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Gerard de Kleijn makes Museum Gouda more accessible

Gerard de Kleijn is leaving on 1 February after six years as director at Museum Gouda. The flamboyant, eloquent and erudite director leaves behind a financially and artistically healthy Museum for his successor Marc de Beyer. De Kleijn made the museum more accessible to Gouda residents and art lovers from outside the historic city. The museum attracted around 40,000 visitors in 2016. An interview.

Jaap Mees: How does an urban regenerator and director of education for schools end up in the museum and art world?

Gerard de Kleijn: During my urban renewal period, I was also involved in art. In Rotterdam, I was able to realise a number of artworks such as those by Evert de Hartog. You have to think of sculptures in old neighbourhoods or benches, they often had a social function as well. Art can make a neighbourhood more self-aware. In the Kruiskamp neighbourhood in Amersfoort, I appointed Theo van der Hoeven as neighbourhood artist. I have always been interested in art and when I got the chance to work in C (culture) in Amersfoort, I took it. Later, I became chairman of the Amsterdam Arts Council. My main plea then was to spare performing artists and small and medium-sized enterprises in the arts from the cuts. That succeeded in Amsterdam.'

J.M. You are good at making policy in difficult circumstances; the early days at Museum Gouda were certainly not easy. On your site, you talk about ' saving the museum from destruction'. How? K.: 'The museum had been sung loose from the city and for home-grown artists. With politics and the city's tastemaking elite, the museum did not sit very well. Choices were made that the people of Gouda did not understand and for which people did not have the money. Contemporary international art was chosen, so close to competitors like Boymans van Beuningen in Rotterdam and the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. Museum Gouda could never compete with that. In the first weeks, the direction had to be redefined. The museum is a city museum and is also there for the region.

We want to be meaningful to the city's history. There are good artists in Gouda; we don't need to go to faraway countries to get something in. Debts and arrears had to be paid off. All external depositories were abolished. Instead, we built an open depot internally. Staff were laid off, which is painful. A museum is a knowledge institution, so layoffs mean a reduction in your expertise. Half a million a year had to be cut.'

The schoolboys

J.M: In six years of up's and down's , first but about the storm of outrage that arose in the art world after the museum sold Marlene Dumas' painting 'The Schoolboys' in 2011. Dumas was angry that the work went to auction and not to another museum.

GdK: 'I announced to her management that we were planning this, she was in a position to buy it back. Other museums also knew about it, but no museum wanted to buy the painting. Money had to be raised, so then we sold it at auction.

Museum Gouda had bought the painting itself at the sale price. Why should we not be allowed to sell it, when it does not fit into the collection plan and people are willing to pay an insane price internationally? While we had no money for highly necessary restorations of centuries-old art. In my eyes, that Dumas was not indispensable and that Joseph Altarpiece was.'

J.M: The papers said that Dumas was not known in this, but so that is not true.

GdK: 'Necessity breaks laws, I pushed through. I announced it to the museum association, that we were going to sell it and when there was no interest, we took it to public auction. The State, the Rembrandt Association and the Ministry of Culture could have bought the painting, but did not.

The whole fuss eventually led to the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act. That is based on substantive criteria rather than procedural ones. That is a big improvement. Thus, the fuss has led to something positive after all and we have got rid of the idea that a museum should never sell anything. Museum Gouda has uncollected 6,000 pieces in recent years under my responsibility.

With the sale, we were able to pay off large incidental debts, have a centuries-old altarpiece restored and acquire a large painting by Weissenbruch that fits our collection perfectly. To get out of structural difficulties, I had to lay off staff and rent less square metres. The chairman of the Supervisory Board supported me in this policy, as did artists, entrepreneurs and councillors from Gouda.

Gerard de Kleijn delivers a speech at Museum Gouda

 Pieter Pourbus

J.M: Those were the downs, now to the ups: such as three major exhibitions on Dirk Crabeth(2012), Henri Fantin Latour(2014) and Erasmus.(2016).

