Interview with Ellen de Bruijne, founder of the gallery Ellen de Bruijne Projects in Amsterdam
Ellen de Bruijne first came into contact with contemporary art through her father, later she was working for art projects and museums. In 1999 she opened her own gallery in Amsterdam with a program that is focusing on new tendencies in performative art, social related art and installations. In Amsterdam Ellen de Bruijne found the perfect place for all of that, because of its wide open spaces that are good for experiments, and for the blossoming of new ideas.
What brought you into contemporary art in the first place? What is your background?
That is hard to say after so many years in the arts. Was it my father who went to an art academy – as the first in his family – that gave me the introduction in the art world? Was it my stubbornness as a child that drove me towards the arts, as compensation because I did not fit into mainstream education? Was it the 40th Venice Biennial’s US Pavilion by Robert Smithson that I visited on an early backpacking trip?
The fact is that I studied Art History and Archaeology at the University of Amsterdam, and that I loved it, especially everything that had to do with the NOW in art. Being in Amsterdam in the tumultuous 80s, there was a lot „NOW“ going on in this alternative art world.
When did found your gallery, and what inspired you to open your own gallery?
During my studies, and just after completing them, I worked for nonprofit art projects, Dutch art institutes and museums, such as Centraal Museum Utrecht. But after I came across the space at the Rozengracht in 1999, I decided not to open another alternative art space in Amsterdam (there were already many good ones), but a gallery.
Because what was really necessary at that time in Amsterdam, was a gallery representing young artists working with performance, social related art, and installation or more ephemeral work. The gallery soon began to work with Dora Garcia, Otto Berchem and Susan Philipsz, as well as Maria Pask, L.A.Raeven and Ross Birrell.
Where does the name of your gallery come from?
Although my name is not easy to pronounce for everyone, in any language, I still think it is the best option there is, using your own name, because as a founder, you are responsible for all of this. The addition of “Projects”, instead of gallery, is because I wanted to stay away from the shop-like idea of a gallery as selling point of commodities for decoration.
“Projects” reflects much more my interest in the process in art rather than the end-product a and my interest in working together with artists to present their work in the best possible way – and that is not always possible in a white cube-situation of a gallery.
How would you describe the program of your gallery?
Since the beginning with the first show in October ’99, the gallery has focussed on new tendencies in contemporary art, concentrating on performative art, social related art, installations and works in progress. The gallery creates for young international artists and mid-career artists a platform to perform.
It creates shows with high standards on an international level and within an international context. From a conceptual basis, the gallery looks for future tendencies. It puts the new in a critical sense in comparison with the early past, and it experiments to create from old standards towards the new.
Can you tell us more about the Side Projects?
The Side Projects are always related with nonprofit art institutions for more curatorial interest. I organized for several editions for the Amsterdam Art fair, Close-Connections, a visiting program for international curators, critics and artists. For the last edition we worked with Stedelijk Museum’s curator Jelle Bouwhuis.
The new Side Project is taking over the former Project Space of the Stedelijk Museum, together with 4 other art-specialists. And with the curators Sjoerd Kloosterhuis and Dorothé Orczyk, we present international upcoming artists in this program, and make a bridge to the city of Amsterdam and its art scene. The new space is called Rozenstraat a rose is a rose is a rose…(for more information: www.rozenstraat.com.) In the upcoming month we are renovating, but in October we will continue with the program, starting with Grace Schwindt.
What do your artists have in common or how are they connected? How do you find them?
I am not in favor of the monomaniacal one statement gallery, where every represented artist is fitting too well in the gallery concept. I like to be surprised, to see someone crossing boundaries – breaking out of the common parameters of the medium, confronting the public with unconventional thoughts and unaccustomed statements on gender, politics and behavior.
How do I find them? Listening very carefully to people I know who know more than I do. I have lots of unofficial advisors. I trust in what I see, and talk a lot with the artists in whom I see the unexpected. Also by going to look at masters/graduate programs and residencies.
And how do you decide adding a new artist?
Having a basic group of artist I worked with for many years, adding a new artist is very delicate not to disturb a certain balance. I don’t want to have an overlap between artist, and certainly not too much like-minded artist.What I mean is, that it makes no sense to represent 10 Falke Pisano’s, 3 Erkka Nissinen’s or 6 Pauline Boudry’s/Renate Lorenzes. Each artist has its own position within the represented group of artist.
What does it mean to run a contemporary art gallery in Amsterdam?
Amsterdam has a lovely tradition in post-war experimental art on an international level. With strong museums and art institutions, it creates a lot of opportunities. Amsterdam has powerful economic features, and it is still a wonderful place to survive without too much pressures from this globalized art world. But a small country brings a small art market with it.
In Amsterdam we are not in the center of the art world, or market, we are on the periphery. But turning this disadvantage up-side down, in Amsterdam there is much more room for experimenting, try-outs, first blossoms and undercurrents. And I think it is worth doing it here.
How would you describe the role of a gallery in the art world today?
Nowadays galleries should work as a production house for artists, helping to creating the work, with financing, or helping to finance the work by getting museums connected and collectors together. Also a gallery should be creating a position for the artist from which they can work and perform. I am not interested in a gallery for its value multiplying machinery.
I don’t like the idea that the art is completely hijacked by money. Although when you look at history, art and money have never been far apart. So it can be said that there is an inevitable attraction between the two, but hopefully not a fatal one.
What are your plans for the months to come?
In September/October, I will have Pauline Curnier Jardin in the gallery with several projects, e.g. the Viola Melon installation. At FIAC in Paris, I will present a new performance/sculpture by Falke Pisano (Petit Palais) on de-colonialization of language, a new performance by Jeremiah Day (Palais de la découverte) on freedom of speech and constitutional Democracy. Also Pauline Curnier Jardin in the film program, besides the booth presentation on her work Grotta Profunda Approfondita.
In November/December I will show in the gallery new work by Otto Berchem, and a re-enactment of his early performance during Amsterdam Art Weekend, and a film of the Documenta artist Ross Birrell.
Finally, which artists are you showing at Art-O-Rama?
The presentation in Art-O-Rama is called ‚“My Southern Girls“, with two flamboyant artist of the south of France: Anne-lise Coste and Pauline Curnier Jardin, and two strong artists from Spain: Lara Almarcegui and Dora Garcia.
Ellen de Bruijne participates in the 11th edition of ART-O-RAMA in Marseille from August 25th to 27th 2017.
1016 LZ Amsterdam
Thursday to Friday: 11am-6:00pm