Collector of the month: Nienke van der Wal

by Unseen September 09 2017

Young Collectors Circle is a platform for emerging art collectors and art lovers with collecting ambitions, dedicated to inspiring and informing them on how to start their own collection. During Unseen Amsterdam, YCC is offering free tours to ticket holders. Art coaches will highlight a number of the exhibiting galleries, providing visitors with tips and tricks for purchasing artwork – from tax details to selecting the perfect frame. We spoke to Nienke van der Wal, the founder of YCC, about why she started collecting and what inspires her to continue.

What prompted your interest in art?
I have worked as a project manager and consultant in the art world for my entire career, but about 5 years ago my focus slowly shifted towards the visual arts. When I was asked to start up an international exhibition program for a Dutch museum – a freelance job that required me to travel a lot in order to scope out art scenes all over the world – I really familiarised myself with the inner workings of the art world. It made me realise the important roles of different players: the academy, the artist, the gallery and the fair, but also the role of the collector, who invests in young artists at times in their careers when they really need the support. This mentality is not only interesting for the collector themselves – it also contributes to a vibrant and healthy art scene.

This aha moment prompted me to found Young Collectors Circle, a platform for emerging art collectors. At the moment, we cater to over 5,000 young collectors in the Netherlands and Belgium, taking them to places where art is being made, shown and sold. We also host salons, where we invite young artists, collectors, curators and gallerists to discuss collecting in a friendly, informal environment. The goal of these events is to inspire people to collect, but to also inform them about how to collect – how to discover what it is they love, how to find out what an artist is trying to say, and how to figure out if the price of a work is reasonable. We are very excited to work with Unseen this year by providing tours and co-hosting the Young Professional Evening, especially since Unseen is also invested in supporting emerging contemporary artists.

Why did you decide to start collecting art?
I don’t know that you actually make a decision to start a collection. Rather, you start by buying your first work and, before you know it, you’re hooked! It’s such a thrill to buy a piece. First, there’ the decision-making process, and then, once you’ve said yes, there’s usually a phase where the work is not yet in your possession and you get a bit of stomach ache over the amount of money you have just spent. And then when it arrives, there’s the excitement of unpacking the piece and finding the perfect spot for it. Once it’s finally installed, it’s a daily object of beauty that serves as a reminder of your initial attraction to the story behind the work. It’s humbling to hear from the established collectors we work with who say that this process never gets old.

What was your first purchase?
Even though I always was an avid museum visitor, the world of galleries, fairs and collecting art often felt like a place where I didn’t belong. However, Unseen was really a game changer for me, because it is very welcoming to newcomers. I bought one of my first pieces at Unseen – a small but beautiful photograph by Matt Wilson from Galerie Les Filles Du Calvaire. I love the lighting in the image, as well as its twofold subject: the promise of a relaxed and sunny day, or the reminder of a wild night. I also think it is a typical first purchase, because it is very attractive and easy on the eyes. I now find that as my collection grows, I am looking beyond what is visually pleasing, and more towards works that challenge me in some way. After all, it is easier to become bored with a work’s actual image than become bored with the idea behind it. I've also bought work during other Unseen events – specifically by Dutch artists Charlotte Dumas and Jennifer Tee. I'm a regular now!

What excites you the most about collecting art?
Collecting means you are always on the lookout for something that will make you heart stop, even for just a second. Much like falling in love, it is an amazing feeling! But what I love most about collecting is that it's a very social activity – art is something I talk about with my husband, my daughter, colleagues and friends. And, I continuously meet amazing new people through it, whether they are collectors, artists or gallerists, who all inspire me in many different ways. That is also what’s great about Young Collectors Circle: while your friends may get bored of your art talk, or your partner might get fed up with going to galleries, Young Collectors Circle members are always up for a good art discussion or a lengthy fair visit.

What's your advice for novice art enthusiasts who wants to start collecting, but don't know where to begin?
Don’t be afraid – just dive in! It may seem like the art world is too big to grasp, and you may not know where to begin, but break it up into little pieces. Start with following a few artists and galleries that you like online, then visit an event like Unseen Amsterdam and talk to gallerists and artists about the works you're attracted to. Then, when you find a work that you cannot get out of our mind ánd can afford – go for it!

Whose work are you looking forward to seeing at Unseen Amsterdam?
I’ve recently purchased work by Maisie Cousins, whose images will be presented by TJ Boulting (UK) during Unseen Amsterdam, so I am excited to see more of her work. I am also really into Yoshinori Mizutani, represented by Ibasho (BE), whose work is very new and refreshing. Maurice van Es from Gabriel Rolt (NL) has an amazing eye for detail and composition. We own a unique publication from his Rooms of Now series, a wonderful and touching book full of details and closeups of our previous home. It is one of my favourite works, so I am always interested to see new work by him. Finally, on the 19th of September we are hosting a Young Collectors Salon at The Hoxton, and Caroline O’Breen will be one of our guests. At Unseen Amsterdam, her gallery will present artist Ola Lanko, who creates photographic installations that are strangely beautiful. Mostly, I can’t wait to discover new artists and galleries, because that’s exactly what Unseen is perfect for!

Find out more about the free tours from the Young Collectors Circle at Unseen here