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The Bonnefanten Museum: A Maastricht Culture Hub

There is a certain flavour to the cultural scene of Maastricht, something that is immediately obvious to anyone coming to this no-so-sleepy little southern Dutch city. The abundance of bars, cafes, art houses, museums, academic institutes, and hype instagram accounts are testament to this. What this scene is though – can it be defined? We at the Maastricht Diplomat are not so sure. So we set about finding ways to answer that question. One place to start is the Bonnefanten Museum. An established institute in the local cultural scene, the Bonnefanten is a collection museum with a dual focus on medieval French/Dutch art and international contemporary art. As the largest collection house in Maastricht, it can be considered a high point for visual artists of the region. I reached out to Guus van Engelshoven, project manager at the Bonnefanten and Maastricht University Alumni, to find out more:

MD:So let’s start off with a little bit about you Guus, tell our readers a bit about yourself. You studied at FASoS correct?

G:Actually when I finished high school, I pursued a career an artist myself. I went to the film department at the Royal Academy in Ghent, Belgium, but after about one and a half years I discovered that I did not think like an artist but I really enjoyed working with artists. I love running through ideas with them, writing texts for them and so on. Which is actually why I decided to come back to Maastricht and study at FASoS.

MD:And how did you find the change?

G:I found it to be an immediate match, the context in which we were dealing with culture and contemporary art. At the art academy I found things to be too technical, and that I was missing the thought processes, but at FASoS I sometimes found it to be too theoretical and that I was missing the connection with the field again. And that’s why in the third year I did a short internship at Marres, which is the house for contemporary culture here in Maastricht, and that grew into a job where I worked for five years.

MD:Well I know for students it is often a big worry as to how to get into the field after the studies, it sounds like a smooth transition for you. Would you call that atypical?

G:If I look at my fellow students, yes it was a smooth transition. I know a lot of people who, a year after graduation, were still looking for a job. If you go to university just to do the work and to study, it will not be enough. It is crucial to have an inherent drive, I would say, to do things outside of FASoS. I was doing a lot of things while studying – visiting a lot of exhibitions, I had a lot of friends here at the art academy too, I was always sort of actively looking.

MD:And you worked in Amsterdam, is that correct?

G: Yup, yup. So I worked at Marres for about five years and then there was a curatorial training programme in Amsterdam at an institution called De Appel. I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to do this training programme but then via via I actually found out that they were looking for someone to coordinate this training programme. So I became the coordinator of this programme and through this I became the curator of the public programme at De Appel and worked and lived in Amsterdam for the past six years.

MD:So that brings me to my question of why you decided to come back to Maastricht.

G: Yes, I actually just very recently came back as I have always had a strong connection with this city. I also see now that a lot of people I was studying with that are now blossoming and new things are happening in Maastricht – I have this feeling – and so I wanted to come back and be a part of that movement. Currently I am working as a project manager at the Bonnefanten. Moreover, I think that this is a very interesting time for the cultural infrastructure of Maastricht.

This is where we at the Maastricht Diplomat come in. We believe that there is something going on in this city and that you, our readers, deserve to know what is going on. As a city with a thriving student life, where past and present students from all walks of life are contributing in some way to the scene, there is a narrative here.

MD:So let’s talk about the Bonnefanten itself then.

G:Well, it is a provincial museum so its main sponsor is the Province of Limburg. So it’s not only a museum of Maastricht, but it serves the wider area including Belgium and Germany.

MD:And in terms of positioning itself within the Maastricht scene, where does the Bonnefanten fit in?

G:From a cultural policy point of view, there is what they call a cultural career chain in this city. Basically, this is where a visual artist starts out studying at the MAFAD [Maastricht Academy of Fine Art – ed.]. If you want to do further research after graduation, then you might go to the Van Eyck. In terms of presentation options, you maybe then have a show at Marres and you could eventually end up in the Bonnefanten collection.

MD:And do you think that this is, overall, a strategy that works for the scene in Maastricht if we talk about this career chain?

G:Well, personally, I think that there are significant gaps in this chain. The picture painted above is, of course, an ideal image from the perspective of the cultural policy makers. For some artists, it might have worked and it certainly has its place, but I really like the fact there are people creating bottom-up, grassroots initiatives for presenting and promoting their works not only to the public but also to their peers. I think that this is vital to making this chain work, identifying the gaps and playing into that. I think that this is working better and better in Maastricht; we’re not there yet but this is also what I mean when I say I feel that there is something happening here.

MD: OK so let’s come back to what is going on in the Bonnefanten currently – David Lynch. Can you tell us a little bit about him and what he is about?

G:Let me first say one last thing about the collection and exhibition policy of the Bonnefanten because I think it really ties in with what we are doing with David Lynch. Since the coming of Stijn Huits, the current director, there is a movement to diversify the presentation and collections – something I think is a very necessary and urgent thing to do within the larger cultural sector. It is a public collection therefore it should reflect the diversity of its audience a little better. Stijn has titled his new direction ‘Getting the Bigger Picture’, where basically it tries to reveal narratives within art history that are not within the currently dominant canon of art, or tell stories that might surprise our audience. You know, trying to reveal things that are not necessarily within the centre of attention but more on the periphery, which is what why the David Lynch exhibition fits in so well with this new perspective on exhibition making. He has all sorts of artworks, across all kinds of media. Film, sculpture, painting, music. I find it interesting to see that he always refers to himself as an artist first and foremost. He might make films, but that is just one media through which he expresses himself.

