More than just an 'Obsession of Art'; interview with the gallery
Behind a modest facade in the small artistic village of Bergen lies a vast collection of contemporary art from around the globe. Ever since its inception in 1994, owners Yvonne and Joost van Zoelen of the 'Gallery The Obsession of Art' have specialised in ‘contemporary theatrical art’, their collection is characterised by originality, elegant dynamics, fortitude and a strong use of colours.
When you first enter the large, yet intimate gallery it becomes apparent that Yvonne and her husband travel a lot. The collection features artists from many countries, including South Africa and Germany and although the collection doesn’t have strong constraints in terms of what is accepted, it never feels random.
It’s clear that in their search for the best and highest quality art there is indeed a, well, common denominator. Or rather, there are three. When selecting artists Yvonne and Joost engage in a dialogue with them, maintaining the quality of their collection by relying on the IMU® principals.
"Art is not just a form of creativity"
Art is often just a word, a title given to anything that was created by hand without a practical purpose. This is not how Yvonne and Joost see it. Their IMU®-based approach can be explained as follows: Inspiration is the key ingredient in an artist’s creative process.
Without spirituality an artwork rapidly loses its communicative and emtional connection with whoever looks at it. That connection is inevitably the intangible attraction that captures the human admiration and never lets go. These days much in art is, well, about art. Paint to paint, so to speak. Unique inspiration isn’t necessary it seems.
We want artists to not just paint, we want them to tell a story, leave a message, a footprint. We sincerely care about the quality. An artist doesn’t necessarily have to have attended an art academy but often, it does help.The magical combination of unique, raw talent and Master craftsmanship turns any artwork into a journey, while the Uniqueness of the artist as creator of the image emphasises the expression of an everlasting evolution in his or her work.
That last part doesn’t mean an artist can’t have been inspired. Of course artists are inspired by other artists, such as Munch or Rembrandt, that’s fine. But we do expect them to use that inspiration for their own evolvement, not to copy what characterised someone else.
Anne Dewailly, Sous le soleil, 2017
Gallerease: Coming Sunday marks the opening of The Collection 2018, an annual exhibition featuring an important part of the collection. What can people expect when they come to the exhibition?
Yvonne van Zoelen: The Collection 2018 will show important work by artists that we represent exclusively from more than 10 different countries. Art that we feel deserves more attention, it shows the highlights of the past year. We don’t show new art during this exhibition.
While walking around, we want our visitors to explore the collection. Whatever the highlight may be, you decide. The one thing we don’t have is abstract work. A museum has a different collection but we do have to look at what our clients like, what fits their style and taste. At the end of the day, running a gallery shouldn’t be philanthropy.
G: What trends do you see among your clients?
YvZ: Typically, people are currently looking for art that’s positive, carries a positive message or with which they can associate themselves, feel at ease with. Another is that people buy because something is ‘in’, a niche you should own.
This trend gets a lot of traction from media and museums but people forget that this is only a small group of people who buy for this reason. They have the money so they don’t care about what they buy. And the group of actual art collectors is even smaller.
Peter van Straten, The Line, 2020 (90x120 cm)
G: The Collection is almost unlimited. Glass art, paintings, sculptures, photography etc are all represented. How do you curate such a broad range of disciplines?
YvZ: In oeuvres you see a lot of inspired art, art that didn’t come from a process but that was more a result of other art. We try to trigger and challenge our artists right at the moment that they take another step foreward.
That small step, that seemingly insignificant move, is exactly what characterises true artists. Constantly working on evolution in both themselves and their art as a result of it. Artists need to challenge themselves. When they see that and accept that it’s the only way to reach their artistic goals, thát is when we want their work and that’s exactly what we exhibit during The Collection.
"If you can reach the bar it was set too low"
G: Can you name an example?
YvZ: An artist should always raise the bar. When they can reach the bar, it means the bar was set too low. Take, for example, the South-African artist Peter van Straten. Together with our mutual friend, singer Stef Bos, we visited his studio.
After our visit, during which we discussed many things about art, life and progression he contacted us and asked if we could send back some of his work we had in the gallery. He felt it was old and from a previous version of himself. He didn’t want to be associated with it anymore. He had evolved. The artist had added more layers to his personality and his work. His challenge much bigger.
G: Wow. It must be incredibly hard to represent artists in so many different countries and disciplines and still be able to capture that moment. How do you manage to do that?
YvZ: Most of the artists that we represent we represent exclusively. That doesn’t mean we limit them, on the contrary even, we help them establish an artistic…well, call it a business plan. As you can understand there not only needs to be a mutual understanding but a deep connection.
We don’t want to represent artists that have their work hung or presented at many galleries. We always say “We’re in this together.” and that means from the start til the end.
G: I’d argue that this is exactly the role of a gallerist. People often state gallerists only take huge commissions on sales but in effect it’s a deep collaboration. In this light, how do you look at the rise of online in art sales?
YvZ: As soon as people leave the gallery, they forget about the art. Art needs to be seen in their natural surroundings, objectively. As a gallery owner I travel a lot, not just to see our artists but also to visit clients and show the artwork they liked in their own house.
Online platforms such as Gallerease facilitate that first step. People need to know an artwork exists before they visit a gallery these days. Despite the economy picking up again, it left a deep scar in the art industry and unfortunately many of my colleagues had to close their gallery.
Online fills a gap in a time where people don’t prioritise gallery visits anymore.
The role of art online
G: What will be the next big thing in the online art world?
YvZ: Augmented Reality. Being able to project an artwork in your own house.
G: Gallerease is quite actively researching the different methods but the technology isn’t where we need it to be.
YvZ: I also spend a lot of time reading about and discussing it. Art needs to be seen and not just on a screen. If you can project an artwork in your own home it will be a game changer for art enthusiasts and gallerists alike.
G: What bothers you about the current state of the art industry?
YvZ: Well, I shouldn’t say this but I recently heard a visitor at an art fair say they liked the artwork but the size was wrong. The exhibitor then offered to ask the artist if he could make the same artwork but bigger. It’s such commercial thoughts I dread.
If they don’t like the size, they don’t like the artwork and should search for something that ticks all boxes. But I wouldn’t compromise an artist’s expression.
G: Lastly, I see a beautiful Steinway piano upstairs….
YvZ: Indeed. That’s always been there. We organise a lot of events, both corporate and for our clients. People from all over the country come to Bergen, for the sea but also to enjoy the village.
G: Did this come from personal ambition or did you notice it provided a stronger connection with the audience or even reach a new audience?
YvZ: Not really. We have a large space and like to entertain people amid our collection. Of course we don’t mind if they become inspired by the beauty of it….
For more, fine art, have a look at the collection of Gallery Obsession of Art at Gallerease!
* Image in the header: Blimunda, Marcello Malandugno, 2019