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40 Under 40 Europe 2018

Bas Kuiper

5 September 2018

34 | Amsterdam, the Netherlands

When did you first start to think of yourself as a collector?

You never start out as a collector – it just happens to you over time. You start with buying one work when you’re 16, and then comes work number two, and three, four and five. At a certain point you don’t have any wall space left to hang the works you’re buying, and at that moment you start thinking about yourself as a collector – but I think it takes just a bit longer before you can really call yourself a collector. That happens when your collection starts dictating what you will or won’t buy. And that’s to do with quality of the works you’ve got, and the direction of your collection. In my case, the collection is really about the material. Seventy per cent of the works are paintings.

What drew you to contemporary painting?

That was a moment in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. I was 16, at high school, and we had been talking in our history class about Auschwitz and the Holocaust. In the Stedelijk there was this huge painting by a Dutch painter, Armando, a black and white canvas with two barbed-wire fences seemingly going on forever. That painting hit me, and I was stuck where I was for 15 minutes or more, just looking at the painting. I thought that if a work of art could do that to me, I wanted to know everything about it. That’s where my love for contemporary art and for painting in particular began.

Of course, growing up in the Netherlands, you know the classic works by artists like Rembrandt and Van Gogh. But then you learn about what happened in 20th-century painting, and it’s so diverse – what has happened and what’s still happening. Painting is always reinventing itself and reacting to current times.

Does your work as a psychologist feed into how you think about painting and collecting?

Yes, in a way. I think I’m trained to deal with imperfection. And I think we are all imperfect in one way or another. And that’s also what I’m looking for in the work – I want to feel or see that it’s made by another human being, I want to feel that direct relationship. I don’t collect nice pictures to put on the wall. Hyperrealist work or just the execution of a certain image is not what I’m looking for in a work of art.

I talk a lot with artists and do a lot of studio visits, and what keeps coming back in my discussions with painters is that they’ve got some clue about what they want to do, and which direction a painting will go, but it can totally change during the process of painting. That’s what I find really interesting: so much happens during the act of painting itself.

How important is it for you to meet the artists whose work you collect?

I like to do it if possible, but it’s not a necessity. Some artists are not very talkative about their own work, or are very introverted. But I always like to share my feelings and thoughts about the work, and see how artists react, and discover what they find important about their work.

How do you discover emerging artists?

That’s really diverse. Of course we’ve got our art academies; De Ateliers and the Rijksakademie in particular are two schools that are really internationally orientated, and that’s where I pick up quite a few new artists for my collection. I also acquire by recommendation: one painter may know other great painters and introduce me to them, and before I know it I have another painting in my collection.

Which young painters do you rate most highly right now?

Let me give you a few big talents from the Netherlands: RaQuel van Haver, Bob Eikelboom, Rutger de Vries and Janine van Oene.

You co-founded Verfhonds Projects to promote contemporary painting. Do you feel that painters struggle more than other artists to gain attention in the contemporary art world?

I don’t think so. I think that painting is the grand old lady of the arts, and she’ll always be there. And if you look at market value, at auction results, at which art fetches the highest price, it’s always painting. It’s never video work or an installation piece. I don’t think that painters have a tougher time nowadays than sculptors or video artists: they all have problems selling their works and making a living out of their art.

The reason why we started the Verfhonds Projects in 2010 was, as three friends – a painter, a filmmaker and a psychologist – we knew what was happening in the Netherlands and in Belgium, painting-wise, but we’d lost track of what contemporary painting looked like worldwide. That’s why we started what we call our little digital stamp collection [The Amsterdam List of a Thousand Living Painters]. It’s now in its third or fourth edition. I’m proud of the list and I think it’s quite comprehensive.

You’re involved with the Rijksmuseum, EYE Filmmuseum and the Museum Van Loon. Could young collectors in the Netherlands have more involvement with public institutions?

During the past five years, there’s been strong development in getting young professionals and collectors to support the museums – all the museums have specific programmes for young people. I think it’s a good thing. We can strengthen each other: the museums are places where works from our collections might be shown in the future, and we can keep each other sharp about what’s happening now.

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