Lloyd Hotel & Cultural Embassy - Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, 1019 BN, Netherlands

Nieck De Bruijn


Posted on 04/12/2013 by mylene

Why did you start a gallery?
I did hesitate a lot before doing so. I studied small business and needed a temporary job. By coincidence I found one for three days a week in a gallery. Two weeks later I was asked to work fulltime and after a year I was completely addicted to contemporary art.

Was art such terra incognita then?
It was from a business perspective. I was always interested in the arts but knew nothing about the contemporary art market and why people were prepared to pay such large sums for a piece of art or why they were so smitten with it.
Anyone with a sound business sense would say it is ridiculous to get involved in contemporary art. It is a product that is largely unknown and nobody is waiting for. So here I was with my lists of favourite artists, not daring to become a player in the art world. In the end my wife said ‘why don’t you make a prognosis of what it would cost to try it for a year’. When I did that I thought it the risk was not so big. If the gallery faltered, I would be able to pay off my debts once I had a good job.
That is how we started Upstream in a small space at the Kromme Waal, close to Central Station and the temporary setting of the Stedelijk Museum at PostCS.

How did people know about a tucked-away gallery?
The last job I had before starting the gallery was marketeer with the NAI (Netherlands Architecture Institute) who were specialised in architecture but also publisher of visual art books. As marketer I had access to the press, museums and artists. I had also started to collect art on a small scale privately, and in doing so had already built up contacts with individual artists and gallery owners. When I started the gallery I profited from this network. The gallery was doing well from the start.

What is the programme of Upstream like?
From the outset Upstream was a Dutch gallery with a strong international profile: we were present at international fairs, have always represented a number of international artists and are aimed at the international art market. The gallery is dynamic and has developed alongside the careers of the artists we represent. We now have an interesting mix of young, starting artists and some who are further in their career. In 2011 for instance we took up Marinus Boezem, who counts as one of the major pioneers of conceptual art in the 60s and 70s in the Netherlands and whose work is in important collections worldwide.

Did the move to the Amsterdam Pijp impact your status?
Upstream moved in 2008, when Martijn Dijkstra had joined as co-owner. He is an old study-friend and was always involved with the gallery. At some point it only seemed natural to make his involvement official. We needed more space for the stock, office and to show the art. De Pijp – which is now one of the upcoming areas of town - then was still very much a working class area, very different from the polished Jordaan where most galleries are. The rough-edged character of this neighbourhood suits our programme. Now, porn shops and callcentres are being replaced by hip shops and improved housing.

How do you show a Decade of Upstream in Lloyd Hotel & Cultural Embassy?
This is quite a challenge, as the building is colossal. The danger is that you end up just being decoration. We want to put our stamp on it. I think we succeeded, especially since the artists took this up in different ways with lots of new work. Some made really large instalments, others more delicate, poetic proposals. So I think the exhibition presents a much layered story.

Large works of Ronald Ophuis, Pepo Salazar, Marc Bijl, have a strong element of suffering.
This is one of the themes of the gallery from the start; a fascination with the dark side of life and a rebellious streak. Next to that, over the last years a more conceptual and poetic tone has been set, which is still radical as well. A central point of our programme is radicalism.

What is the future like?
We want to be one of the major players in the international contemporary arts field. The next step for that is our first time presence at the Art Basel Hong Kong. So we are getting along nicely.