A Vision Forever Fresh
Last Works from Nico van der Endt's Galerie Hamer
Galerie Atelier Herenplaats, Rotterdam. 19 January - 6 April 2024
An exhibition I curated, with significant input from Richard Bennaars and Stijn Kemper just opened in Rotterdam. 43 works are on show, drawn from an international pool, with work from the following artists: Herman Bossert (NL), Yalcin Cihangir (TR), Damian Valdes Dilla (CU), Philippe Eichenn (FR), Willem van Genk (NL), Elisabeth Gevaert (NL), Michael Hall (DE), Josvedi Jove-Junco (CU), Davood Koochaki (IR), Ron Roboxo (NL), Joseph Vignes (FR), Bertho Virant (BE), Roy Wenzel (NL), Willem Westbroek (NL), Scottie Wilson (UK). All the work was chosen from the remaining stock of the now-closed Galerie Hamer, Amsterdam. The idea was to celebrate the achievement of the gallery and its Director, Nico van der Endt. Rather than producing a retrospective exhibition, with examples of artists shown throughout the gallery's history, I decided to assemble a show that felt like it could have been Galerie Hamer's next one; the work in the stockroom was, after all, strong, fresh and lent itself to coherent themes of the architecture and life of the city, the human figure, and the creation of visionary worlds.
The Galerie Atelier Herenplaats produced a 20 page catalogue, for which I wrote a short Introduction that was translated into Dutch by Stijn Kemper. In this post I reproduce the English language original of my text, below, together with some installation photographs of the exhibition, including a couple from the opening on 19 January.
When Galerie Hamer closed its doors for the last time in 2023 a hole was torn in the fabric of the Dutch art world. For 54 years Hamer provided a shop window for the kind of exciting new art that no other Dutch commercial gallery specialised in; uniquely idiosyncratic work produced away from the dominant art world, and mostly ignored by it. Throughout that time its Director, Nico van der Endt demonstrated an unwaveringly good eye for the best of this art from elsewhere, often discovering new artists and introducing to The Netherlands many that were already known a little in other places, from Nikifor, Scottie Wilson, and Davood Koochaki, to Willem van Genk, Roy Wenzel, and Yalcin Chihangir. Precisely because of its unique focus, Hamer also made important contributions to the discourse of contemporary art and culture in the Netherlands, creating a space in which ideas about naïve art, art brut, and outsider art could be introduced and discussed. Indeed, Van der Endt introduced the term outsider art to Holland in the 1980s, after reading the late Roger Cardinal’s eponymous, seminal text on the subject. Van der Endt was central to plans for a Dutch Museum for Naïve Art in the late 1980s, which had a brief, but extremely important flowering as the Stadshof Museum Voor Naïeve Kunst En Outsider Art, in Zwolle. Though the museum is gone, the collection is currently safe, on long loan to the Museum Dr Guislain, in Ghent, Belgium.
|Installation view of A Vision Forever Fresh, including work by Davood Koochaki, Yalcin Cihangir, Bertho Virant, Joseph Vignes, and Roy Wenzel
Hamer consistently showed and championed artists overlooked by the mainstream artworld, although some of them have since become very well-known in that context, in particular Nikifor, Anna Zemánková, and Van Genk. Others, such as Koochaki, Michel Nedjar, and August Walla are now canon-ical figures in the global specialised field of outsider art. From the start, Van der Endt’s vision and scope was international, extending to countries such as Iran, Turkey and Cuba, as well as Eastern European before they opened up again to the West. Crucially, Van der Endt also had a keen interest in homegrown artists, championing among others, Jaco Kranendonk, Herman Bossert, Roboxo, Bertho Virant, Wenzel, and of course, Van Genk.
|Installation view, with works by Herman Bossert (left) and Damian Valdes Dilla (right)
It is a testament to Van der Endt’s undimmed enthusiasm and eye for new developments in the field that he continued to bring new artists and work to public attention right to the end, including Yalcin and, finally, Ward van Grimbergen. In a gallery that had been committed almost exclusively to drawing and painting over half a century, it is also worthy of note that one of the last exhibitions at Hamer was dev-oted to the remarkable, relatively recently rediscovered photographs of Marcel Bascoulard.
|Installation view with works by Davood Koochaki
Van der Endt’s support for his artists based in the Netherlands often went beyond the usual friendly business relationships one might expect of a dealer. Artists unused to, or unconnected with the art world, often also have additional support needs, and precisely because he was interested in them as people, as well as artists, Van der Endt was busy with the everyday lives of many of them, often finding himself advocating for their social welfare with authorities, and assisting them and their families, sometimes even financially. This was especially so in the cases of Van Genk, and for a while, Ognjen Jeremic (Ogi) and Aldo Piromalli, as well as Wenzel’s brother and sister-in-law, who are his primary carers.
|Installation view with works by Elisabeth Gevaert and Roy Wenzel
Since the activities of Galerie Hamer were intimately interwoven with the interests and tastes of Van der Endt, it is unsurprising that in retrospect certain common themes and subjects come into focus over the years. The image of the city and urban life is one of these, recurrent in richly different ways, in the current exhibition, in work by Wenzel, Bossert, Elisabeth Gevaert, and Damian Valdes Dilla. The human figure is also central, always interpreted in distinctly powerful psychological ways, by Wenzel, Virant, and Michael Hall. At times such figures metamorphose into animals and hybrid zoomorphs, as in work here by Koochaki and Yalcin. Another important trope at Hamer was the tendency toward abstraction among many of its artists, most often in intense, colourful arabesques, represented here by Yalcin, Roboxo, and even Virant.
|Installation view with works by Herman Bossert
‘A Vision Forever Fresh’ is a celebration of Van der Endt’s huge contribution to the Dutch art scene, and offers a chance to experience in Rotterdam a Galerie Hamer redux, a year after it closed its doors in Amsterdam for the last time. Rather than attempt a historical retrospective of Hamer exhibitions over five decades, it is made with work chosen from the gallery’s stock after closure. It is remarkable that there was very little ‘old’ work in the stockroom, and even more so that there was almost nothing of leftover low-quality work rejected from past shows. On the contrary, the stockroom still had the feel of work in progress – work by artists Van der Endt was currently working with and art waiting to be returned after recent exhibitions. In this sense, this exhibition demonstrates that no dimming of vision and inquisitiveness ever took place. It also demonstrates the possibility of continuance of the Galerie Hamer idea, and offers the baton to a new generation of those with a passion for art that comes from unusual places, and who might themselves wish to bring it to a broad audience.
|Nico van der Endt (centre) in conversation with Richard Bennaars (back to camera)