Kristof De Clercq.
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 Kristof De Clercq (Kristof De Clercq Gallery)
Studio visit Jürgen Partenheimer, with Agnes Maes, my mom, 2011.
Were you exposed to art while growing up?
Art was very present in our home. My mother, Agnes Maes, was an artist. Since the start of the gallery I have also represented her work, and after her death in 2016 I also manage the estate. Promoting my mother's work is not always easy, because the work and the person are very dear to me. Consequently, I take criticism and rejection very personally.
Staying connected to her work and her person beyond death is very special. Her work is very colourful, very quirky and difficult to place. She was trained at the academy in Deinze by Roger Raveel, who was born 100 years ago and is therefore extensively celebrated this year at BOZAR. Raoul De Keyser also enrolled there for a while, as did Piet Coessens (later director of BOZAR and Roger Raveelmuseum). From an early age, my brother and I were taken to exhibitions in museums and galleries at home and abroad, and we visited the major art events.
My parents have built up a modest, but beautiful collection. Even after my mother's passing, my father is still very well informed about the ins and outs of the art world, and his current girlfriend also collects art. By the way, she had my mom's work in her collection. My brother Dieter became an architect, and he too collects art together with his wife Sara.
You could argue that art took an important place in our family, and has also had a strong effect on the choices we made.
A few days before the opening of the gallery, 2012.
How did you come into contact with the art world?
My mom was represented by various galleries, who showed her work at national and international art fairs. Foreign gallerists and artist friends regularly stayed with us. They were often very interesting, intelligent and adventurous people, which had a certain appeal to me.
Round about the age sixteen or seventeen, I was less and less inclined to tag along with my parents to exhibitions. Around that age I was more fascinated by literature and philosophy. I proceeded to study economics and philosophy and obtained a doctorate in philosophy, specializing in logic. It wasn't until around my thirties that my interest in art gradually returned.
I was deeply moved by the exhibition "Voici - 100 years of contemporary art" in the year 2000, in what was then the Center for Fine Arts. I have visited that exhibition numerous times. During the same period I became friends with artist Ans Nys and as a result occasionally met artists, curators and critics of my age group. In the ensuing years, I regularly spent a long time abroad on my own, for my work at the university, and increasingly went to museums and galleries.
(It) Works on Paper, opening show gallery, Kristof De Clercq gallery, 2012.
What was your first job in a gallery? Or did you immediately start a gallery yourself?
I have always dreamed of being able to engage in many different things. Doing something in art was one of those dreams. Writing a good book, traveling a lot, running your own business were other dreams.
In 2008, I stopped as a researcher at the university, and with the help of my father and brother I started a first real-estate project, which also included my own home. There was also a dilapidated residual space, which was used as a garage by previous owners.
Having that space suddenly gave the vague idea of doing something in art a concrete form: I could start a gallery. I finally started in 2012.
The start-up phase was so easy: I had little or no contacts in the art world, and a number of artists I found interesting did not want to associate themselves with an unknown gallery.
Through a bit of guts, hard work, and also a lot of coincidence and luck I managed to get an interesting mix of artists together in a short time. I haphazardly called and emailed a few foreign artists whose work I liked asking them if I could visit their studio, told them who I would still work with, which was often still up in the air, and then used their conditional promise with the others.
Ronald Noorman, who unfortunately has also passed away, was one of the first artists I visited. He was on an episode of the Canvasconnection, and I really liked his work. Over the years, I have grown to love his work even more. He was also very generous in sharing his interest in other artists, which is how I started working with Awoiska van der Molen and German Stegmaier. I was full of good intentions, but in retrospect I was also quite naive and paid my dues.
Studiovist at Roger Raveel, 2012.
How would you describe your gallery’s profile?
That’s a difficult question. There certainly is a clear line in what I think is good (that’s what I often hear from others), but I myself think that the gallery has shown and shows very diverse things. I have a soft spot for abstract painting, and there is a lot of attention for work on paper, but I have also regularly shown sculptures, photography and video art. There are many relatively older artists associated with the gallery, although that is changing now. I also find that very fascinating: you’ll notice that your own preferences start to shift, or that other aspects come to the fore.
Krachtpatserij met werk van Johan De Wit, in de galerie, 2014.
What do you think is the best part of being a gallerist?
The encounters with artists and collectors, being on the road, scouting, selling, the variety of these activities, being busy with beauty, installing an exhibition, the fatigue after several days of being at an art fair, reading about and looking at art.
I have a warm, friendly relationship with most of my artists. Yet, the relationship between artist and gallery owner is rather complex, with interests and strategic visions that do not always coincide. Often some flexibility and creativity are necessary in order not to lose each other. But sometimes it doesn't work either. Having to say goodbye to an artist, or an artist who is leaving himself, is always very painful. Sometimes this cuts very deeply, comparable to the failure of a love affair.
