Policy

Long before the opening in 1994 a foundation set up and headed by Liesbeth Reith first of all had a good look round to bring in well-known, but often forgotten names. Catalogues of exhibitions of naive and outsider art were looked through for names of artists and collectors, after which it had to be established whether they were still alive, where they lived and whether they were prepared to part with their work. As a result the foundation was quickly presented with work by, among others, Rosemarie Koczÿ and Gérard Sendrey, while Willem van Genk and Siebe Wiemer Glastra, two of the greatest names in the collection, were ‘rediscovered’. Acquiring a reputation can also make collecting a great deal easier. For instance, a letter came from an architect who was involved in the construction of Le Corbusier’s hyper-modern city of Chandigarh in India, where he had met a supervisor, Nek Chand, who had filled his extensive garden near the city with numerous fanciful sculptures. He had taken some of these sculptures on a travelling exhibition about Chandigarh, but when that was over and sending the sculptures back proved too expensive, he got in touch with the foundation. Nek Chand agreed, and on a later occasion offered several dozen more sculptures, so that De Stadshof is now the proud owner of a large collection of his work, a unique one in Europe. Another time there was a phone call from the daughter of Dirk Bos, who did not know what to do with a large collection of paintings her father had left her and offered the foundation to make a selection. When the plans for the museum in Zwolle became more concrete, there was therefore already a small quantity of work in store, as well as a list of possible loans by artists, their families, collectors and museums. However, this was by no means enough to fill the walls of the former court house in Zwolle, so once Zwolle had given its approval a hectic time began. A specially set-up working party with a very limited budget had to assemble as many suitable works as possible as fast as possible. There was no time for the Bourbonnais approach, although, according to Van Berkum, that could still come up with quite a lot. Many visits were arranged, both at home and abroad, and a large number of letters written to individuals and institutions. To the Clemens-Sels Museum in Neuss, for instance, which offered to loan more than sixty works, and to the Haus der Künstler in Gugging, which, to everyone’s surprise, reacted by return with a gift of works. After the Ateliers van de Ziel (soul’s workshop) exhibition of 1995 and a symposium about art and therapy the heirs of the psychiatrist Johannes Plokker presented his collection of about 1,000 works, unique in the Netherlands. Obviously the museum tried to acquire some classical works as well and managed to get hold of, for example, work by Madge Gill and Carlo Zinelli. In addition it helped to establish the names of Paul Duhem, Marc Lamy, François Burland and Ted Gordon, and introduced several outsiders who were not yet so well known, such as Siebe Wiemer Glastra, Bertus Jonkers and Tobias Jessberger, or who were still completely unknown, such as Aaltje Dammer, Bonaria Manca and Roy Wenzel, all of whom meanwhile stand a fair chance of a place among the classics. Lack of space or an imminent move to another house could be good reasons to get in touch with the museum. When Willem van Genk could no longer go on living at home, De Stadshof was the obvious place to accommodate his installation of the Arnhem bus station. And when Bertus Jonkers, who had made a fantastic ‘environment’ of his house in Utrecht, had to move and could only take very little with him, he was given his own room in De Stadshof that he could arrange himself. Afterwards he would sometimes come back and often made alterations to the layout, adding something, or taking something away – a practice which would probably be little appreciated in regular art museums. Often people have work at home which they don’t know what to do with, or they know someone in the family or in the neighbourhood who makes ‘odd things’ which do not seem to fit into any known museum, until they hear of a museum like De Stadshof. Riet van Halder, for instance, was discovered because a teacher on the painting course she was taking thought her work so powerful and original that he thought he could not teach her anything, and rang De Stadshof about it. And another day a letter came from a retired psychiatrist who, when he had seen Van Genk’s work, remembered a stack of drawings he had put away in the attic many years ago. It was work by Aaltje Dammer, a patient who in the institution had