Gustav Metzger in his nineties still inspiring a new generation of artists, Serpentine Galleries

Artists do not retire

Issue no5
okt - nov 2022

On the 27th of March Mondriaan Fund organised a networking event for proven talent at Nest in The Hague. Using Leo Delfgaauw’s essay Old masters - The topicality of advanced artistic practice as a starting point, the event aimed to discuss important topics, such as recognition for older artists, their visibility, and the transfer of knowledge.

Earlier this year an essay by Leo Delfgaauw called ‘De actualiteit van het gevorderde kunstenaarschap’, (translation: ‘Old masters - The topicality of advanced artistic practice’), was published by the Mondriaan Fundas part of an ongoing series of essays on visual art and heritage. The essay deals with the growing interest and appreciation for the mature work of the older artist, from mid-career onwards. Delfgaauw wrote this essay in the context of his PhD research at the University of Groningen, in which he focuses on the progressive artistic practice, and demonstrates to which extent learning is part of it.

On the 27th of March Mondriaan Fund organised a networking event for proven talent at Nest in The Hague. Using Delfgaauw’s essay as a starting point, the event aimed to discuss important topics, such as recognition for older artists, their visibility, and the transfer of knowledge. These topics were explored by invited speakers, artists, gallery owners, curators and the audience. For this occasion, Nest and Mondriaan Fund organised an exhibition of Woody van Amen’s (1936) work.

The event started with a short introduction to the Mondriaan Fund and the opportunities available to proven talent by Birgit Donker, the director of the Mondriaan Fund. During the event numerous terms for the aging artist were used, such as ‘proven talent’, ‘advanced artist’ or ‘advanced artistic practice’, ‘mid-career artist’, ‘experienced artist’ etcetera, each with their own pros and cons. Donker said she prefers the term ‘proven talent’. She explained that when talking about talent, it is usually in relation to young talent, but this is not the case at the Mondriaan Fund. This stance provides numerous opportunities to more experienced artists, as well as to younger artists, such as guest studios and the possibility to work with other artists in foreign countries, to name a few.

Birgit Donker opening speech

Leo Delfgaauw (right) interviewed by Alex de Vries (left)

Noraly Beyer, actress, playwright and member of the Board of Trustees of the Mondriaan Fund, reacted to the essay of Delfgaauw through a collection of quotes from the text, such as ‘artists do not retire’. She explained her understanding of the essay through personal anecdotes related to her vision on the advanced artist and the inspiration they have been to her.

The essay was presented through a short yet relevant interview by curator and art critic Alex de Vries, in which the essence of the essay was captured. During the interview the importance of the transfer of knowledge was emphasized. Delfgaauw stressed that advanced artists function as an example for younger artists. The latter can learn from the drive and perseverance of the former. He went on to underline the importance of connecting advanced artists to younger artists through either feedback or master classes and guest lectures. He continued by explaining the lack of contact between younger and older artists: most live and grow in their work through contact with only their contemporaries, not necessarily by interacting with different generations. Institutions should create more opportunities for experienced artists and younger artists to come together.

Marlies Leupen and Jasper Hagenaar

Delfgaauw also discussed issues around visibility for older artist, age 45 and up. The current artistic infrastructure does not have fixed categories for them. He continued to say that not only does age play a role, also the loss of contacts and networks, which create new possibilities, are a problem. Learning, artistic practice and aging are all inherently social processes. More opportunities should be created to bring them together.

The second half of the event consisted of two rounds of discussion with invited speakers, led by the swift and efficient moderator Marlies Leupen (‘regiomakelaar’ at the Mondriaan Fund). In the first round the transfer of knowledge and experience through collaboration and mentorship was discussed. The collaboration between artists Jasper Hagenaar and Anton Henning served as an example of the Mondriaan Fund’s program to stimulate Dutch artists to work together with artists abroad. Hagenaar explained that when people are interested in each other, it becomes easier to teach, and contact becomes more of a conversation. Mondriaan Fund mentor Annaleen Louwes and mentee Judith Quax discussed the advantages of mentorship for both parties. For Louwes it fulfils the desire to transfer her knowledge, for Quax the desire to learn from an experienced artist, and to have the opportunity to spar ideas with someone.

Benno Tempel, the director of Gemeentemuseum The Hague, explained the role of the museum in transferring knowledge through its collection. The museum is driven, in part, by curiosity in art and its creator. Key to staying visible for an artist, according to Tempel, is being true to the own practice and staying curious. Considering the collection of artist’s work: what happens to the work of an artist when he or she passes away? What happens to his or hers studio, full of art works? Tempel answered by saying that the selection process should not be left to a third party. The artist him- or herself should start the process. A member of the audience, whose works deals with the issues surrounding art works of deceased artists, suggested that the documentation and description of work should already start in art school.

Key to staying visible for an artist, according to Benno Tempel, is being true to the own practice and staying curious

Birgit Donker 

The second round of speakers focused on visibility. Colin Huizing, curator at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, Francis Boeske, gallery owner and initiator of De Kunstkamer, and artist Ad de Jong discussed the different roles that they play in the process of recognition and visibility of mid-career and advanced artists. Huizing talked about the importance of the role museums play in creating visibility for experienced artists. As an institution, the collection of Stedelijk Museum Schiedam is based on ‘newer’ art, they focus on modern and contemporary Dutch art, like CoBrA. Gallery owner Boeske’s De Kunstkamer will be a place for mid-career artists to exhibit their work. Boeske explained that what makes mid-career artists so interesting is that each step in their practice is a reflection of the work that came before. Artist De Jong explained that when he is not working in his studio, he spends his time setting up opportunities for mid-career artists. At the end, all three agreed that there is a real need for attention for the exhibition of advanced artistic practice, one that is not as fast-paced as it is now. Also they agreed that there are lots of initiatives for experienced artists all over the Netherlands, mostly coming from mid-career or advanced artists themselves, creating opportunities for them to be seen and get recognition.

Before the most important part of the event began, the networking, Marlies Leupen delivered a concise summary in which she stressed the importance of curiosity for artists, the recognition of the exemplary role advanced artists can play in the art world, the importance of the transfer of knowledge, the need for institutions to create opportunities to bring younger and advanced artists together, and the importance of visibility throughout the artistic career.

All images at Nest by Thomas Nondh Jansen, courtesy Mondriaan Fund

More info on Leo Delfgaauw's essay

Nicole Sciarone
is stagiaire bij Metropolis M

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Metropolis M Tijdschrift over hedendaagse kunst Nr 5 — 2022