Meet the collector: OvG in conversation with gallerist Jennifer Gilbert


For part eight of my ‘Meet the Collector’ series I interviewed Netherlands based publisher and collector Oscar Van Gelderen. He’s interested in art that doesn’t fit into any system or ‘art without ego’, collecting both contemporary and outsider art. He is currently intrigued by outsider photography, including works by John Kayser and would one day love to own a major work by James Castle.

When did your interest in the field of outsider/folk art begin?
I have always been interested in art that does not fit in any system: be it outsider, brut, street, urban, self-taught, or even better: art that was never created to be art (the artist often not being aware of making art, it is us who define it as ‘art’), not created for the art market, or, as my wife Manuela Klerkx would say: art without ego. I always prefer to coin it non-academic art. A lot of art feels academic, it therefore often lacks soul and struggle. I want to feel necessity in art, not art for arts sake.

When did you become a collector of this art?
I started collecting in the mid nineties, and have not stopped buying art since then. I am not interested in fancy clothes (although I buy most of my wife’s wardrobe, and there’s plenty of fancy outfits there), jewelry, cars or luxury. I spend every dime I make on art. And I have always tried to buy as early as possible (young artists) or as late as possible (forgotten and neglected artists). I am not interested in mainstream, in fashionable art, trends or art recommended by influencers. I am, by nature, an ‘outfluencer’.

John Kayser in Oscar’s Collection

Can you tell us a bit about your background and your role as a publisher in Amsterdam?
I have been into publishing since 1990, and co-founded my own independent publishing house, which I ran from 1995 till 2001. In publishing, I have been doing the same thing as in art: finding the new talents, and rediscovering the forgotten ones, such as ‘Stoner’ by John Williams.

What is it that draws your eye away from contemporary art to outsider/folk art? Or do you collect both?
I collect both, although I try to limit myself. The art world is a candy story, and we get seduced easily. By focusing on certain genres – outsider art, young Flemish artists, abstract art, Middle Eastern art – I can collect in depth and avoid the collecting without plan. I like plans, and stick to the plan.

Margret work in Oscar’s Collection

What style of work, if any, is of particular interest to you within this field? (for example is it embroidery, drawing, sculpture, and so on)
I love all kind of arts. In outsider art, I am intrigued by outsider photography. My favorite photographer being John Kayser, but of course Miroslav Tichy is great, and from Holland, Gerard Fieret. Vivian Maier is becoming a household name, and I love Eugene von Bruenchenhein’s portraits of his wife. There’s Lee Godie, Morton Bartlett, Carlo Mollino… At Delmes & Zander in Cologne we bought a work from the ‘Margret: Chronicle of an Affair’ trove/collection. At Delmes & Zander we also recently bought works from a Russian collection of UFO photographs. ‘Friend and Enemies’ was the title of the exhibition, I love that!
We also collected works from some of the Gugging artists: we visited the museum, gallery and studios in the summer of 2017 with our favorite artist being Leopold Strobl. The Gugging team – led by Nina Katschnig – is terrific: they are very helpful and you can feel they love working with the artists they represent.

Would you say you had a favourite artist or piece of work within your collection? And why?
This is hard to say, but if we stick to Outsider art it’s three of them: Morton Bartlett, Melvin Way and John Kayser. My wife loves the Margret work best, I stick with Kayser. Outsider art often moves extra deeply, when you are aware of the often difficult lives the artist have led. It makes me appreciate the works even more.

Melvin Way in Oscar’s Collection

Is there an exhibition in this field of art that you have felt has been particularly important? And why?
Not really, although I loved the ‘History Refused to Die’ exhibition at the MET, focusing on black artists from the South. I purchased works by Hawkins Bolden and Lonnie Holley and I am impressed by the Souls Grown Deep Collection (William S. Arnett) – that’s visionary collecting 2.0!

Where would you say you buy most of your work from: a studio, art fairs, exhibitions, or direct from artists?
I buy in galleries, at flea markets, (online) auctions, studios, antiquarians, ebay, Artsy, Instagram…

As you have a large collection now, what sort of pieces are you looking to continue to add to your collection?
I collected contemporary Chinese art in the nineties, and Cuban and Korean art. I still enjoy the works I purchased, but have also sold some works, to purchase other art. The same goes for street/urban art. I own original works by Banksy, JR, Barry McGee, John Fekner, Adam Neate, ROA, Richard Hambleton and others, but the genre has been flooded with copycats and people making a quick buck. At the moment we focus on Outsider art, young Flemish artists, with room for some sidestepping: we just purchased, at ‘UNSEEN’ in Amsterdam, a work by Zeynep Kayan at Zilberman Gallery and acquired works by Shahrzad Darafsheh at AG Gallery (Iran).

Is there any of your collection hung in your home, or is it hung elsewhere, or do you only exhibit several pieces at once in your home?
My wife and I are married but don’t live together. Besides that we don’t need to quarrel about dirty socks on the floor, it has another advantage: we can hang twice as much art. Next to that I have lot of my art hanging in the offices of my publishing house. I also store works, and lend it to museums or friends…

I understand that you have several pieces in your collection from LAND Gallery in New York – How did you find out about this studio?
I visited my good friend Scott Ogden at Shrine Gallery in NY and met – by coincidence – Rachel Cohen in the gallery. They told me about an exhibition with works of Garrol Gayden at NAP Projects/LAND Gallery, so I walked with Rachel to her gallery, which was around the block, fell in love with Gayden’s work and bought works on the spot.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Adding, in the sense of future acquisitions? Oh yes, please: I’d love to purchase a major work by James Castle. I never long for work that is out of reach financially: I am not a masochist. But as long I have the feeling I could purchase work from an artist that is in my reach, I keep on dreaming. Next to that: Bill Traylor and artists from the Souls Grown Deep collection such as Thornton Dial, Ronald Lockett and Joe Minter. And I would not mind owning one of Bartlett’s dolls. 


Thank you, Jennifer Gilbert for including me in this great series!