This is part two of an article on Hendrik Driessen, director of De Pont, a museum for contemporary visual art in Tilburg, the Netherlands. The first part is about how he became director of De Pont and about his responsibilities. This article describes his daily activities, his vision on the museum and the buying of new works.
There is no set pattern to my work day, I guess most of it is what other people may do, answering the phone, having a meeting, but my job is very multi-faceted. I’m involved with virtually every aspect of running our museum. One day I will be working on administrative affairs, while the next day I may be visiting an artist’s studio or I’m in a meeting with colleagues from another museum to discuss a possible collaboration. Right now I am arranging a parting reception for our chairman, Jos de Pont, who will retire from his position after 30 years, and I am also preparing a board meeting which will mainly deal with my own succession. There is no way to tell how my day will look exactly.
In my free time I often think ‘not now’ when it comes to art, but my love for art is unconditional and with me this is not something which is limited to my own field. You will find me a lot visiting a museum, though this can be an archaeological museum, a museum dedicated to the seventeenth century, like the Rijksmuseum, or a nature museum. I am fascinated by the phenomenon of collecting, choosing something from that enormous amount of what is available and the choices being made in how to show or read this. I believe very much in looking at older art to have a better judgement of contemporary art.
I have a rather divergent hobby: I love flying and I managed to get my pilot’s licence right at the time that I started working for De Pont. I’m very interested in all the technical aspects of flying and the three dimensions that one has to take into account when practising it. Since a few years I am a grandparent and this too I enjoy a lot. What I like about growing older is seeing that there will always be new people who will develop new insights or other solutions to problems you have experienced yourself. This I find hopeful and, in a way, reassuring.
So, both my private and professional lives are rather varied. What makes my job very interesting and substantial is the continuous and direct connection with the artists and the art they create. I enjoy discussing their work with them, also because it helps me find its place in society. This aspect needs a lot of attention, because how do we make sure contemporary art keeps connecting to future audiences? I have always paid a lot of attention to how art is presented, to the connections that can be made between different works, to how they can ‘strike up a conversation’ between them and with the visitor. I think a museum should feel as a comfortable environment in which one feels at home.
We don’t have a socio-political agenda like many other museums have these days. I think we should leave that to the interpretation of the makers and the viewers, we would never use the art work as an illustration to an argumentation. Art is autonomous and in that it can be very socially outspoken, or even political, but that does not mean you can only show it in this context. You can suggest things by putting different artworks next to each other or in the accompanying text, still it does not need to be too directive.
I discover new works for the collection or for exhibitions like everybody in this field does, by seeing a lot. I seldom buy at a fair, because I feel like you need to know the artist before you acquire something. Over the years I have developed the skills with which I have to work, based on conversations I had with interesting artists or other people, the board, colleagues etc. In the end you still have to make a choice with each art work and I do this with my head or gut. I can feel touched, annoyed, excited, emotional, visually deceived, there are a number of instant statements, yet it is always a form of falling in love. Sometimes this happens all at once and in other instances the passion may have taken years to develop. I always try to think about how a possible purchase could relate to what we already have in the collection, which conversations it could be entered into.
I let myself be surprised every time and each time proves that the incredible special pairing of the eye, the heart and the mind brings you to different insights, feelings, emotions and judgements, this is the greatness of art to me.
Photographs: Courtesy of De Pont Museum.