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Non-Fitting Things Are Interesting

The De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art in Tilburg has its own unique approach. It’s in no rush to draw as many visitors as possible and has no aspirations to be innovative at any cost. It would rather exhibit work that retains its significance over time.

Hendrik Driessen, director and chief curator, has been running this internationally renowned museum for over 20 years with a very small team of people. “There is a kind of camaraderie. Everyone is proud to work here and is capable of fulfilling a variety of jobs in addition to his or her own duties. We occasionally bring in experts for special jobs. This creates an atmosphere in which everyone feels at home. And I like to extend that feeling to the visitors and the artists. In this museum we deal carefully with people, with works of art and with the conviction with which works of art are selected.”

How is leadership shown?
“It is also shown in the work you exhibit, because that is opinion-forming. The art you purchase influences others; you make a statement with it. Understanding art requires an inquisitive mind. When I worked at the Stedelijk Museum, we developed an educational program in which people discussed a work of art together. Putting your thoughts into words adds structure to an amorphous process, helps broaden your view, and can lead to a different perspective on reality. It can sometimes be extraordinarily interesting not to tour the museum with an expert but to have a look on your own. In effect that’s what I do when I buy something. In many cases, the role of the new work of art is still unclear and I have no choice but to follow my instinct.”

Can instinct be developed?
“My frame of reference has developed over the years through the many things I’ve seen and experienced. That frame of reference makes it possible for me to see connections and establish links in a personal manner and gives me the confidence to defend decisions. Choices for particular works of art are made in various ways. Sometimes a piece that gives me a bellyache or irritates me ends up being the most interesting. ‘Darn it, that’s good,’ is such a reaction. I always look for a key work of art, something that says everything about an artist or a particular era. But ultimately, it’s the things that don’t directly fit into a particular category that turn out to be the most interesting. And, of course, I’ve made the occasional mistake with regard to the importance of certain purchases. But, after all, I’m only human.”

As an opinion leader, are you also an artist?
“No, that’s not how I see it. Artists are unique, enterprising people because they make products that people don’t really need. It’s a lonely existence, and they carry on even if their work doesn’t sell very well. Although art doesn’t appear to mean very much to the average Dutchman, artwork can give us a push in another direction. It influences our perception of reality and is ultimately appreciated after all. Most of what remains of past generations and societies is art and unique architecture. Tourists are drawn to major cities mainly for their cultural offerings. People have a need to look at art. Art isn’t nonsense; it is a very direct form of communication that can bridge centuries.”

Petra Baars, Project Coordinator (p.baars@debaak.nl)


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