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DANIEL GUSTAV CRAMER, Tales # 36 - Lago di Brales nr 2, 2011

Rotterdam  |  The Netherlands  | 

Alexander Ramselaar

After filling his home with pieces of modern design, it wasn’t until a walk to the local record store sparked his interest in contemporary art.

For Rotterdam-based collector Alexander Ramselaar, collecting art is a part of his everyday life – from living with it on the walls of his home, to thinking about it when he’s on his bike or talking to his friends. The self-confessed avid traveller and cycling enthusiast turned his focus, and life, to collecting contemporary art in 2000, and now almost two decades later has shifted his own career from real estate and finance to advising artists and cultural institutions. After initially only collecting work from within the Rotterdam art scene, Ramselaar has gone on to amass a collection of emerging artists on an international scale, featuring works from Diango Hernandez, Rossella Biscotti, Pieter Hugo, Giorgio Andreotta Calo and Yael Bartana to name a few.

In collaboration with Art Rotterdam, IC speaks to Ramselaar about what first sparked his interest in contemporary art, how his passion for travel and collecting enable one another, and what the responsibly of being a collector means to him.

ROSSELLA BISCOTTI, Crude Oil, 2016
ROSSELLA BISCOTTI, Crude Oil, 2016
IC

How did you get into collecting? Did you collect something else before art?

ALEXANDER RAMSELAAR

After graduating in Business Economics and making my first steps in working life, I bought an apartment in my hometown of Rotterdam. All my friends went to the local Ikea or the then still existing Habitat to furnish their homes fully and quickly. I don’t really know why, but I followed a different path. I started buying design: furniture and lights, piece by piece. A table by Jean Prouve, light-sculptures by Ingo Maurer and others. I didn’t mind the garden-chairs I had to sit on in the interim, and it took me a few years to establish a “normal” functioning interior at my place. That process of research and going on the road to find a piece of design somewhere was very fulfilling – even if it did keep my bank account continuously in the red. The walls were decorated with photographs that I took during my travels around the world by bicycle.

However, this all changed a Saturday in spring 2000, when I was hit by a photo made by the Rotterdam-based artist, Jean-Marc Spaans, at a gallery that I had passed by every weekend before on my way to the record-store. The work overwhelmed me, completely took me over. I had a “13th month” so I decided to buy the work and thought: “once and never again!” At that time it felt so strange and confusing to put so much money on something that was in fact so immaterial.

A little later, the work of Jean-Marc entered my house. Something happened to me then. The daily dialogue with an artwork, instead of just a moment in front of a work in a museum or gallery was something quite new for me. Design can be striking in form and function but art is different; it makes me reach for another world, another dimension. It has infected me for life!

IC

Are there any themes or issues on which your collection specializes?

ALEXANDER RAMSELAAR

Hmm, yes, although it took some time to discover those apparent themes and directions. And I am still not sure whether I have found the full access to my deeper grounds or motives. It’s an intuitive and on-going process with no boundaries. However, two themes keep coming back are children and adolescents in a changing society, and the anthropocene: the relationship between nature and mankind. People in a struggle to decipher the laws of nature, striving to reign forever. But nature can’t be captured, nor be ruled, I guess. But still there is mystery: why are the things the way they are? It’s not that these themes form guidelines for me, but rather it happens to be I end up with works that deal with these themes or issues. I wish I could focus solely on them, but no; sometimes other new directions are too compelling to drive in to.

IC

Do you live with your collection? Is it something that you see and interact with everyday?

ALEXANDER RAMSELAAR

It’s a constant dialogue: the fleeting daily looks and the more intense experiences when standing in front of a work. But I also carry the works with me outside of my home: projecting works on my retina whilst cycling in desolate landscapes, when on a spontaneous walk through a city, or when I am in a conversation with someone (sorry!). But seeing the works in real-life again especially after some weeks of travelling, or after digging a work out of storage, the encounter can be so intense again. Just like the moment I saw the work for the first time. Digital media can come close nowadays, but I think it will never replace the real experience: the texture, size, getting close to the craftsmanship, the process of creating. Unbeatable.

Design can be striking in form and function but art is different; it makes me reach for another world, another dimension.

