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 Eva Steynen
We’re you exposed to art while growing up?
I was born in the second half of the sixties and raised in Antwerp. My parents were great art lovers, and very involved in Antwerp's cultural life: opera, theatre, the MSK, the Middelheim museum. As a little 'pagadder', my father regularly took me to the Museum of Fine Arts to see the great classics and moderns, from Rubens to Rik Wouters. My father spoke softly about the painting and the era it was made, and I let my imagination run wild with what I saw. That definitely shaped me, and I'm very grateful for that.
That foundation and early immersion in art history is important to me it enables to better place things in time and understand where they come from..
Pop-up exhibition 'What you see it (not) what you see', Deviation(s) in Borgerhout, Antwerp with a.o. work by Francis Denys, 2011.
How did you come into contact with the art world?
There were artists in my parents' circle of friends, so I sometimes tagged along to previews. As an only child, I listened attentively to the conversations between the adults, and I tried to formulate my thoughts with determination.
Both my parents were born in the 1920s and looked at the world with an open mind, so I grew up in a house filled to the rafters with books about the great stories in history. My father was a Dutch teacher, my mother painted in her spare time and worked in the family business in the Antwerp diamond sector.
My father occasionally bought a work of artist friends in a gallery, such as Antoon Luyckx (1922-2017), Pierre Alechinsky (°1927), Robert Wuytack (°1934). In the seventies the art world looked completely different, you didn't have a rich gallery scene back then as there is now. Purchasing art was done more through personal contacts.
I can’t imagine life without art, but at the same time it is not essential. You can survive without art, but art of any kind enriches one’s view of life. In non-Western cultures, artworks are created at certain stages of life, at specific moments in life. They don't pretend to be permanent, but they help to carry those moments. I think that's one of the functions of art: to help one through life.
Extra Muros: collaboratie met Galerie Borssenanger, Chemnitz, Duitsland o.a. Benoît Felix, Aurélie Gravas, Marie Julia Bollansée, Christian Van Haesendonck, Johannes Ulrich Kubiak, Fred Michiels, 2017.
What was your first job in a gallery? Or did you immediately start a gallery yourself?
I did many other things before I started making exhibitions. In the eighties I studied film at the Sint-Lucas Academy in Brussels. A whole new world opened up there. After class you found me in one of the (film) museums, which is where I came into contact with contemporary art.
Throughout the 1990s I mainly worked in the audio-visual sector, as a freelance screenwriter and copywriter. I was a restless drifter and never lived in the same place for too long. Even though I was good at what I did and was earning a good living, I still needed a new challenge from time to time. I strongly believe in serendipity. When you are ready for a new path, you will come across it completely unexpectedly, even if you had not yet clearly defined what it would be. In addition to film, I also worked in theater, and I went back to study philosophy at the University of Antwerp.
Art philosophy pointed me in new directions. I became fascinated by French existential phenomenology: Derrida, Merleau-Ponty, Lyotard... You know that sensation, reading something that you intuitively feel is on your way, that it is a key to that hidden room that you didn't even know before that it existed, that you can do more with it, you just can't grasp it yet?
I opened that door with great eagerness and that gave me the impulse to try to get closer to things. How contemporary art allows to experience seeing something differently, apart from representation, being there. Artist friends sometimes asked me if I could write a text for them, and one thing led to another and I started curating exhibitions. In it I was able to connect my search with writing, seeing and showing from conversations with artists.
Delphine Deguislage ' Set of pleasures', Eva Steynen.Deviation(s), 2017.
How would you describe your gallery’s profile?
I am convinced that as human beings we each have a task in this world. We are seers, seekers and thinkers. Artists are seers; like philosophers and scientists, they have the gift of foresight, which we as a society must take care of. The contemporary artist has two feet placed in this world. That imagination, that feeling of things, that avant-garde, continues to fascinate me. They dare to venture in unchartered territory.
From that point of view, I also started the gallery. At first as a project gallery, but soon I found it important to grow and reflect together with a small group of artists. The gallery’s motto has been 'discover, connect & reflect' from the get-go.
The gallery is located on the ground floor of the mansion I grew up in – that's how it comes full circle. The visitor is a guest here and personal contact is important to me. Not a white cube, but a warm home for art. I sometimes miss that warmth in the gallery world. I take the time to show the visitor/collector around if he or she wishes, and I try to answer his or her questions, as far as I can. I treat collectors and art lovers on an equal footing. The visitor must first and foremost feel good about the art.
The gallery is also a very conscious project, there are regular reflections together with the artists. I think that slowness – being aware of every step – is very important. The collaboration with artists usually comes from an intuitive feeling, a connection, never from a calculated opportunity. Opportunism is foreign to me. As a gallery you naturally have to make conscious choices, but I strongly believe in the invisible threads that connect events and people.
