We speak with Nienke van der Wal about how she became a collector of contemporary art, why she founded the Young Collectors Circle, and what the new generation of collectors are bringing to the table.
Let’s start from the beginning. What inspired you to start your own collection?NIENKE VAN DER WAL
Three years ago, after a 10 year freelance career working in the world of the arts, I started to really focus professionally on visual arts. I accepted an offer to set up an international exhibition program for a Dutch museum, and spent the past three years traveling all over the world to scope out art scenes, meet with artists, museums, collectors, patrons, art fairs, and galleries. For me it was a crash course into the world of contemporary art. Especially after talking with collectors worldwide and being baffled by their passion to collect and their love for their collection, I soon wanted to start collecting myself. It’s contagious.
Is there a particular theme that runs throughout your collection?NIENKE VAN DER WAL
Not so much of a theme yet, but there definitely is a development. When I first started buying works, I mostly looked for ‘safer’ works – very aesthetic and often photography, but now that I’ve been in the game a bit longer I tend to favor works with a bit of a spooky, darker undertone. I also decided that I was not going to buy editions this year, but original works only, which is a big step. Collectors often tell me collecting is addictive, and I agree with that.
You are the founder of the Young Collectors Circle Amsterdam – a platform that is specifically geared towards starting collectors and helping them navigate their way around the art world. How did you come up with this idea? Was it drawn on from your own experiences as a young collector?NIENKE VAN DER WAL
I felt that there were many initiatives regarding art and collecting in the Netherlands, but none were specifically aimed at that group of starting collectors. At the same time, I also realized that a lot of my peers never even considered buying art and didn’t perceive themselves as a potential art collector. I can relate to that: I am 37 years old, work hard to make a living and live in a very small house with my husband and daughter – not your typical stereotype of a grey-haired, rich collector! And even though I work in the arts and I enjoy visiting museums and galleries in my free time, I also want to spend time (and money!) on other things like traveling, fine dining, and expensive shoes. The older generation of collectors quite often dedicated their entire life and sometimes also budget to collecting, but that is not how (most of) the younger generation wants to collect. They do however want to make well-informed choices regarding quality and value, and need some help developing their taste and finding what they love in the vast and sometimes intimidating art world.
That is why I started the Young Collectors Circle: we put on accessible and fun events, and bring people to places where art is created, shown and sold. There are over 1 000 young collectors attending our events and they are all genuinely inspired to start collecting art. A lot of it is about sharing the enthusiasm of more experienced collectors, and about breaking down barriers relating to how to behave in the art world: letting people know that they can get in touch with artists and even visit their studios, or how an auction really works, or what questions to ask in a gallery. We organize bi-monthly salons at the Hoxton Hotel, where we talk about buying art from the perspective of a young collector, an artist, and a gallery owner or fair programmer. We do monthly events at art fairs and visits to private or corporate collections, academies, and artist studios. We are also developing a fantastic program for the fall, including masterclasses, workshops, collection courses, and more salons and events to cater to even more young collectors. The goal of all these events is to inspire people to collect, but also to inform them on how to collect, how to discover what it is you love, how to find out what the artists are trying to say, and how to figure out if the price of a work is reasonable.
Do you think the perception of the “contemporary art collector” is changing? And if so, how?NIENKE VAN DER WAL
Yes, absolutely. The young collector is not limited by geographical and historical boundaries or dedicated to single artists or specific movements. They are eclectic collectors and mix and match periods, media, styles and high and low art. The young collector also collects globally: art from around the world, made possible by the availability of art online, international art fairs and traveling. They buy based on their gut feelings, and don’t have to or want to make time to visit gallery openings every weekend or read chunky books about art.
Here at IC we think the future of collecting is changing, with young collectors opening new doors for artists’ and collectors to come forward. Do you also see this happening?NIENKE VAN DER WAL
Yes, I agree. As I myself started buying art works, I also realized that buying art is something that’s bigger than the collector and the empty wall over his or her couch. Especially in times where budget cuts have had a serious impact on the chances for younger artists, private collectors are extremely important. They are the ones that buy art from young artists long before they’re recognized by the big institutions, and the support for these artists is immensely important for the development of new art forms.
What is the collecting scene like in Amsterdam?NIENKE VAN DER WAL
Amsterdam is so art-minded, with fantastic galleries, a wonderful contemporary art fair Amsterdam Art Fair, an organization dedicated to promoting the contemporary art scene in the Netherlands and international Amsterdam Art, great museums and academies, and lots of international artists. My only wish would be for collectors to step forward more often and share their experience and their collection with others, especially young collectors, but we are currently developing more programs to enable these two generations to meet and inspire each other.
Can you give us some tips for the young collectors out there or people who are thinking of buying their first artwork?NIENKE VAN DER WAL
If you are in Amsterdam, please join us at one of our events! Besides our own activities, I sincerely believe that every time you look at art, even though you may not even like it or have an opinion on it at the time, you learn something. Not necessarily about art or that specific work, but at the very least about your own taste. So the best way to know what you love, is to see lots of art. Of course you can visit galleries and museums when you have time, but you can also subscribe to newsletters of galleries that you like, or start following one or a few artists that you are interested in, by liking them on social media or checking their website regularly. There’s an overwhelming amount of art and artists, so start out small.
A very practical tip is to use Instagram. I use my account to ‘collect’ art digitally. I take pictures of any artwork that I like, whether it’s a 10 million euro painting at a museum or something I see on the street. By doing this, I can sort of see what type of art it is I am interested in, if there’s a common theme or recurring subject. For a while, I was really into what I like to call “vulnerable women”, but I grew out of that a little bit and am now growing fond of harsher things: dead birds and old men. It’s a great way to keep track of your evolving taste.