David Lynch in his Studio

David Lynch in his Studio – Bonnefantenmuseum

The Bonnefanten Museum and the Lumière are collaborating on a presentation of the works of North American visual artist David Lynch, one of the largest exhibitions of his works in the Netherlands. His exhibition at the museum, Someone is in my House, runs until April. Students can purchase a museum year pass for 6,50, which allows access to all public exhibitions during the academic year. Parallel to this, students can catch his popular films at the Lumière cinema for 6.50 each.

MD: If we are to talk about this infrastructure, then is this collaborative effort a kind of once off thing, or is there possibility to take it further? This is an obvious connection, the subject of David Lynch makes it easy, but could this collaboration be taken further, or deeper, into the infrastructure of the city?

G:Well, there have always been conversations between the big institutes – Bonnefanten, Marres, Van Eyck, Bureau Europa, MAFAD – and so there is coordination there. The thing is, these sort of collaborations can only work if they are content-based. One thing that is working really well is the Museum Night, which is rather new, and brings a fresh kind of energy to the table in the collaboration between cultural institutions.

MD: Yes, I remember that from last year and I thought it was a hugely successful evening, but it seems to me that everybody is offering a different product and so there is not necessarily a huge amount of competition, which tells me that it would be more beneficial to collaborate on other occasions as well.

G:Yes, I absolutely agree with that, it is something that I often think about – how the cultural infrastructure in the city can take the next step. It is a small anecdote, but in 2012 Maastricht was competing to become the cultural capital of Europe and there was a lot of interest and money pouring into the cultural sector, and a lot of collaboration was going on. Things seemed to be happening, but in the end Maastricht lost the bid to Leeuwarden. Everyone really thought it was going to happen but the backlash was that all the plans sort of went down the drain. All of a sudden, there seemed to be some sort of resentment towards culture and municipal funding was slashed and so on. But for a while you could feel that there was something binding it all together, but when Maastricht didn’t make it you really saw how precarious such situations really are. In order for inter-institutional collaborations to work, a vision needs to be created that transcends the interests of specific institutions.

MD: Well yes, it takes more than just an organisational thing but rather it needs a purpose. You know, “if we all work together towards a common goal, then we are the best”, to put it simply. More than just organisation, but a sense of pride. Art being art, it is an emotional field to begin with.

G:Haha exactly! But maybe a second example to go with, which I think is a very interesting test case, is the Sphinx Quarter. You know, where we have the Lumière, the Muziekgieterij and Bureau Europa and the Student Hotel are located. They have, from the beginning, had close conversations about the way they wanted to present this new part of the city to the public – as a whole. It used to be old and industrial, no one ever really went there, but they really needed to make an effort, together, as a whole to uplift that area and now I think it is a cultural hotspot in the area, in the city.

MD: Right, so last one then – something that I think is of personal interest to you. Tell us a little bit about the exhibition that you are currently working on.

G:Yup, yup, at the moment I am working on one specific project – the Bonnefanten Award for Contemporary Art (BACA). Founded in 2000, it is a biennial award for a contemporary artist. Not so much for who is the flavour of year, but rather a more established artist. The prize consists of fifty-thousand euros, a solo exhibition here at the Bonnefanten and a publication on the artist; I am working on the latter two things at the moment.

MD:So who is being awarded it this year?

G:Well to go along with Steijn’s vision on stepping away from the mainstream, the past six years we have leaned away from Western artists. This year it will be awarded to Marwan Rachmaoui, a Beirut based sculptor, who is a very interesting artist who reflects a lot on urban phenomenon. Especially in a city like Beirut – which has a long history of conflict and culture, and now lately gentrification – there is a lot of material there. His exhibition opens on May 23rd here at the Bonnefanten.

Each year the Bonnefanten appoints a selection committee consisting of five or six experts from the geographical area that we are focusing on, and together with the director, they make a long-list. From this list one winner is chosen – this year being an artist from Beirut. Through this method, the Bonnefanten not only selects a laureate, but also gains a lot of expertise about the art scene in parts of the world that we are not necessarily very familiar with.

MD:Great, thank you Guus. This has been an enlightening conversation – well, for me at least. Hopefully our readers will get something out of it.

G:It was my pleasure, good luck with your series and I hope to welcome you too the Bonnefanten again soon!

A very big thank you to Guus van Engelshoven from the Bonnefanten Museum for affording us his time for this interview and contributing his thoughts to this conversation. Now we ask you to contribute too – by supporting the Bonnefanten and the Lumière in their efforts to bring the wider world to our little city. Someone is in my House is running for the next few months; with the parallel support of his films at our art film house in the Sphinx Quarter. Please leave your comments, whatever they might be, with the Maastricht Diplomat and have your say. Looking forward to the next conversation!

Email Address: journal@myunsa.org

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