentice Master #4: A Frame for Substance. Achtergrond werk van de Masters André Smits/ARTISTINTHEWORLD en Monica Dahlberg. Foto: André Smits. Galerie: Albert Joachimikade
What do art lovers like? Where do they buy their art and, most importantly, what do they buy? Every Monday an enthusiast tells about his love for art in this section. This week it's Tom van den Berge en Joyce van Elzakker
(Galerie van den Berge)
We’re you exposed to art while growing up?
As the child of a Dutch father and a Chinese-Surinamese mother, I grew up in Paramaribo, a melting pot of cultures. My mother played the piano, read Dutch and English literature and gave English conversation lessons, among others to the partners of new ministers. Father worked long days, first at a large Dutch company, later in his own business. In his limited spare time he was a sports reporter for a radio station and very active in a service club that provided real beds for an orphanage, and went inland with water cars during severe drought. At home there was a painting of an early 20th century Dutch landscape and when a pop group or theatre company from the Netherlands was on tour, we invariably went there. Due to a busy social life and the very limited range of cultural activities, I did not come into contact with the so-called 'Western visual arts'.
As I was apt at drawing, my parents signed me up for drawing lessons with Nola Hatterman, who then gave courses from her home in Paramaribo. Our annual holidays to the Netherlands were filled with family visits: half a rooster with fries on the Vrijthof, and a trip to a weekly market for smoked eel and new herring – everything my father liked to eat, but couldn't get in Suriname.
Due to my father's illness, we moved to the Netherlands in 1974 – my sister had just started her studies in Leiden the year before – and at secondary school in Bergen op Zoom I joined Joyce's class. From an early age, her parents took her to cathedrals, churches and museums. Buildings I had never entered before at that time.
Tom en Hrafnkell Sigurdsson, Galerie Wijngaardstraat, 1992.
How did you come into contact with the art world?
At the end of secondary school I was unsure about which a field of study I should choose: should it be Dutch language and literature, History or an art course (after all, I could draw well). In the end, I chose the NLO (new teacher training 'drawing and manual labour') d'Witte Leli in Amsterdam. A new world opened up to me there. Joyce (we had been dating for a few years then) and I went to the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk museum every week, we made gallery rounds (Rob Jurka, Collection d'Art, Riekje Swart) and once we got the hang of it, we also visited museums and exhibitions in other cities.
Because Joyce studied German and English in Tilburg and we didn't like a long weekend relationship, we moved in together and I continued my education at the Moller Institute (now Fontys Hogescholen). The classes of Frits Calon (image development) and Henk Pijnenburg (who taught instructional methodology, but first and foremost, he was a very passionate art collector) had a great impact on me.
It was the time of the Neue Wilde, Mülheimer Freiheit, the young Italians of the Transavanguardia and the New Figuration, and shortly thereafter the rise of New York Graffiti. Besides her passion for English and German literature, Joyce was naturally interested in contemporary visual art. It was a period in which we were immersed in visual arts, film, music and literature.
Art Frankfurt 2001 (foto’s: Ton van Kints).
What was your first job in a gallery? Or did you immediately start a gallery yourself?
I was the only one of my class looking for a part-time job in education. Many fellow students went on to a post-academic education or received a starting stipend. In my opinion, I lacked the vision and passion to become an excellent artist, and the prospect of becoming no more than an "average artist" was unacceptable to me. Joyce, a born teacher, had meanwhile got a steady job, but for that we had to move again, this time to Goes. Since we both missed the discourse very much, we decided to make exhibitions with friends from our college days. We started a pop-up gallery in 1988 and in 1990 we found a space in Goes where we could organize permanent exhibitions.
We visited various galleries in the Randstad, asked for advice and paid attention to the walls and lighting for the first time. Without any experience, it was a leap of faith, but we didn't have much to lose.
Art Frankfurt 2001 (foto’s: Ton van Kints)
How would you describe your gallery’s profile?
At the first exhibition (September 1990), an art critic asked about our vision: which 'movements' we wanted to present, what kind of art would be on display. Our interest was too broad for that. From the start we wanted to show what we found worthwhile, what fascinated us, what amazed us. Within five years it had to become clear whether we could enthuse enough visitors and buyers for our choices. If that didn't work, we would have done what we wanted for at least five years.
The start was not easy. At our first opening we hosted 150 guests, the openings after that number decreased. We hardly had any budget to invest and not all artists were eager to exhibit in an unknown gallery in Goes, without a clientele. In 1992 we were at the KunstRAI for the first time and shortly afterwards at Art Brussels. Partly because of this, we increasingly managed to reach 'our own audience'. The decisive factor was (and still is) that we want to show artists who stick to their oeuvre and vision of art, remain critical of their own work and are aware of their place in (art) history.
Over time, our choices remained intuitive, but the gallery became more professional. The oeuvre of Sigurdur Gudmundsson was an eye opener for us. Freely interpreted: “It's about what you have to say, and you choose the medium accordingly.” The outward appearance is the only possible, logical choice for that specific work of art, but that does not mean that technique and handling are of secondary importance.
We distrust so-called aesthetic work – work which gives us the feeling that it’ s made to please. That gives us the creeps. This also holds for unambiguous, narrative figuration.
For us there are only a few criteria: we must become greedy from the bulk of the artist's oeuvre, and there must be a 'click' with the person. This means that we are tenacious and often collaborate for years.
Tentoonstelling Dave Meijer ‘NULPUNT’, Galerie Wijngaardstraat (2002). ‘NULPUNT’ (449
schilderijen) was van maart 2018 t/m januari 2020 te zien in de ‘schatkamer’ van Museum Voorlinden – Wassenaar.
What do you think is the best part of being a gallerist?
