Fons Welters ontving afgelopen dinsdag de FEAGA Award for Lifetime Achievement and for his creating and directing an exemplary gallery of high standing.
Daarmee heeft deze Nederlandse galeriehouder zich in een illustere rij van grote galeriehouders geplaatst. Eerdere prijswinnaars van deze eervolle onderscheiding zijn immers: Ernst Beyeler, Galerie Denise René, Annely Juda Fine Art, Galerie Hans Mayer, Galeria Soledad Lorenzo, Galerie Kaj Forsblom, Studio La Città, Galerie Krinzinger, Leslie Waddington en Galerie Gisela Capitain.
Alle Europese galerie associaties kunnen elk jaar nominaties opgeven, zowel voor een established galerie als voor een jonge galerie.
Het NGA bestuur nomineerde dit jaar Fons Welters en de NGA is bijzonder verheugd dat een Nederlandse galeriehouder hierdoor de volle aandacht kreeg in de internationale galeriewereld van de F.E.A.G.A. en op Art Basel. Zie Laudatio – 1.
Een uitgebreid artikel over Fons Welters verscheen afgelopen donderdag 18 juni in de NRC, geschreven door Arjen Ribbens: Ik zoek altijd kunst die wringt.
De lezenswaardige en mooie laudatio werd geschreven door Lex ter Braak en wegens verhindering uitgesproken door Ann Demeester. Zie Laudatio – 2.
Laudatio – 1
The European Gallery Awards have been created by the Federation of European Art Galleries Association (F.E.A.G.A.) in 2005 to honour outstanding European galleries and to make the work of galleries and their importance for art more visible.
The Feaga Members, representing over 1000 modern and contemporary art galleries in the EU and Switzerland have decided unanimously to create two prizes for contemporary and modern art dealers to highlight the importance of galleries.
In a time where many feel compelled to curate, sell, present, use or market art, few think about the continuous importance of art galleries. No artist or group of artists has reached prominence without being accompanied, represented or supported by a gallery and no major museum or other public art event would be possible without the often unnoticed work, over many years, that galleries put in to their artists’ rise to eminence.
If you ask yourself questions about where to find reliable information, where to have a guarantee on quality and provenance, where to find permanent exhibitions of known and unknown artists alike, where is dedication to and expertise on the arts and where is the will to defend artistic integrity and specialisation the answer is always the galleries.
In order to recognize and acknowledge outstanding members of this community and to emphasize the importance of their continuing work for the promotion of art we have created two prizes: the LIFETIME Award and INNOVATION and CREATIVITY Award.
The Lifetime Award will honour a lifetime achievement for quality of art presentation and promotion. For supporting other galleries and playing a role model in the community.
The Innovation and Creativity Award will honour outstanding creativity and innovation – including a reputation for exceptional quality.
The prize is symbolic, is a honour and consists of the object Visible–Invisible created by Leo Zogmeyer, a beautiful object from steel, with the engraved words VISIBLE INVISIBLE. They refer to the invisible work that is done to make the art more visible.
Laudatio – 2
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Fons, Laurie and friends,
It is my pleasure to elaborate on the Fons Welters gallery on this very special occasion of the FEAGA award for 2015. It is a prestigious award with many well-known laureates. The Fons Welters Gallery surely finds good company in the list of prize winners. Maybe not all of you know much about the position of the Fons Welters Gallery in the Dutch art scene, so I will speak about that first and slowly widen my scope to the international stage.
Reading Vasari’s Life of the Artists you may notice how often his biographies accentuate the naive background of the artist. It somehow became a trope that they were discovered by accident, that they mastered their skills without help, far away from what we would now call the cultural centres. Their achievements, and with that the artists themselves, became larger than life. An outstanding example is Giotto, who as a shepherd boy, while herding his flock, drew a picture of a sheep in the sand. The famous painter Cimabue happened to pass by and immediately recognized the young Giotto’s talent. He took the boy with him, estranging him from his native soil and background and paving the glorious way for Giotto’s rapid rise to fame.
These are nice, comforting stories. They suggest that the hand of God is involved in the lives of the gifted ones; that talent is rare and, if you possess it, it will develop of its own accord. So: don’t worry, in the end your gifts will be recognised. But we all know that this it is just a reassuring fairy tale; we’d like to think it’s true but it’s not.
You may ask yourself, what has all this to do with Fons Welters? I will tell you: Fons Welters is a Giotto and a Cimabue all in one. It seems after all that fairy tales can come true for art and for the artists.
When Fons Welters started his gallery in Amsterdam, exactly thirty years ago in 1985, he didn’t have any background in the arts. Nor was he familiar with the life and times of that roaring and vibrating city, where experiment, adventure, freedom and diversity were the order of the day. He came there, like Giotto almost out of the blue, from far away in the southern, hilly part of the Netherlands. Back home he had lived a rather isolated life, helping his father on the farm. The ambition to change his life, and life itself, with art drove him on.
