Tilburg is the first Dutch city to display a sculpture created by artist Anish Kapoor in a public space. How did Museum De Pont achieve this major feat?
Chicago has one, London and Houston have one, and ....Tilburg now has one: a monumental work of art by British artist Anish Kapoor. It stands impressively on the square in front of Museum De Pont; a towering sculpture of more than 6 metres in height made from stainless steel - Kapoor’s first rectangular ‘sky mirror’. How did a non-subsidised, private museum in a medium-sized city in Brabant achieve this?
The fact that Tilburg is the first Dutch city with a sculpture by Kapoor in the public space in front of the building has everything to do with the 25th anniversary of Museum De Pont. This internationally renowned museum of contemporary art is named after Jan de Pont, a businessman born in Tilburg, who wanted part of his estate to be used for setting up a foundation ‘devoted to stimulating contemporary art'. The museum is housed in a former woollen mill. There used to be many such mills in Tilburg. Textiles, and woollen fabrics in particular, were responsible for the significant growth of the city at the end of the 19th century. The task of filling this huge space - almost 6000 m2 - fell to Hendrik Driessen, who has been in charge of the museum since 1992.
The way in which Driessen approached that task and continues to expand the museum’s collection today explains Anish Kapoor's eagerness to produce a work of art for Museum De Pont for, according to Driessen, “a fraction of what an artist of his stature can demand in today’s market”. De Pont has a policy of building a relationship with the artists whose work it collects and displays. “An artist wants his/her work to be displayed in a context that he/she finds important”, says Driessen. “Generally, artists have little control over this aspect. Discussions about the works often take place in the initial years of an artist’s career, however in later years, as the artist’s reputation grows, that input dwindles even though the artist continues to experience a need for critical reflection. I discussed these aspects with Anish Kapoor from the beginning, and we still do so today.”
The beginning: that was when Kapoor created Descent into Limbo/Afdaling in het ongewisse for one of the former wool storerooms in the museum. At first glance, it is a little more than a black circle in the middle of the floor. But those who take the time to look more closely see an infinitely black hole of unfathomable depth. The close relationship between Kapoor and De Pont dates from this period. Hendrik Driessen: “We were very keen to have a number of works of art that would connect the museum to this location. For us, art is an investment in the future, not an investment that will generate future profits. We only purchase works of art that truly reflect our essence.” Furthermore, our philosophy from the outset has been to offer visitors the very best we can. According to Driessen, this is not something that people immediately applaud. “This is the paradox of contemporary art: it is never what you expect it to be. It is all about new discoveries and developments, about new aesthetic standards and asking questions. It touches on all areas of life, but never looks into the past. When you choose to focus on innovation, you know that many people will question your decisions.
Another basic principle of De Pont: avoid too broad an approach and purchase several works of art from a limited number of artists. That select group now includes a number of very big names: Marlene Dumas, Richard Serra, Richard Long, Bill Viola, Sigmar Polke, Ai Weiwei, and of course Anish Kapoor. Driessen is loyal to ‘his’ artists; he continues to follow them and collect their work. “Unfortunately though, we cannot buy as many works from each artist as we would like: some artists simply become too expensive. So we always try to purchase at least one key work; a work of art that shows the essence of its creator’s artistry.”
The sculpture by Anish Kapoor that Hendrik Driessen saw approximately ten years ago in New York is an example of a key work of this type. “After working with stone and pigments initially, Anish had switched to stainless steel and I loved the result. However, the work was much too expensive for a relatively small, financially independent museum like ours. A few years later, I saw the same sculpture at an exhibition in London and the same thought came into my mind: this is a work we have to have. However, the price was still too high - about five times our annual budget for new purchases. Even so, I visited him for a chat…”
Successfully as it turns out. With the support of the museum board, Anish Kapoor and his gallery, Driessen at last succeeded in buying the mystical reflective surfaces of Vertigo (2008) in 2010. This work - a real crowd-pleaser - plays with the visitor’s perceptions: with every step you take, you see something else and it is never what you expect to see.
Driessen promised Kapoor that he would put together an exhibition around the new purchase ‘to highlight the ethos behind the work’. It was destined to be one of the most popular exhibitions in Museum De Pont's history. In that same year, 2012, De Pont exhibited the work of today’s most well-known Chinese artist: Ai Weiwei. Hendrik Driessen: “In terms of visitor numbers, that was one of our best years ever.” It was also the year that sowed the seed of an idea for something truly awesome in the minds of Driessen and Kapoor…
An idea that became reality when Museum De Pont celebrated its 25th anniversary. The municipality of Tilburg had promised the museum a significant amount for a sculpture that would grace the large square in front of the museum - a birthday gift. Kapoor agreed immediately when Hendrik Driessen asked him to produce a work of art to commemorate the museum’s anniversary. Ultimately, the work was paid for by a contribution on the part of the artist himself, the museum, a joint donation made by the municipality and the Brabant C culture fund, and gifts made by private individuals and businesses in the city. The idea for the rectangular sky mirror arose during the visits back and forth to discuss the project.
Driessen: “Anish wanted to bring the heavens down to earth and create something that evoked the Dutch tradition of painting scenes under a cloudy sky. Kapoor has created sky mirrors before; Cloud Gate in the Millennium Park in Chicago is the most well-known example. This work, however, is the first rectangular sky mirror. He designed the sculpture in his studio: a curved, backward sloping steel plate rising to a height of approximately six and a half metres, with a mirror-polished front face and a raw, unpolished back. The effect of a work like this is always a surprise when it is installed at the final site, even for the artist.”
In September 2017, the huge plate, which was made in Groningen and polished in London, was hoisted into position by a powerful crane. A special water garden, created by Kapoor’s wife Sophie Walker, keeps visitors at a safe distance. The work reflects the changing appearance of the skies above Tilburg and sways gently in the wind. The artist has named it Sky Mirror (for Hendrik). It is a tribute to Driessen and the museum, which, as he himself says, has always supported him.
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