Rasoul Ashtary at 'Onder', diez

Diego Diez about “diez” – their new commercial gallery in Amsterdam

Issue no5
okt - nov 2022
Neo-90s

Having run a non-profit art space in their own living room for three years already, time has come for something completely different: directing “diez”, an international commercial gallery in Amsterdam. Àngels Miralda asks Diego Diez about their ambitions.

Each new space and each person is a hub of networks and connections different from your own. For Diego Diez, opening his new commercial gallery space ‘diez’ is an opportunity to show a sensibility and network which they see as different from what is regularly on view in Amsterdam. Diez’s interests are already known in Amsterdam through their previous work in Tilde - a non-profit art space run in the living room of their home since 2019. Continuity can be seen in the first exhibition at diez gallery, which features works by Rasoul Ashtary, Madeleine Ray Hines, Ilse D’Hollander, Mary Heilmann, Cecilia Bjartmar Hylta, Sam Lasko, Sands Murray-Wassink and W. Rossen. Some artists reappear after participating in exhibitions at Tilde, and Diez holds on to their ambitions of mixing generations of artists as well as different artistic disciplines such as painting, sculpture, and design.

The first exhibition is titled „Onder“ which in Dutch not only means “under” but can also “among.” The text accompanying this first exhibition is written in the first person, making it read as if the gallerist is taking you on a private tour through the space, sharing subjective quirks and details such as the personal admiration and connection felt for participating artists. Referencing the distance and online mediums we had to adopt during Covid, being among the works is a celebratory experience tied to a re-opening. Stepping into the space you are greeted with a frontal wall displaying the works of Sands Murray-Wassink. They make reference to emotion, queer ethics, and feminist practice; heart-laced names of female artists such as Eva Hesse or Carolee Schneeman are scrawled in handwriting on paper. The work reads like a dedication of passion from an artist who loves artists.

The text accompanying this first exhibition is written in the first person, making it read as if the gallerist is taking you on a private tour through the space, sharing subjective quirks and details

Exhibition entrance 'Onder' at diez, with work of Sands Murray-Wassink on the left

Sands Murray-Wassink at 'Onder', diez

Sam Lasko, Madeleine Ray Hines and Rasoul Ashtary at'Onder', diez

Around the corner, the space opens up to reveal a plinth-speckled room exhibiting ceramic works of Sam Lasko - another US American artist who is currently studying at the Städelschule in Frankfurt. Each work resembles a fragment of a city block, an everyday scenery immortalised in kiln-fired crackled glaze. Here, it is hard not to think of the pop reference to Delft-blue houses as a Dutch tradition of miniature urban-scapes in ceramic.

New York based Madeleine Ray Hines also creates quiet corners of cityscapes but in grey-toned paintings that show architecture without inhabitants, and reflective windows without pedestrians. On the walls of this central section are paintings by Rasoul Ashtary whose colourful forms and painterly narrative bring wonder and humour to the room. Here, the stand-out work is a single painting from the 1990’s by the Flemish painter Ilse d’Hollander - a subtle abstraction with two colour blocks that could be an apartment building in a misty green haze whose surface is combed by hue variations made of expert palette combinations.

The last room partition in the exhibition contains paintings by W. Rossen whose fragile surfaces are collages of colour fields and carefully painted details of a wallet, of newspaper articles and fallen leaves, that create a material collection of traces that energise our mundane routines. At the end of the corridor, a sculptural work by Cecilia Bjartmar Hylta draws you towards the back with its gulping sounds emerging from a thick gooey brew. Two cardboard towers - echoed in the painting of d’Hollander - are stained with grease and share the careful material vulnerability of Rossen’s collages. The belching insides of an organic being are silent city-scapes that finally come alive.

