Nomadic practice: LhGWR on stepping away from the gallery space

Taisuke Koyama and Takashi Kawashima, Post Body Nature, 2017

Taisuke Koyama and Takashi Kawashima, Post Body Nature, 2017

Conscious that support for emerging artists requires more than a quick leg-up into the industry, LhGWR in The Hague has dedicated time, guidance and room for reflection since it opened back in 2008. Celebrating their tenth anniversary this year, founders Robert Jan Verhagen and Geertje Muffels announced a drastic change of course: giving up their exhibition space in search of new ways to collaborate with artists and engage their audience, outside of gallery walls.

Marleen Sleeuwits, NOT the Actual Site, 2017

LhGWR is very much focused on emerging artists, why do you personally feel that it is so important to represent them?

Robert Jan Verhagen: Since our first opening ten years ago the focus on emerging artists has grown exponentially. So the question that immediately pops up in our minds is whether representing young artists is still that important to us. A lot has changed in the last decade. We live in a timeframe that centres the start of a career, as if it holds the key to eternal prosperity. Although televised talent shows mainly focus on singing and dancing, the fine art and photography world is mimicking this short-term focus on sprouting talent, looking for potential successes to somehow dignify their existence. The fine-art world joined in with talent calls, master-apprentice constructions and talent-oriented programs. We have even seen major institutions readdress their programming for the sake of 'talent development’.

The nauseating thing is that most institutions have started to consume the careers of 'the young and talented' before they blossom. By squeezing out what is in there at the beginning of a career they are not allowing ideas to mature. What we have learned in the past ten years from working closely with artists is that the only thing we can do is cherish and nurture the qualities of each artist individually. They have their own path, and this needs to be developed with tailored feedback. We try to understand the genesis of an idea, where it is headed and how it coalesces with the artists’ own path. Helping emerging artists reflect on every little part of this process is a goal in itself. They need guidance, and within the chain of venues where art is presented there needs to be room for specialised places.

What are the main ways you search for new talent?

Robert Jan: We need to be intrigued by their thoughts and their vision, and their work needs to come from within. We look for some sort of personal urgency. At the same time they need to be aware that they are part of something larger then themselves. It’s a lot to ask, but we don’t look for those that colour within the lines, or the ones that handle their camera as a truly trained professional. We have had photography talents coming in not even knowing how to use Photoshop and one of them hadn’t used a camera for several years. It is not about that, it is about authenticity and character.

Sjoerd Knibbeler, Forming Synchrony, 2017

LhGWR is very much focused on emerging artists, why do you personally feel that it is so important to represent them?

Robert Jan Verhagen: Since our first opening ten years ago the focus on emerging artists has grown exponentially. So the question that immediately pops up in our minds is whether representing young artists is still that important to us. A lot has changed in the last decade. We live in a timeframe that centres the start of a career, as if it holds the key to eternal prosperity. Although televised talent shows mainly focus on singing and dancing, the fine art and photography world is mimicking this short-term focus on sprouting talent, looking for potential successes to somehow dignify their existence. The fine-art world joined in with talent calls, master-apprentice constructions and talent-oriented programs. We have even seen major institutions readdress their programming for the sake of 'talent development’.

The nauseating thing is that most institutions have started to consume the careers of 'the young and talented' before they blossom. By squeezing out what is in there at the beginning of a career they are not allowing ideas to mature. What we have learned in the past ten years from working closely with artists is that the only thing we can do is cherish and nurture the qualities of each artist individually. They have their own path, and this needs to be developed with tailored feedback. We try to understand the genesis of an idea, where it is headed and how it coalesces with the artists’ own path. Helping emerging artists reflect on every little part of this process is a goal in itself. They need guidance, and within the chain of venues where art is presented there needs to be room for specialised places.

What are the main ways you search for new talent?

Robert Jan: We need to be intrigued by their thoughts and their vision, and their work needs to come from within. We look for some sort of personal urgency. At the same time they need to be aware that they are part of something larger then themselves. It’s a lot to ask, but we don’t look for those that colour within the lines, or the ones that handle their camera as a truly trained professional. We have had photography talents coming in not even knowing how to use Photoshop and one of them hadn’t used a camera for several years. It is not about that, it is about authenticity and character.

