Interview with Pieter Dobbelsteen, founder of the gallery Cinnnamon in Rotterdam
An artist coming back from Australia after a few years, a city in constant evolution, a pinch of cinnamon that stimulates the senses. These are the ingredients of the successful beginning of Cinnnamon, a contemporary art gallery founded by Pieter Dobbelsteen in Rotterdam in 2015. Here the whole story.
Who are the founders of the gallery? What is your background?
I am the sole founder of the gallery. My background is primarily in the visual arts, but I also hold a degree in philosophy. I have been active as an artist for over ten years, mainly working in sculpture and installation, but I have also done exhibition design, writing, and other art related activities.
Can you tell us the story of the gallery, when did you found it, and what did motivate you?
I founded the gallery in 2015 after returning to the Netherlands from Australia, where I lived for a few years. Starting a gallery flowed more or less naturally from my background. Throughout my art practice I have always done other things than just being an artist. I’ve been playing with the idea to start a gallery since I was living in Antwerp some fourteen years ago, not long after I finished my residency at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. But I felt I was not ready for it back then. Now I’m happy to focus more on developing my entrepreneurial and curatorial qualities.
Why the name “cinnnamon”, and why with three n?
It was clear from the beginning that I wasn’t going to use my own name for the gallery. I wanted a name that doesn’t relate to art, or to anything visual, but that still relates to the senses. After several long lists and a short list, ‘cinnamon’ jumped out. The triple N is an intentional misspelling, a bit of playfulness to arouse curiosity. It’s interesting to notice that it works, a lot of people ask me about the triple N. In any case, it’s a good conversation starter.
What is the program of your gallery? You represent four artists but you exhibit many more…
The program consists mainly of international emerging artists, and will expand to include more mid-career artists in the coming years, and I want to add some more painters. The outlook is very international, with perhaps a slight leaning towards artists the northern countries. The roster of represented artists is still small because the gallery is just over a year old. The list of exhibited artists is quite long, because there were three group shows in the first year. In any case, I believe in being conscientious about selecting artists for long term cooperation. Lars Morell, Theis Wendt and Isabelle Andriessen have been involved in the project since before the gallery opened. This year I will add three or four, perhaps five new artists to the roster. The aim is to keep expanding over the next few years, along with the gallery growing as a business. This way I can establish a good relationship with each of the artists. Also, the selection of represented artists will reflect the development of the gallery’s program in its important initial years. Group shows and guest artists will remain a contextualising factor.
Can you tell something about the content of your program? What kind of art do you represent?
In terms of the content of the program, there are some overlapping themes, but this is not exclusive. Initially I choose quite intuitively, but several artists I work with are interested in physicality and materiality in the digital age. Some are interested in the anthropocene, post-humanism and the status of the object. Theis Wendt, Yannick Val Gesto, Isabelle Andriessen en Rachel de Joode are examples. But the program is by no means limited to these themes. I also have a soft spot for artists whose research is based in history or art history, who use historical references to question the function of art and representation, even in its political sense. Priscila Fernandes, who we show at Art-O-Rama, is an example. Lars Morell works with the theme of late 19th century illusionism as a mirror for the contemporary art practice. Jakup Auce, who I will show next year, is dealing with identity and sexuality.
Can you tell us about the space of your gallery? How did you chose it?
There are two adjacent exhibition spaces, a bigger and a smaller one. All up there is about 50m2 of exhibition space, which is perfect for one or two highly concentrated exhibitions at a time.
What drew me to this space was the location and the affordable rent. The gallery is centrally located at five minutes walking distance from the central station, and about ten minutes from the city’s main museums and art institutes. In spite of being right next to the city center, the area where the gallery is located is relatively poor residential area. Although it is gentrifying, it’s still affordable. It’s more or less the typical story of the young gallery establishing in such areas.
What kind of a place is Rotterdam for a contemporary art gallery?
Rotterdam sometimes it feels like a small version of Berlin, a bit rough and in perpetual development. It certainly feels like the right time to be here, to be part of the current changes. Rotterdam is getting more and more positive attention, ranking high on international lists of ‘alternative’ tourist destinations etcetera. On the other hand, Rotterdam is a typical second-largest city and will probably never get the attention that Amsterdam gets – luckily. Not being located in the country’s main art hub is an incentive to establish international contacts and to work a bit harder to get noticed in the Dutch art scene. And of course Brussels, Antwerp, Amsterdam and Cologne are just around the corner.
Who is an artist who ideally you would like to represent if you co could choose freely, even in history?
(For a one-off project though I’d ask a stone age cave painter – or a group of them – to do a mural on the gallery walls. Just imagine, to learn about the birth of art first hand!)
Why Paul Thek?
I came across Thek’s work years ago, as a student, when I saw an image of one of his environments in a catalogue. At that time, interest in his work was at a low so there wasn’t much to find on him. His work struck me as enigmatic, he was typically an artist’s artist. Later I learned more about his work. It seems to me that a lot if the ideas he worked with, such as identity, temporality, and the body in relation to technology, resonate with the themes many of the artists in the program deal with.
A difficult moment and a happy moment in your career as a gallerists?
The worst moment was probably the opening of the double solo exhibition by Rachel de Joode and Yannick Val Gesto. The opening date was set months in advance, and happened to coincided with the opening of the Isa Genzken retrospective in Amsterdam. Of course everyone in the art world went there. It also poured at the time of the opening, so almost nobody showed up at our opening. Luckily we made up for it with a successful finissage.
There have been plenty of happy moments, but being able to participate in art fairs so quickly felt great. We were accepted for both Artissima and Unseen Photo Fair within the first few months of the gallery’s existence. That really confirmed I was on the right track!
If you had not opened a gallery, what would you have done, or you might like to do?
If nothing art related, I’d be doing something that involves wines or single malt whiskys.
Cinnnamon participates in the 11th edition of ART-O-RAMA in Marseille from August 25th to 27th 2017. The gallery will present a selection of works by Esther Tielemans.
3014 PK, Rotterdam
Wednesday to Saturday: 1 pm–6 pm