Henk Drosterij is an active collector who grew up in the Dutch town where Vincent van Gogh painted his early paintings such as ‘The Potator Eaters’. Since the 1990s, Henk Drosterij and his wife, Karen Knispel have built ‘the finest Amsterdam Contemporary Art Collection ever…’, a collection driven by curiosity and astonishment. He has shared with Larry’s List his thoughts on Dutch contemporary art, on the art collecting scene in the Netherlands as well as on the upcoming exciting art fair, Art Rotterdam.
What made you want to start collecting art?
My interest in art started when I grew up in Nuenen, a town in Brabant, the Netherlands. Vincent van Gogh stayed there a while with his parents and painted ‘De aardappeleters’ (‘The Potato Eaters’). The subjects of different paintings by him were part of my daily life – I passed the Hervormde Kerk (Reformed Church) daily on my way to a friend.
My wife Karen Knispel and I discovered our mutual interest on our holidays. We drove through Spain visiting all the rural houses of Gaudi and seeing the ‘Las Meninas’ by Velasquez and Picasso. In Paris, we were touched by the Impressionists; and driving on to the south of France, we travelled to the places where Van Gogh had stayed and the fields he had painted.
The first contemporary art that stroke me was by Keith Haring. His show during the spring of 1986 in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam pulled me over the line. Though I was only able to buy a T-shirt in the shop, I consider it as a first step. After the shirt was worn, I framed it to enjoy it even longer.
What is the main motivation behind your collecting?
I don’t think Karen and I have a motivation; a rational purpose is missing. We’re just driven by curiosity. To have another surprise is our goal. Purchasing a work gives a boost, which can last a long time. A work enriches our life and becomes part of our daily environment, which we get hooked onto. ‘The finest Amsterdam Contemporary Art Collection ever…’ is a collection, but it’s also who we are. The actual presentation is showing our common past.
During the years, we tried to restrict ourselves in buying, but that failed over and over. ‘The Finest’ is built up with 2D and 3D pieces, videos and installations.
The restriction we do execute is size and price: the work has to fit in our house and we must be able to pay for it (in time).
What was the first artwork you purchased? How many artworks do you own?
The first piece Karen and I chose together was a print. It really has a good size, nice colours and mixes well with our furniture. We still have it, but it’s replaced by other work during the last 25 years.
We own 287 artworks if I’m correct. All media are represented. Since we always deal with the lack of space, we moved to a bigger house in the centre of Amsterdam about 5 years ago. Now this one is packed too, so we become creative in mixing the works, making new installations: projecting laser works on paintings, using a sculpture put against a painting and putting paintings in line in front of the walls.
Your collection focuses on young Dutch artists. Why did you decide to focus on them? Do you have other collection interests?
You’re asking about decisions, motivations and so on, but we’re not driven by them. We never started buying art with a goal. We buy pieces that shock, please, irritate us, or do anything at all to us. We like a good conceptual story and also craftsmanship. The Dutch (related) artists are nearby and they reflect on our homeland, so it feels as a part of ourselves, which is important for us to connect to the work.
The finest Amsterdam Contemporary Art Collection ever… has a strong basis in the Netherlands. Most of the artists have a Dutch connection: studied at the Rijksakademie or De Ateliers, represented by a Dutch gallery, raised here or moved abroad. Artists from local countries (Belgium, Germany, UK, e.o.) are of course represented, but we don’t have a work from a Chinese artist (till now).
What is special about Dutch contemporary art compared to contemporary art from other countries?
This is a really difficult question for us living in Amsterdam. I can tell you what makes art from Peru differ from art from other countries. People from abroad can maybe better point out the essentials, but of course we like the flat geometrical work, with dikes and a lot of water.
In which ways are you involved with the Gerrit Rietveld Academie?
Not at all. I visit their open studios every year, that’s it.
How would you describe the current art scene in Amsterdam? What is your vision for it?
The Amsterdam art scene is strong. De Ateliers and Rijksakademie bring a lot of talented artists up here from all over the world. They are picked up by the galleries and often have their first shows in Amsterdam. As the Dutch galleries show them at fairs abroad, they often start their international rise since then.