Clare Strand, All that Hoopla, 2016

How have you seen the art world change since you started the gallery?

Robert Jan: It could take a whole week to fully answer this question! What has come apparent at LhGWR over and over again is the insight we (as a non-profit that likes to participate in art fairs every now and then) have gained from the commercial sector. The brick and mortar discussion - why would you hold on to a physical space if no one is coming to see a show, and the discussion about young/smaller galleries participating in art fairs (financially facilitating the power house galleries to present themselves) have dictated lots of our conversations in the last two years. From our point of view the structure of the commercial art world is outdated; it is shooting itself in the foot. By focussing on the young, a professional career has become nothing more than a lucid dream. And by focussing on making more and more money on art, the art world has distanced itself from the audience and more so from the artists themselves. Let’s just hope we can figure out how to reposition fine arts within our community.

As part of the ten-year anniversary of LhGWR, you are leaving The Hague and returning to a more project based programming without a fixed location. What was the reasoning behind this?

Robert Jan: It just felt like the right thing to do. You may call us hippies or unrealistic left wing idealists, but we do think it is part of our responsibility to find new ways to connect with our audience. We are confident that art deserves a place within our society. It is able to elevate your mind in the most elementary ways imaginable. We have seen artworks trigger major emotions within people, we have seen new audiences opening up to complex and layered visual languages, and we have seen people leaving our exhibition space and applying freshly gained knowledge to their perception of the world. We just need to figure out how to continue doing so.

Thomas Kuijpers, Paradigma II, 2016

How have you seen the art world change since you started the gallery?

Robert Jan: It could take a whole week to fully answer this question! What has come apparent at LhGWR over and over again is the insight we (as a non-profit that likes to participate in art fairs every now and then) have gained from the commercial sector. The brick and mortar discussion - why would you hold on to a physical space if no one is coming to see a show, and the discussion about young/smaller galleries participating in art fairs (financially facilitating the power house galleries to present themselves) have dictated lots of our conversations in the last two years. From our point of view the structure of the commercial art world is outdated; it is shooting itself in the foot. By focussing on the young, a professional career has become nothing more than a lucid dream. And by focussing on making more and more money on art, the art world has distanced itself from the audience and more so from the artists themselves. Let’s just hope we can figure out how to reposition fine arts within our community.

As part of the ten-year anniversary of LhGWR, you are leaving The Hague and returning to a more project based programming without a fixed location. What was the reasoning behind this?

Robert Jan: It just felt like the right thing to do. You may call us hippies or unrealistic left wing idealists, but we do think it is part of our responsibility to find new ways to connect with our audience. We are confident that art deserves a place within our society. It is able to elevate your mind in the most elementary ways imaginable. We have seen artworks trigger major emotions within people, we have seen new audiences opening up to complex and layered visual languages, and we have seen people leaving our exhibition space and applying freshly gained knowledge to their perception of the world. We just need to figure out how to continue doing so.

Unseen Amsterdam 2018, Nadine Stijns & Amal Alhaag, The Anarchist Citizenship

What are you working towards given this new exciting context for LhGWR?

Robert Jan: We have had some very interesting conversations since we announced our move. We intend to exist for a while as a nomadic gallery with an online sales portal. There will be lots of doors to open if we really want to figure out new ways to reinstate art. One of those doors leads back to the artists we have worked closely with over the years. We have asked them all to re-evaluate our relationship with them to figure out ways to reinvent it, and a more cooperative construction. We hope to use the freedom of not having to be at the same place every day to set up a project based programme. For instance, we will be setting up a research project focussing on presenting video art in public space, and next year we will start working together with THE ARCHIVES, The Peter van Beveren Library in The Hague.

When you are not busy in the gallery, what do you enjoy doing?

Robert Jan: Apart from enjoying our new home, we love to be outdoors and be in touch with nature. Since we now have our own forest garden we do seem to garden a lot.

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