ALEXANDER RAMSELAAR
ED VAN DER ELSKEN, Belgie (Twins), 1968
ED VAN DER ELSKEN, Belgie (Twins), 1968
ED VAN DER ELSKEN, Cuba, 1967
ED VAN DER ELSKEN, Cuba, 1967
NOE SENDAS, Unrest, 2000 (Photo taken by Joost van den Broek for the Volkskrant)
NOE SENDAS, Unrest, 2000 (Photo taken by Joost van den Broek for the Volkskrant)
IC

In addition to being a collector, you are also an active patron within the arts, and co-founded the Foundation C.o.C.A., which is there to support young artists in setting a next step, as well as a board member in Kunstverein, PAKT and Extra Extra. Do you feel that it is your responsibility as a collector to raise awareness, and is it only since becoming an avid collector that your passion for supporting contemporary art has developed?

ALEXANDER RAMSELAAR

Responsibility is too heavy and also this is an intuitive process. You get to know energetic people, to get interested or to feel committed to their initiatives which sound convincing and make you think, “Yes this must be pushed forward”. With C.o.C.A. it was different. It came forward out of shared needs and wishes to bring collecting further than the individual domains and preferences. It coincided with the drastic cuts in budgets in the Netherlands but it was never intended as a reaction to that. Now on its 8th edition, we aim to facilitate a steppingstone in the development of the practice of an artist. Looking back things went well for the curators and artists who were starring in the former editions. Hopefully we can inspire other people to take risks and accept a bruise in their yearly budget, by not buying a work for their own collection. For us it’s very enriching. It’s not about making your own choices it’s about making things possible: hopefully an essential next step for an artist.

IC

You’ve said that “travelling is in my blood” – how has art taken you on a journey? Do you have plans for where you would like this ride in the art world to take you?

ALEXANDER RAMSELAAR

Art takes me on a journey. It’s as simple as that. It feels like a self-paving road to new horizons and deeper insights that I didn’t know before. The only thing I do is to follow that road, plan a bit, steer or accelerate sometimes. And yes of course, allocate some budget and time to buy a work.

C.o.C.A. is my yearly “drop on a glowing plate” in terms of patronage. Buying works is my support and commitment to encourage artists to continue and follow their senses and heart. I have no specific plans. The only thing that I know is that I will continue to drive on the road that art unfolds for me. That’s for sure. Hopefully it helps me to unravel mysteries and secrets of life and nature some steps further, and to not to forget to have fun in the meantime!

IC

Would you say that your love for travel encourages you to take more risks when buying artworks for your collection?

ALEXANDER RAMSELAAR

It’s difficult to say if it works like that. But thinking about it, maybe there are some parallels when travelling and finding my way in arts. For both, I set the steps both consciously and intuitively, leaving room for the unknown, the unexpected as well. Maybe that’s the correlation. Creating a set of circumstances where things can happen. To me it doesn’t feel like taking risks, although people around me perceive my movements and choices now and then differently.

EDWARD BURTYNSKY, Silver Lake Operations #2, 2007
EDWARD BURTYNSKY, Silver Lake Operations #2, 2007

The only thing that I know is that I will continue to drive on the road that art unfolds for me. That’s for sure.

Alexander Ramselaar
OLAF OTTO BECKER, River 2 Position 1, 2008
OLAF OTTO BECKER, River 2 Position 1, 2008
IC

Would you say that your love for travel encourages you to take more risks when buying artworks for your collection?

ALEXANDER RAMSELAAR

It’s difficult to say if it works like that. But thinking about it, maybe there are some parallels when travelling and finding my way in arts. For both, I set the steps both consciously and intuitively, leaving room for the unknown, the unexpected as well. Maybe that’s the correlation. Creating a set of circumstances where things can happen. To me it doesn’t feel like taking risks, although people around me perceive my movements and choices now and then differently.

IC

What is the most powerful artwork you have in your collection? Perhaps an artwork that has truly moved, touched or shocked you?

ALEXANDER RAMSELAAR

That’s not an easy question. But well, if you force me to choose one, it is the work “Unrest” of Noe Sendas. I think it was the third work that I bought in 2001. A hyper realistic sculpture of a man who appears to be an outcast of society. My direct environment didn’t really understand what I was doing when I saw it but I had the feeling that I had to defend myself for my purchase. At the same time it convinced me at an early stage of buying art to follow my own compass, to listen to that feeling from inside.

A more recent piece I bought is by Rossella Biscotti. It’s less shocking than the work of Noe Sendas, but the work is so intelligent – bringing together contemporary themes of the exploitation of oil and the influence on poor countries and environment. At the same time her piece is so strikingly beautiful, with the brilliant Italian touch.