Local initiatives form a platform for experiments, and the Stedelijk Museum is alive and kicking again. Come and visit the booming Amsterdam Art Weekend in the end of November every year.
You planned an exhibition together with other private collectors in Amsterdam. Could you please tell us more about it?
We had a great show ‘Collectors View’ during the Amsterdam Art Weekend, curated by Fons Welters and Laurie Cluitmans. They selected about 60 works from 6 private collections, to be shown in the former Diamond Exchange in Amsterdam in November 2016.
For us, it was a great opportunity to show a few works to the public, including works by Rineke Dijkstra, Roger Hiorns, Amalia Pica, Nick van Woert and Nina Yuen, among others. The curators succeeded to make it a coherent show in a rough building in a reconstructed area.
How is the art collecting scene in general in the Netherlands? Is there a common exchange between private collectors?
I’m not an expert, but I think the collecting scene in the Netherlands is growing fast. The Netherlands don’t have strong collecting roots, but a lot of collecting initiatives started these years. The focus lays till now on young collectors, but I think this will shift to the middle-aged ones.
What considerations guide you to make a purchase? How involved is your wife in the process of buying art?
My wife decides everything, really.
Is there any kind of artwork that can make you write a cheque without any consideration?
No, of course not. We just have to work for our money. And I don’t think more expensive works will give us more joy. In fact, I think we can buy everything we want. We’re not into the art circus of the worldwide few hundred auction-artists.
What is your most treasured artwork?
The last purchased work. That’s the work on mind, the latest conquest. We just bought a work by Jerry Keizer, a Dutch artist who recently passed away (1938-2016). The work is from 1981 and felt like a rediscovery to us.
But I recently pulled a work by Melissa Gordon out of the closet, which really hit me by its actuality and freshness.
Only a few works have been visible at home all the time since we purchased them, for instance, Michael Raedecker, ‘So What’, 1997. For our sons (1997 and 2000) and us, it became a dear friend, watching us at the kitchen table.
How important is it for you to meet the artists who created the artwork?
It can be fun and interesting, but also boring or annoying. Just like in the real world. So, it’s not necessary to meet the artists in order to enjoy the work.
The Art World
Who inspires you most in the art world?
The work or the people? Most inspired by newly discovered works or old ones rediscovered.
We like to visit other (private) collections as Karen and I are not only interested in art, but also in people. Nothing is more interesting than encountering people at their homes and sharing their passion for contemporary art. So, if we get the chance to do so, we grab it.
Can you name some artists who should be on our radar?
We do follow and tip the following Dutch (-related) future stars – emerging, mid career and senior: Esther Tielemans, Juliaan Andeweg, Thomas van Linge, Johan Tahon, Sarah van Sonsbeek, Sema Bekirovic, Berend Strik, Mike Pratt, Nicolas Riis, Nick van Woert, Tom Volkaert, Nathan Azhderian, Brendan Anton Jaks, Mirthe Klück, Sarah Pichlkostner, David Jablonowski, Peggy Franck, Magali Reus, Dave McDermott a.o.
In early February, Art Rotterdam will take place in Rotterdam. Will you visit the fair? What distinguishes the fair from other fairs?
Art Rotterdam is the Dutch art fair, not to be missed by us and you. The fair mixes young and distinguished galleries with a strong focus on the Dutch art scene. Foreign galleries form the surprises because they’re strictly selected based on their innovative programs. More and more does Art Rotterdam become a social art event as well – the fair is growing with performances, a great video section, exclusive dining etc. The city is full of art initiatives. Rotterdam is a top destination, tipped by Lonely Planet.
Do you think that fairs such as Art Rotterdam could help to bring more international attention to Dutch contemporary art?
Sure. They do.
Which gallery booths at Art Rotterdam are must-go?
I think every visitor has to see the galleries they know because at Art Rotterdam they often show their best artists and works. But, like us, be curious and open-minded to see others too. Be surprised!