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Talk with Anneke Oele at Art Amsterdam 2008

Anne Jaap de Rapper, La Mouton Parfumé #7, 2007

By Manuel P. Caballero

The 24th edition of Art Amsterdam smacks of new taste. Since Anneke Oele became director, she has given a boost to the fair, which had fell into oblivion, and, as for exhibition quality, it is now at the top of the local market.

Within the current flooded market, the fair has created a niche for itself and has become an unavoidable meeting point in the agenda of gallery owners, curators and collectors from The Netherlands, Germany and France. There is a total of 125 galleries, 32 of which are foreign galleries from 6 different countries. Germany is especially represented at this fair and is playing an increasingly important role on the international scene.

Art Amsterdam is included in the art fair calendar along with other important events, such as Brussels and Cologne, which are all held at the same time in April, and have been competitors in recent years. On the other hand, Art Basel is held in June, a prestigious fair which has grown in the last years due to the increasing number of distinguished fairs and satellite fairs devoted to debutant galleries and the newest artistic proposals.

An almost complete redefinition of Art Amsterdam was needed and the good results of a changing process that has lasted for several years are noticeable. Through a relaxed talk with Anneke Oele, the fair's director, we have analysed the key elements of this process, and the changes in this year's edition.

Regarding the opening, the director says she is "… very happy. It was amazing, people just wanted to thank me. For a long time, the fair went unnoticed, mainly because it was not good. For the last six years, I have tried to improve it, and people are still surprised for all we have achieved, they could not imagine we could reach this high level. Now we can measure up to the international standards". The architecture of the exhibition space also seems very appealing to the visitors, "… because we have an open and lighted space this year, besides, the weather is wonderful, so we can have natural light all the time".

At the fair, you can feel certain calmness, not very habitual to gallery owners. The director considers technical issues as an important part, since "… they are essential to creating a positive atmosphere among gallery owners and visitors. I have been a commissioner and an art historian, and I do not try to set up the usual fair, but rather an exhibition. I want to make people feel as if they were in a museum". And this can be seen by the inclusion of individual exhibitions in the booths, an initiative implemented by 18 galleries this year at Art Amsterdam.

We must not forget that an art fair is, above all, a market: buying and selling. Anneke Oele always had that in mind, and she has put into effect a new VIP programme in order to attract foreign collectors to Amsterdam. "Before implementing the VIP programme, I wanted to be sure that the fair was good enough. We started last year. We proposed to the galleries to invite their best collectors to Amsterdam, and we paid for the hotel, let's see how it works. My idea was to bring foreign collectors, who otherwise would not be here".

In this sense, another initiative is the Day for the debutant art collector, which tries to promote collecting among young people between 17 and 22 years old. It might sound overwhelming, but according to the Art Amsterdam's director "…we have carried out this initiative for five years, and it has been a success. Several studies show that people of this age is more sensitive to works of art. Through this event, young people will be advised by relevant collectors, who will be their guides during their first purchases. I bought my first work when I was 16. I still do not know why, but I was sure I wanted it. That was the first one of many. It is not about turning these young people into collectors, but rather to provide them with professional advice".

Johan Tahon, Kleine witte balsem, 2007

As for the sales, it is difficult to provide an assessment before Art Amsterdam finishes. However, from the number of sold works during the first day, it seems that the statistics will be good. In this sense, Anneke Oele believes that "… a foreign gallery owner should learn to understand the host country's collectors. It is normal that the fair works out better for local galleries, but the key is the gallery owner's ability to sell to foreign collectors. It is strange, but in each country collectors are different. For instance, Belgian collectors like walking around the booths and talking to the gallery owners only when they feel like it. Here, in Holland, things are different, and the gallery owner should know that: collectors like the gallery owner to approach them and talk about the art works".

Another project of interest is the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, which consists of a high building (whose huge model can be seen at the fair) to be built in Rotterdam. It will devote half of its space to a permanent collection, and the other half will be given or rented to private collectors. Art Amsterdam's director states "… it is a wise proposal. Private collectors are increasingly more important, and museums cannot be indifferent to this fact. The Collectiegebouw (Collectors' Building) suggests long-term contracts with private collectors, so that they can store their works and, at the same time, showcase them at the museum. Collectors can also create their own art events in this space, which has been designed by the MVRDV architects' team. There are museums that cannot afford to purchase certain works they would like to have. This project has opened up this opportunity to museums, and that is what I like best of the project. Although the works will not be owned by the museum, they will make the exhibitions better documented and more comprehensive".

Translation: Sara Sánchez Alonso

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