GdK:'Those were indeed successful exhibitions, one major exhibition every two years is the plan. The next one in 2018 is one on the fairly unknown Gouda painter Pieter Pourbus ( 1523-1584). The greatest painter Gouda produced. He is not very well known so we are going to do a lot of work on that to raise his profile. There is collaboration with the Groeninge Museum in Bruges.'

'Another highlight was the dedication of the stained-glass window by artist Marc Mulders on 13 May 2016. We had invited a representative from all world religions. The theme was hope, which became an unforgettable afternoon.'


J.M: To get an idea of museum work, what are your main tasks as director?

GdK: 'The museum is an organisation with 15 paid staff and 80 volunteers. You are chief of staff, you have to achieve good cooperation and proper job performance. It really is teamwork. Then you have to make sure the business is financially sound. As a museum, you have a lot of expenses; there has to be sufficient income in return. The relationship with subsidy provider Gouda municipality must be pure. The depot has 40,000 works and we have to arrange the loan traffic. We are responsible for the building, with a special temperature and humidity management. In short, a museum is the combination of a building, a collection, expertise and visitors.

J.M: The Gouda museum has only éand curator, Hans Vogels. Not too shabby for a medium-sized museum?

GdK: Indeed, it is not much, but we cannot afford more. In 20017, Josephina de Fouw joins, being inducted by Hans Vogels, and she will take over Vogels' position in 2018 when he retires after 30 years (!). De Fouw will create her own exhibition in 2017.'

J.M: The Erasmus exhibition in 2016 brought you a lot personally you said this week in a Gouda newspaper. What?

GdK: ' I did not know much about Erasmus when I came here, I started studying. I was particularly struck by his wisdom, ability to put things into perspective and sense of humour. He is not just a historical figure but a multifaceted human being, who held up a mirror to me and with whom I entered into dialogue. I started writing a blog during the Erasmus expo which I will continue.

Other dimension

J.M: Now a more contemplative question, why is art important?

GdK: "In art, you move in another dimension. A lot of our activities as human beings are focused on survival and have to do with money or power or function. Art withdraws from that. In your head and in reality, you end up in worlds you experience much less in ordinary life. Then you can escape, conjure, dream, confront. Art is movement, art is freedom. For me, 'it's the salt in the porridge.'

J.M: Speaking of art, which 5 works of art would you take away from the museum?

GdK: 'The Fallen Angel by Redon, 'Interior' by Fantin la Tour, Erasmus and Thomas More by Ruben van Veen, Erasmus by Emiel Verkerk. I'll take four.'

And which 3 works of art out of all the museums in the world?

'The red cloud' by Piet Mondrian, Marino Marini 'rider and horse', 'The starry sky' by Co Westerik.

J.M: Which of the great deceased artists would you have wanted to meet?

 GdK: 'Constantin Brancusi, I am attracted to his work, I think we will get along well. Italian is beautiful, his workshop was fantastic, I feel at home with his work and am curious to see if it clicks on a personal level as well.'

 Consultant/project leader

J.M: What tips would you give your successor Marc de Beyer of the Catharijne convent in Utrecht?

GdK: 'I don't give tips to my successor, at least not through Reporters Online and Blendle. I see him several times this month, if he wants tips he can get them, but I don't think he is waiting for that.'

J.M: What will you do after the period at Museum Gouda?

GdK: 'I will be a consultant for artists, administrators and museums. In addition, project leader of the M5. That's five museums in Zutphen, Bergen op Zoom, Hoorn, Harlingen and probably Gouda. Gouda depends on Marc de Beyer, who must want it. It means I will be putting together travelling exhibitions.'

In November 2016, Gerard de Kleijn was appointed an honorary citizen of Gouda by Mayor Milo Schoenmaker for his special services to the city.

Good to know
Blogs and more information on Gerard de Kleijn can be found at 

Jaap Mees

Filmmaker and journalist. For more visual and textual information see my site Author posts

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