What has given me a lot of satisfaction and pleasure recently is the still very early representation of the estate of Joris Ghekiere. We have had a very successful first exhibition of his work, and there is the fascinating and intense collaboration with his widow. We notice a very strong growing interest in his work, which - despite its exceptional quality - was still insufficiently known. Recently, there was a very well-attended and acclaimed exhibition of his work in Emergent, curated by the inimitable Hans Theys. There will also be an extensive presentation of never-before-seen works on paper in MU.ZEE, with a catalogue.
The least beautiful thing: the piles of administrative work and the filling of the many online platforms, which are all a bit different, so you have to do the same thing ten times, yet slightly different. There is still much room for improvement here, by working with one kind of data standard for artworks and exhibitions, which can then be used in the same way in all systems. Anyone who finds a good system for this and is able to market it, will become a rich man.
Art Brussels 2015, with Minister of Culture Sven Gatz, prize best solo booth with Honoré d'O.
Which galleries do you feel a national / international affinity with?
I really feel related to few galleries, but I do have great admiration for the idiosyncrasy and courageous choices of, for example, Ellen De Bruijne and Kees van Gelder in Amsterdam, and Harlan Levey in Brussels. I often visit the exhibitions at Meessen De Clercq and Hufkens, and I appreciate their artists and the way they have developed their gallery. I also try to regularly visit the exhibitions of my Ghent colleagues Barbé Urbain and Tatjana Pieters, with whom I have a good relationship. For almost a year now, we have joined forces and are really trying to put Ghent on the gallery map. Not easy, given the dominance of Antwerp and Brussels, but it seems to be working out. We are receiving more and more collectors from Antwerp and Brussels, but also from Ghent itself and of course from West Flanders.
Lecture / tour by German Stegmaier, 2016.
In an ideal world, which artist would you most like to represent?
The concept of an ideal world is totally meaningless to me. You can only start from the situation into which you were thrown, and act with the resources and energy that was available to you. From there you can try to take a few steps towards an achievable, "better" world. Above all, you should not overestimate your own impact on situations, and not underestimate your dependence on others and all kinds of circumstances.
Apart from that, I have a great love for Antony Gormley's work. Since I also know him well personally, and he is a very pleasant, erudite and sensitive man, I would have liked to work with him. Furthermore: Susan Frecon, Richard Aldrich, Tomás Saraceno, William Kentridge, Tino Sehgal, Etel Adnan, Mark Manders, and I can go on for a while.
<Studio Visit Peter Morrens, 2017.
What has changed in the art world since you took your first steps?
The art world has become very hardened in the few years that I have been active in it, at least that's how I experience it. It's a hyper-capitalist environment, without any regulations. Over the past half century, this has led to an enormous concentration of money and influence among very small upper tier of "top" galleries, while the vast majority of galleries are small businesses for whom it is not easy to survive. In that sense, the art world is increasingly resembling the football world, or the real world.
Furthermore, the importance of the digital domain (Artsy and the many other platforms, but especially Instagram) has increased phenomenally. I don't know if this is a sustainable trend. I sometimes suspect that within a few years we will all be tired of gazing at screens./p>
Concert by Rodrigo Fuentealba Palavicino and Bart Vervaeck in the gallery, in the Johan De Wit exhibition (April 16, 2017).
What / whose work do you collect yourself?
I have usually purchased several works from the artists I represent, because I love their work, but also because I want to support them, also as a collector. In addition, I have collected work by, among others, Marijn van Kreij, Rein Dufait, Johan De Wilde, Daisuke Yokota, Hannelore Van Dijck, Ante Timmermans...
Met Klaas Kloosterboer, 2019.
Has the pandemic changed the way you see the artworld?
The online world has become even more important, and that will not change. Not that gazing at a screen online can ever come close to the experience in real life, but online platforms have become a unique orientation tool and source of information.
It has become indispensable for a gallery to be present there: you can come into contact with people from all over the world. International platforms such as Artsy have become very large, so you can quickly get lost in them, literally but also figuratively.
That is why I believe in the importance of more local platforms that show interested parties and collectors the way to galleries and fairs in their region. Not everyone has the time or desire to fly to the other side of the world. I think that idea is gradually sinking in too.
Over the past weeks and months - for example after a conversation with a visitor in my own gallery or when visiting exhibitions with colleagues - the thought has occasionally crossed my mind that galleries are fantastic places after all.
You can visit an exhibition alone, with your partner, or with a friend. You often see beautiful or interesting things, you can think about it, chat, read or just keep quiet. You can come back as often as you like, and all of this is completely free, without any obligation. At times I find that touching and generous, which is why I am fully convinced that galleries will continue to play a crucial role in the art world in the future.
Art Rotterdam 2020.
See the artists represented by Kristof De Clercq Gallery