Hester Alberdingk Thijm

by We Like Art
Interview with
Hester Alberdingk Thijm

Hi Hester, you are an experienced art viewer and driving force behind the AkzoNobel art collection. Are you also surrounded by art at home or only at work?

I can’t live without art. Art is intertwined with my life, it’s like breathing. So, of course, I have art at home. I wouldn’t want it any other way, it feels like family, makes me feel alive, it’s the oxygen I need to breathe.

Can you describe what it’s like to live with art? Does it bring you pleasure? Is it disruptive? Does it make you think or maybe it makes you feel euphoric - such as seeing a perfect cloud or listening to an overwhelming pop song?

Art is like yoga to the mind. It’s overwhelming and forces me to think otherwise. It broadens my mind and adds new perspectives. Art can convey something, is aesthetic, but above all enables me to connect with myself as well as with the world around me.
It challenges my perception, stimulates my curiosity and thus enriches, broadens and deepens my thinking. It brings a lot of fun.
Disruptive? Yes, sometimes a work of art also points you to certain things in life, as it works as a driving force, like a trigger. And memories are not always rosy, clearly reflecting how life can be.

Did you grow up looking at art actively?

With culture in the broadest sense of the word. We had pre-modern art at home, some family portraits, but also modern paintings. In the seventies, my parents had a modern house built in the east of the country, which was quite progressive at the time and, as the Tukkers said, “heel apart! [very odd!]”
The house looked a bit like a church, but with an open structure like the architects of De Stijl; sustainable wood and large glass sliding doors. The house was surrounded by a very large garden, created by Mien Ruys, the Piet Oudolf of the time, with flowerbeds, wild water features and the inevitable railway sleepers, of course.
I remember my mother sitting at the large white table in front of the window with a huge box of Caran d´Ache pencils, coloring the garden plan with endless patience. Not much later we saw those colors emerge in the garden. My grandparents in Amsterdam had a Pyke Koch in the spare room, “Leeuw in Interieur” (now in Centraal Museum Utrecht). We slept there with our heads under the covers, that’s how scary my siblings and I thought the painting was.

Can you tell us about your very first private art purchase?

I must dig deep for this one! My first real purchase was a photo of a befriended English photographer, Roger Wright. I also have several drawings, photos and paintings by befriended artist whose work I admire, some of which can also be found in the selection of Collect the Collection.

If you are not as experienced in the art world as you are, but art does trigger your interest. Where do you start? What are your tips and tricks?

See, perceive, look again, and do buy something! Art is the only thing where the fun doesn’t end once purchased: it’s only the beginning!
Look around you! Don't be put off by the idea that you don't know anything about it, everyone can see things and that's where it all starts. Visit museums and exhibitions. Ask yourself the question while viewing an artwork: "What do I see?" and "What is happening here?".
Visit at museums and galleries online. Follow interesting artists and art institutions via Instagram, of course check the website of our Collect de Collection-partner: We Like Art! They show a wide range of good artists with interesting interviews and background information. Works of art that are sometimes quite pricey - due to the status of the artists - become accessible through the beautiful editions that they develop in collaboration with the artist.
You can also orientate and buy online, especially if you’ve already seen more exhibitions, art fairs and museums. If you’re not sure always go watch it in real life. It gives you the chance to really see the proportions, depth, surface and texture, sometimes you can even still smell the fresh paint!
Next, visit art fairs such as Art Rotterdam or Unseen, which enables you to see the work of different contemporary artists together all at once. You will get a better overview of prizes and galleries, of what you immediately like and, most importantly, what artworks you remember at the end of the day.
Think about it, talk about it. And when you make the decision to buy it, buy with both your head and your heart.

The Collect the Collection project is intended for your colleagues to take a piece of the AkzoNobel collection home. How special is that?

Collect the Collection is the ultimate way for us to share the richness of the collection with our colleagues. In the past 25 years we have regularly received the question; "Can I buy that work myself, take it with me after my retirement, or give it to a colleague as a goodbye-gift?"
People become attached to artworks around them; it’s the best compliment you can get. We then explain that the work is unique and that it’s an important part of the collection and therefore, cannot be sold.
Now, we have finally found an opportunity to take, as it were, well-loved works from the collection home; and that's great. The editions that will be available to the employees are all especially created for our anniversary year!
Sometimes it’s a series of works of art, all slightly different, or applied by the artist with an extra touch of paint. Whether it is a work of art in an edition, each work is signed and numbered by the artist, and unique for this anniversary project.
This way we share our love for the collection and the art by enabling everyone to take a piece of the collection home!

These special artworks will soon be on display in the Art Space in Amsterdam. What do you expect from that?

I am really looking forward to seeing it all come together. They are beautiful, professional prints, or even unique works of art, by leading international artists. A signed masterpiece for a small price!
I hope that the collection will come to life even more within AkzoNobel, that discussions will arise about which work is most loved or not, which work really affects someone and why. We want to hear these stories! This might be the motivation for people to start collecting art themselves, perhaps to visit a gallery or an exhibition. We would be very happy with that!

Collecting 25 years of art for AkzoNobel is a great achievement. For 25 years now, the collection has been a great gift for AkzoNobel employees, what kind of reactions do you receive?

We’ve received beautiful, funny, angry, happy and inspiring reactions. Above all, they are heartwarming, especially now that the art is publicly accessible in the AkzoNobel Art Space. Now, more than ever, people really understand the added value of an art collection for AkzoNobel.
Colleagues request guided tours from us to be able to tell their customers and relations about art and color! In collaboration with various departments within AkzoNobel such as Innovation, HR and Sustainability, we developed workshops and courses based on art; they were a great success and very positive! Art is really at the heart of the company; we notice that our colleagues are truly proud of it!

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