for years drawn so much that she was given rolls of paper to carry on with and who could only be stopped by tearing the roll roughly away. Most had been thrown away and if her psychiatrist had not taken a stack home with him, nothing would have been preserved of this unique oeuvre, which needs close scrutiny to discover Dammer’s fears and longings for a normal life. The courage to trust your own intuition is of the greatest importance in searching for contemporary oeuvres. In the regular art world it can already be quite difficult to make a judgement on new and unknown work. In outsider art it is much more difficult, because there are far fewer accepted standards and criteria available, and because the circumstances in which something or someone is discovered are often so unusual that the thought of ‘art’ does not even enter your mind, let alone the thought of ‘museum’. ‘Ben the Recycler’ was discovered when a scout of De Stadshof happened to cycle through Antwerp and saw a very photogenic type coming along, with a shaggy beard and an old-fashioned apron to keep off the rain. When he took a photograph of him the two got into conversation and not long afterwards the scout visited a large display of all kinds of fantastic sculptures made from ‘recycled’ waste materials, some of which are now in the collection. Another time the same scout found a stack of poetic paintings by Marten Piersma, who had died a few years earlier, in refuse bags at a jumble sale. That work, too, is now in the collection. There have also been occasions when works were found beside dustbins in the street and were rescued in the nick of time from the clutches of the dustmen. The work of Reuben Lake also came to De Stadshof by an accidental concurrence of circumstances. Lake lives in Curaçao where he has a kind of private museum of his own work, which is supported by the local Grolsch brewery. The brewer invited him to come to the Netherlands and offered him accommodation near the brewery in Enschede, where on 13 May 2000 Lake witnessed the devastating fireworks disaster. Deeply shocked, he made a collage of the event and offered it to the Enschede town council. At the time they were not interested and directed him to De Stadshof, where it was arranged to come and look at his work in Enschede. It turned out to be an impressive oeuvre in which Lake had portrayed his highly personal vision of the history of slavery. A large donation was the result. Bonaria Manca, a shepherdess who painted her little house in the Italian countryside with colourful frescos and was discovered by a talent scout, proved to be more difficult. Manca did not actually want to lose any of her work, but the sincere interest in it appeared to thaw her. When on a second visit some works were to be selected for exhibition in Zwolle, it appeared that various canvasses had disappeared and others looked different to what they had been before. Enquiry elicited that she had hidden some works and had made copies of others, because the originals were endowed with an ancient magical power for her, which didn’t allow her to part with them. The copies did not have that power, and could therefore be exhibited. How really ‘original’ the works the museum exhibited and acquired are, only Manca herself knows. Visits to exhibitions, and particularly to exhibitions on the fringe of artistic events, provided a more structured method of searching. There are plenty of organizations who sometimes arrange an exhibition of works made spontaneously or produced in a therapeutic environment by psychiatric patients, people with learning difficulties, the homeless, drug addicts, and other social ‘outsiders’. Much of this work is derivative and has little originality, but sometimes you have to take a risk, and a discovery may prove an enduring one. Roy Wenzel was discovered at an exhibition of work of the mentally disadvantaged, and when a delegation from the museum visited him at home an overwhelming quantity of drawings came to light. Now Wenzel is one of the ‘greats’ of De Stadshof, who are also highly thought of abroad, like Jaco Kranendonk of Galerie Atelier Herenplaats in Rotterdam, and Evert Panis of Galerie Atelier Amsterdam.

Reference: Reith, Liesbeth; De Stadshof Collection, An Art Collection’s History, in: Smolders, Frans; Liesbeth Reith en Jos ten Berge; Solitary Creations. 51 Artists out of De Stadshof Collection, Eindhoven 2014.
Ten Berge, Jos; De Stadshof Collection. The search for the homo ludens, in: Allegaert, P., a.o.; Univers Cachés / Hidden worlds. Outsider Art at the Museum Dr Guislain, Ghent 2007;
Berge, Jos ten (red.); Marginalia. Perspectives on outsider art, Zwolle 2000.