'Penarie' van Nick Hullegie in de wijk Zurenborg in Antwerpen, waar ook de galerie zich bevindt.
What do you think is the best part of being a gallerist?
Consciously growing and offering a free place where artists, artworks and visitor can meet and connect in peace. Even though a gallery is a commercial enterprise, I will ensure that the commercial aspects of a gallery do not influence the artistic process with every exhibition. That is also the challenge: to bring both aspects together at a common intersection. A collector once said: 'Eva Steynen Deviation(s) stands for museum exhibitions,' and I think he’s not far from the truth there.
A gallery is a personal project. What I find important as a gallery owner is supporting the artists and the personal contact with collectors, museums and curators. The small scale is more and more in step with this time. I like it when you recognize the personality of the gallerist in the concept of a gallery, just as you recognize the artist in a work of art. That's what makes us all so different.
And that diversity is so important in today's world, which is dominated by mass consumption, media and social media.
‘Positions Berlin Art Fair, 2019 met Christine Clinckx, Benoît Felix, Fred Michiels en Johannes Ulrich Kubiak.
Which national / international galleries do you feel an affinity with?
In Belgium I work across the language borders. Even though language is at the root of the arts, seeing is independent of a particular language. That's the beauty of art; we don't need language to understand each other, art has its own language. That is also the richness of the arts: its capacity to transcend borders and language. Art in general is indifferent to identarian thinking. When I look at the artists I represent, they are all 'freethinkers'.
I come across fellow-gallerists at home and abroad with similar ideas. An international fair is a good opportunity for this. The small-scale, the personal and the warmth. It is binding, regardless of nationality or geographical location. The 'world wide web' has made connecting with someone else easier. So I really feel like a child of this time.
Christine Clinckx, '5 minutes', installatie zicht, 2019.
In an ideal world, which artist would you most like to represent?
In an ideal world, I would be sipping on a cold glass of pastis and reflect on life with Paul Cézanne in front of his cabin at the foot of Mont-Saint Victoire at the dusk of a warm summer evening while being surrounded by the sound of thousands of crickets. But there is no such thing as an ideal world, we can only strive for it as best we can. Sometimes a glimpse of that ideal shines through the crack in the mirror.
That glimpse, that feeling of being overcome by an intensity, that one brief moment when tears spring to your eyes, the feeling of being connected to a greater whole, that is the most beautiful gift.
Nick Hullegie, 'Meanwhile', 2019.
What has changed in the art world since you took your first steps?
I have only been active as a gallery since 2013, but I see a need for a small scale. Major international galleries and fairs remain necessary. Yet, there is room again for smaller fairs, making it easier to meet -where the collector is not offered the obvious and easy to digest- where art can be a bit more experimental and you sometimes need a little more time to grasp a work.
That is also a sign of this time. After the reaction in the 20th century to thoroughly calculated rationalism, the 21st century is a time of small scale, of warmth and reconnection, I also notice this in the arts.
Jan Verbruggen in zijn atelier, 2019.
What / whose work do you collect yourself?
I also collect myself, my collection includes the artists I work with, and whose work I buy at an exhibition. But I also buy from other galleries or at art fairs. Sometimes a work overtakes me, a kind of coup de foudre that makes you happy. For example, I recently bought a work by Tuukka Tammisaari from Kristof De Clercq or I buy work from an artist I meet, with whose work I feel a connection and whom I want to support. I will never buy from a calculation.
'Online studio visit' tijdens de lock-down van 2020: Johannes Ulrich Kubiak.
Has the pandemic changed the way you see the artworld?
I would be lying if I’d say that the pandemic hadn’t impacted my thinking about art. At the start we all had the words 'change' and introspection in our mouths. This pandemic was and is a warning, and taught – and teaches – us to be more considerate of the other, that our personal freedom cannot be absolute, instead it ends where the other’s begins.
We saw how fragile the arts are to such long-lasting shock waves from the outside. Initially, artists took the opportunity to work in their studio. We were all convinced that we go back to would business as usual after a few months, but for the first time in seventy-five years we saw the entire cultural landscape in Western society collapse. Despite the virtual exhibitions and performances, we experienced first-hand how important physical and social contact is within the art world and what a society without culture looks like. Paradoxically, an industry in which just about everyone knows everyone does not have a strong lobby. We must learn lessons from that.
Major changes take time to have an impact. We have been given time to reflect. Now we must dare to look into the future with an open mind and be curious about what is to come.
Art Rotterdam 2021 met Johannes Ulrich Kubiak, Robert Soroko en Jan Verbruggen.
See all the artists represented by Eva Steynen.Deviation(s)