Running the gallery is incredibly important to us and very satisfying. Working towards a presentation, studio visits, conversations with artists, visitors and buyers, arranging the exhibition, constantly making choices, looking again and recalibrating.
And finally the sale of work. Not as an end in itself, but a sale is the greatest compliment the artist can receive. It confirms our passion and ensures continuity, both for the artist and for our gallery.
Tentoonstelling ‘5 jaar galerie van den Berge’ & uitreiking Culturele Prijs door de wethouder van Cultuur, 2005.
Which national / international galleries do you feel an affinity with?
We greatly appreciate gallery owners who are headstrong and determined. Galleries that choose art, and are not primarily concerned with making money. Perhaps a bit of an old-fashioned idea these days, but still. Therein lies the relationship. At the same time, the differences are so great that naming names is meaningless.
In an ideal world, which artist would you most like to represent?
The exciting thing about life is trial and error, making mistakes and learning from them, experiencing highs and lows, finding nuances. That makes an ideal world, in short, probably very boring.
We collaborate with a fine group of artists and we are very satisfied with that. We regularly show work by guest exhibitors, sometimes on the recommendation of one of our own artists. We look around, we are open to new impressions and easily make contact with artists and colleagues. At a certain point, a collaboration can arise from this, as a logical consequence of mutual appreciation.
Many artists we appreciate are comfortable with their own gallery and know that they are welcome to occasionally collaborate with us. We are aware of our place in the art world and aware that we are unable to represent top international artists.
Tentoonstelling ‘Momentum’ met Tamara Dees en P.B. van Rossem, Galerie: Westwal, 2015.
What has changed in the art world since you took your first steps?
In the early years, there was a lot of funding available in Zeeland. We received a subsidy for each special project, which allowed us to offer artists a fee and expense allowance. At that time, we operated more as an artists' initiative than as a gallery. A considerable part of our turnover came from the acquisitions by the State, the Provincial and collecting companies. There's not much left of that. In contrast to the foreign artists we worked with, who already had to make ends meet themselves, Dutch artists could relatively easily get a subsidy or grant, and were therefore mainly busy upgrading their CV.
With the advent of the internet, we saw a shift among collectors. The collector, who had faithfully visited three galleries and made his purchases there, was suddenly also seen at the Berlin fair, eagerly looking for that young British artist he had read about online. Nevertheless, collectors continue to visit gallery exhibitions to experience the context of the work and their art collections consist of several works by a limited number of artists.
The classic collector is becoming a thing of the past. People in their forties and fifties who were regular customers in our early years are now well over seventy and often have no room in their homes for new work. 'Unselecting' has become a concept.
Fortunately, we notice that the number of young collectors is growing, but we almost exclusively meet this group at art fairs. For this group, with relatively little spare time, the art fair is the alternative to a gallery visit. As a result, the fairs are becoming increasingly important and we are seeing a decrease in the number of gallery visitors. Their way of collecting is also different. Spontaneously, at many different galleries, or directly from the studio. One or at most two works by many artists. More lifestyle, less context.
Joyce op Art Rotterdam, achtergrond werk van Ditty Ketting (L) en Mirjam Hagoort (R), 2018.
What / whose work do you collect yourself?
We have bought art from the moment we could afford it, even if we struggled at times. After swapping some works at the end of our student days, our first real purchase was a ceramic bowl by Christie van der Haak from Rian van Rijsbergen in Rotterdam. On the way home we realized that we had just spent our entire holiday budget. As a second purchase we had in mind a large work on paper at a gallery in Amsterdam, but went back to Tilburg with no results. Although we had the cash in our wallets, the gallery owner seemed to prefer to 'save' the work for a 'real' collector.
We own several works by almost every artist we currently work with and worked with in the past. More than ten works by some artists. In the beginning the credo was 'sell before we buy', but we often regretted that afterwards. So we don't do that anymore. At the art fairs we look at colleagues and it has rarely happened that we returned home without a new acquisition. Our collection consists for the most part of drawings and paintings. In addition, a number of photo works and images. But also some graphic work, bought in a time when we couldn't afford unique work yet.
Stand Kunstrai, 2018.
Has the pandemic changed the way you see the artworld?
The first lockdown started a week after the opening of an exhibition. We were counting on many visitors, but our Dutch customers no longer dared to come, and our Belgian buyers were not allowed to come. For the first time, we had to hold back involuntarily.
After being closed for a few weeks, we created a long-running online exhibition with work up to 650 euros. Until that moment we were convinced that the physical confrontation with a work of art was necessary to proceed with the purchase. To our great surprise, we sold very well and with a lower commission than usual we were able to offer our artists some extra support. With new work added constantly to the exhibition, there was also a good reason to regularly send a newsletter and thus maintain contact with our customers.
Corona completely messed up our programming. The planned exhibitions with foreign artists had to be postponed, and an opening with Dutch artists was completely different from the parties we were used to with time slots and the limited number of visitors at a time.
In the end, the 'by appointment' approach proved to work well. Our idea that visitors would not want to come by appointment (because of the feeling of some 'obligation') turned out to be not true. Not many visitors came, but almost all visits by appointment resulted in a sale. A private view in peace was much appreciated. On the days with an empty appointment agenda, we had more time to arrange things we would not otherwise be able to do.
We adjusted our regular opening hours and only opened on Friday and Saturday. This did not appear to have any negative effect. But the Corona pandemic was also a period in which people bought art as a consolation, where holiday money could normally be spent on other things.
As with everyone, things were taken for granted and now – hopefully with a view to the end of the crisis – recalibration is important. Fewer exhibitions per year, longer exhibition periods, more limited opening hours, more space for private views? Since the gallery has not had a bad period financially, these are all options for consideration.
Inrichten met Shawn Stipling, Galerie: Albert Joachimikade, 2019.
See all artists by Galerie van den Berge