ANYA GALLACCIO, Plain as Your Eyes Can See, 2011
ANYA GALLACCIO, Plain as Your Eyes Can See, 2011
PETER MARTENS Autootje Bogota
PETER MARTENS Autootje Bogota
IC

How important is it to you to create and maintain relationships with the artists whose work you buy?

ALEXANDER RAMSELAAR

For me it’s not a necessity to know the artist in person. However, having said that some friendships with artists have emerged after buying a work, not surprisingly. A work of art can in a way be seen as a kind of common ground where an artist and the buyer meet. Or better, where the buyer enters the world of the artist. It has had great influence on my social life and unexpectedly on my working life too! After seventeen years of business life in real estate and finance, in a split moment I decided to start my own practice. Creating space for a feeling, need or wish that apparently got a grip on me. I still have my practice in finance and real estate, but now I am fully focused on the questions that artists, creatives and cultural institutions have. Connecting to their thoughts, ideas and worlds is very fulfilling, a daily joy. Aiming to support them by facilitating access to financial sources or realizing ownership of real estate.

IC

Where do you discover artists that interest to you? Is it still through art fairs and galleries?

ALEXANDER RAMSELAAR

It’s mainly through galleries and the Internet. Also working with artists on a daily basis is also a great source to get to know what’s going on in the art world. Art fairs still give overview, but can’t compete with the experience of a well-curated gallery or museum show. That, in the end, is the real thing for me. And in terms of travelling I think it’s much more interesting to sample what’s going on in art in other parts of the world, instead of following the beaten track of Basel etc.

A work of art can in a way be seen as a kind of common ground where an artist and the buyer meet. Or better, where the buyer enters the world of the artist.

Alexander Ramselaar
PIETER HUGO, Mohamed Bah, Monrovia, Liberia, 2006
PIETER HUGO, Mohamed Bah, Monrovia, Liberia, 2006
PIETER HUGO, Martin Kofi, Wild Honey Collector, 2005
PIETER HUGO, Martin Kofi, Wild Honey Collector, 2005
IC

In your opinion, how do art fairs such as Art Rotterdam influence your collection? Do you ever buy works at art fairs?

ALEXANDER RAMSELAAR

I have bought works at art fairs and sometimes still do, but art fairs are not really influencing the direction or development of my collection. The supply of art fairs, biennials, museum, gallery and even pop-up shows is so overwhelming nowadays. It’s hard to embrace the free time I have. If you like and are able to, you can become a fulltime collector: creating a whole lifestyle out of it, travelling the world, meeting people who do alike. That’s impossible for me. Time wise, moneywise and also not something I want to do. My path in the arts has changed over the last years, parallel to my shift in my working practice. Focusing and concentrating on what I already have, selecting more precise the next work for “the collection” and less following what the going market says. For example, I had some singular works that where part of larger series. I enriched them with more works from that series, resulting in a more forceful presentation of what the artist aims to state with the work.

I also spend quite some time reading, researching and completing my archive of the artists with books, publications, catalogues and rarities. It gives much more insight into their oeuvres and the relations between them and other artists. Some of whom I have never heard of before. In a way the works in the house are in a constant process of fermenting. Figuring something out and adding a new work in that bowl is interesting, inspiring and sets me on new tracks.

Having said that, quite often on the weekends, I take a day off. Away from art! Just get on my bike and make a tiring refreshing trip. Or even better, hide myself away for some weeks with just my bike, my stuff, and single tracks in the Andes or Himalayas. Blending into landscapes or encountering locals become abstract experiences in themselves.

IC

What advice do you have for young collectors who are just starting to build their collection, or perhaps have not added to it yet?

ALEXANDER RAMSELAAR

Simply: go out and walk your own path. Listen to others, but make your own decisions!

The Alexander Ramselaar Collection is included in the Art Guide.

YAEL BARTANA, The Missing Negatives of the Sonnenfeld Collection, 2008
YAEL BARTANA, The Missing Negatives of the Sonnenfeld Collection, 2008
DOUG ASHFORD, Bakersfield CA, 2013-2015 (Installation view at Wilfried Lentz, Rotterdam 2015). Photo: Sander van Wettum
DOUG ASHFORD, Bakersfield CA, 2013-2015 (Installation view at Wilfried Lentz, Rotterdam 2015). Photo: Sander van Wettum
RONALD CORNELISSEN, Höhere Wesen Befahlen: Go Fuck with The Hulk, 2009
RONALD CORNELISSEN, Höhere Wesen Befahlen: Go Fuck with The Hulk, 2009

The Alexander Ramselaar Collection is featured in the Art Guide.