The challenge will be to see how they manage representing artists, balancing a commercial budget, and integrating into the existing Amsterdam gallery scene after taking this clear step beyond an informal project space in a living room

W. Rossen and Sam Lasko at 'Onder', diez

Madeleine Ray Hines, Sam Lasko and Rasoul Ashtary at 'Onder', diez

Cecilia Bjartmar Hylta and detail of Rasoul Ashtary (right) at 'Onder', diez

For Diez, it is a temporary stay at this impressive building soon to be renovated into the new museum of the Hartwig Art Foundation, Rob Defares founded by philanthropist Rob Defares and directed by Beatrix Ruf. The name diez is a dead giveaway to the Spanish origins of its founder Diego Diez (b. 1994, Barcelona). Having studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie (located just one street away from their new gallery), Diez is an artist turned organiser, art advisor, and entrepreneur who has laid down their own bricks in the Amsterdam art scene through years of work on independent spaces and publications. Now, the challenge will be to see how they manage representing artists, balancing a commercial budget, and integrating into the existing Amsterdam gallery scene after taking this clear step beyond an informal project space in a living room. I meet up with Diez to ask them how they will respond to these challenges.

—Àngels Miralda Hola Diego, what connection will there be between diez, your previous experience working for an art advisor, and your previous programming at Tilde?

—Diego Diez “You cannot remove all of your previous history even if you do something new. I have learned a lot from those experiences. For me, it is very enriching to combine works of established artists with younger people – something I did in Tilde as well. But the international Amsterdam art scene has interested me for a much longer time already. In my opinion Amsterdam is a great city and a great context to work and live in. For instance, if you look at the artists currently participating in the Venice Biennale, you’ll notice that many have passed through or currently live here. Most fascinating about the city is that it is a place where discourse is built, but where there is no question of an overexploited art market. Having worked for an art advisor before, I now know about many good private collections in the Netherlands and Belgium. The reason that many of them don’t buy here is because the existing scene lacks certain qualities that they are looking for like the broad international scope and experience that I offer, so I am trying to make this space into the international gallery in Amsterdam.”

—Àngels Miralda Does this international vision you have of Amsterdam connect with the time you spent at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie?

—Diego Diez “I attended the Rietveld, in the years Beatrix Ruf was doing cross-generational programming at the Stedelijk Museum by mixing Dutch and international artists. You had Ed Atkins, Bernadette Corporation but also Magali Reus. Ruf brought a very international feeling to Amsterdam. I miss that with current public institutions in the city that plays it safe by inviting established positions that have already had major solo exhibitions in institutions throughout Europe rather than being one step ahead.”

“I miss that with current public institutions in the city that plays it safe by inviting established positions that have already had major solo exhibitions in institutions throughout Europe rather than being one step ahead”

Ilse D'Hollander, Sam Lasko and Rasoul Ashtary at'Onder', diez

W. Rossen, Sam Lasko and Rasoul Ashtary at 'Onder', diez

Madeleine Ray Hines, Sam Lasko and Rasoul Ashtary at 'Onder', diez

—Àngels Miralda Your gallery currently is based in the building where Hartwig will be opening a museum. Is your space going to stay here when Hartwig opens up?

—Diego Diez “I don't think so. This gallery is a commercial space and his endeavour is not commercial. You never know, maybe they will really like me and the programme and offer me to stay forever but I do not think so, so I consider myself temporarily in this location.”

—Àngels Miralda How much time do you have here?

—Diego Diez “At the moment I know I have around a year here. But I also need to think about sustainability. It’s an ambitious project and I have invested a lot into it already, especially for someone who didn’t arrive here with any money from their parents. I live like a monk basically, eating pasta with butter. This is also the reason for the space - it is big but it is not so expensive, I can keep the space running for several months with the sale of a single artwork. I put everything I have into this space.”

—Àngels Miralda And your plan is to operate like a commercial gallery, including representing artists?

—Diego Diez “One hundred percent. It’s going to have some of the traditional gallery things like representing artists and fairs, but parts will also enter from my experience running the independent project space in my house. Like the personal connection and the fact that I run this place completely on my own.”

Rasoul Ashtary at 'Onder', diez

Cecialia Bjartmar Hylta, Rasoul Ashtary and W. Rossen at 'Onder', diez

Diez’s ambition to be the international gallery in Amsterdam will be a hard sell, simply because there are some other foreign-born gallerists in Amsterdam, such as AKINCI gallery that also has a strong international focus on its roster. Moreover, South-African gallery STEVENSON recently opened its European base in the city. Diez will work on creating a new perspective in the commercial scene which will always benefit from the appearance of new colleagues on the scene. The gallery will still have to work within the existing market that other galleries also have access to, and this is logically reflected in the choice of works with a strong interest in painting and small sculptures that inevitably fit into the city’s commercial tastes.

For more information on diez, click here.

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