The amazing thing is that from the moment he started to show art – and almost from the beginning it was in the same place where his gallery is now – the gallery became an emblem of everything we associate with a contemporary art space in the Netherlands. If there was such a thing as a Google Image Search for the mind, Fons Welters Gallery would be the first hit to come up every time.
Needless to say that it is not the space itself that makes it the proverbial modern gallery, but the space activated by its program. Fons Welters had the eye of a Cimabue discovering Giotto drawing his sheep in the sand. Wherever Fons Welters went or goes, to artists’ studios, to exhibitions, to the graduate shows of the art academies, he sees with unrivalled precision where the possibilities lie, where the openings to the future are shimmering and trying to make themselves manifest. Tracing that he immediately offers the young artists a platform in his space. Many of them have made their march from there on to a brilliant career in the Netherlands and beyond – to become artists who have helped shape our time and in whom we recognize our questions, searchings and existential doubts. I am thinking of examples like Aernout Mik, Thomas Housego, Joep van Lieshout, Berend Strik, Job Koelewijn, Matthew Monahan, Maria Roosen, Folkert de Jong, David Jablonowski, Renzo Martens – and many, many more.
It is amazing to witness how he has managed to keep in pace with time’s progress. His eye hasn’t slackened nor has it weakened. Over the course of time he became, and still is, the gallery for promising young promising artists. I want to mention among others Olga Balema and Saskia Noor van Imhoff who will have soon a show in de Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, as the personal choice of the new director Beatrix Ruf.
What his artists (if you will allow me the disturbing possessive pronoun) share is a sculptural attitude that puts life and art at stake. The art could be figurative or abstract. They probe the conditions of the art work, its grammar and vocabulary – not as an aesthetic game for art’s sake but as research into the conditions under which an artwork relates to the world and can create meaning. As playful as the work may seem, it is devilishly serious in the end. Just as Fons Welters once staked everything on the future, he expects the same of the artists, although in another way.
In the 30 years that his gallery has existed, the art world has changed rapidly and so has the role of the gallery. In the Netherlands, like everywhere else in the art world, the function and future of the gallery was hotly debated: the gallery as an agency for the artist, the gallery as a hub for collaborative projects, the spaceless, virtual gallery trekking from international art fair to art fair and even the end of the gallery. Meanwhile, while all these debates were going on, Fons Welters just continued going his own way, not stubborn but flexible, adapting where necessary. At a certain point he found in Laurie Cluitmans a talented young curator who soon became his indispensable right hand. Since 2012 they have run the gallery together – so this award and these congratulations are also hers.
The Fons Welters Gallery has for all those years been a stable beacon in unstable times. When you want to know which way art is going, you go there; when a new name pops up on the invitation card, you want to see the show; when there is an overview exhibition of the gallery’s artists you are curious – who and what is new this time?
Paradoxical though it may sound, staying loyal to yourself can be quite difficult. When the world around you changes, it may be easier to choose a new direction instead of staying the course. I would like to illustrate this with a beautiful short story by a Dutch writer – a fairy tale, like that of Fons Welters’ Vasari-like life.
The story is entitled Bird Watching and was written by Bob den Uyl. In this parable a penniless young man has a mysterious ability to see rare birds that other people cannot see. For him, the trees, bushes and rooftops are populated with multi-coloured birds, singing songs that no one else has ever heard. Once the man realizes the uniqueness of his wonderful gift, he wonders if he can capitalize on it. Does his magical power of perception mean he can tell really precious things from worthless ones? To find out he buys a delivery bicycle and rides through the streets, crying out that he will buy whatever people want to sell. And, indeed, he does make one remarkable discovery after another. He finds a Goya, a rare Chinese vase and so on, and sells them at a huge profit. He becomes wealthier than he ever dreamed of. But in his blind pursuit of wealth it escapes him that he is losing his capacity to see the rare birds. The more he buys, the less happy he becomes – until at a certain moment he realizes that he can’t see his birds any more. He sells his bike, he stops collecting old stuff and goes walking again through the streets, looking desperately in the bushes and trees. But the birds are no longer there. The magic has gone.
To keep the magic is one of our main tasks in life. If we are indifferent or careless, we simply lose our special perception in being realistic, grown up and down to earth. The artists are our rare birds, and as long as our eyes are open to them we know for sure that we are still connected with these other-wordly messengers – whatever that world is.
I hope I have made it clear by now that I believe Fons Welters still has this magic, and that is why he is followed by so many different people, In Amsterdam, the Netherlands, all over the world – and now here in Basel. As long as his birds fly we, will be more than happy to see them through his eyes.
Fons and Laurie, my congratulations to you on winning this well-deserved prize.