12 Sept 1992 - 31 Jan 1993
Introduction to the catalogue 'de Opening' by Hendrik Driessen, De Pont's founding director.
When, in the spring of 1989, the trustees of the J.H. de Pont Foundation asked me to assist in shaping the policy of the new foundation, its aims had been established, but how they were to be carried out was not yet clear. We found ourselves at a crossroads; many directions could be taken. The question was: which one? Our primary concern was to build a collection of contemporary art, both national and international, of the highest possible level. One of the first and most important results of the many discussions that the board and I had about the policy to be implemented was that we would not necessarily gear our views on collecting to those of other institutions of contemporary art. The filling of gaps in the public collections of our country did not strike us as being the best way to arrive at an interesting collection. The finding of the missing pieces and inserting them can, of course, be rewarding work, but it does presuppose that the puzzle will one day appear in its totality. Another critical resolution was that the collection would have to be housed, from the very start, in a building of our own, so that the artworks could be 'lived with' and prospective acquisitions could be placed in a certain context. This decision determined our policy in many respects, though we hadn't yet realized it. In the summer of 1989, the board of trustees elected to base the foundation in Tilburg. This choice was made not only because Jan de Pont − after whom the foundation is named − came from Tilburg, but also because of the availability of the Thomas de Beer mill complex which had been bequeathed by him. When we visited the spinning mill for the first time, the building − still full of machinery − was permeated with the smell of wool and lanolin. Although the view of the entire space was obstructed by spinning machines and countless pipes, we were immediately convinced of the enormous possibilities that this location had to offer. Initially we thought that a simple facelift would suffice, but before long it became evident that a more radical approach was needed. The firm Benthem Crouwel Architects was asked to carry out a complete renovation. Their renewal of Museum Overholland in Amsterdam appealed greatly to all of us, and we were confident that they would deal with the renovation of our building in a similarly fitting and restrained manner. From that point onward, the building automatically began to play a larger role in the formation of our ideas with respect to the artistic policy. The former mill, which we first had seen primarily as a good facility for our activities, became increasingly a place with an identity of its own, which we could not simply make fit for more or less common 'museum' installations. There are many elements in the building which we would never have planned as such but which are nonetheless very usable and significant. There are, however, also aspects which make some things difficult, such as the limited height under the rather prominent steel construction that supports the roof. Our appreciation of the unusual spatial conditions has only grown, and we have made emphatic use of them by placing an accent on the realization of works which would be difficult to execute elsewhere − works which, in some cases, are even related to the building. The twelve small rooms that line one side of the main area lend themselves, on the other hand, to smaller more intimate presentations. The space that was first experienced as being almost excessive helped us to act on the idea of escaping a destiny as another cog in the wheel of changing exhibitions. We do consider it important to inform the public about the latest developments in the art world, but this is already being done quite well in numerous places nearby and elsewhere in the Netherlands. Our policy is to be distinguished, above all, by a certain calm in which the works of art can be seen at their best, preferably during recurrent contact with the visitor. For this reason we chose to leave the installation − a combination of our own collection and loans − largely unchanged over a longer period of time. Only three changes will take place each year: additional presentations that will be confined in scope and sometimes possibly consist of 'only' one work. We are not involving ourselves with a particular movement or generation but are starting with a small group of artists who, in our view, collectively give an idea as to the diversity of expressive forms that characterizes the art of our time. Some of them are already included among the great innovators of the art of this century, while others make a step forward by reverting to older norms and values, though without ignoring the present in doing so. Here are also artists who emphatically place themselves within a certain part of our visual tradition and build upon it by way of refinement and contemplation. There are also those, however, who distance themselves as much as possible from the current scene. And some fight like veritable guerrillas against adopted attitudes and prevailing norms by taking the offensive from unexpected angles. I thank all of the artists for their enthusiastic cooperation, which they gave us at a time when very little was known or seen of our endeavor, but I thank them most of all for the beautiful work that we are able to show here. In this word of thanks I should also like to include all of the lenders and galleries who entrusted us with their possessions and backed the organization of the exhibition. An undertaking like ours can only be brought to its fulfillment, of course, with the support of many, to whom I would like to express my gratitude here. First of all, I would like to mention the foundation's board of trustees, which gave me this fantastic assignment, as well as the trust needed to see it through. I thank them for their many inspiring words and deeds and for all the rest that they took on in order to get this project underway. Much more than a word of thanks is also due to Ben van Huijgevoort and Wilma van Asseldonk, who gave their efforts respectively as independent building supervisor and as curator of the foundation, for their camaradarie and great contribution to the success of our plans. The firm Benthem Crouwel Architects was, in the person of Mels Crouwel, assisted by Heike Löhmann and André Staalenhoef, a professional partner in the renovation of the mill and the planning area surrounding us. Their outlook on the renovation has been of crucial significance, and their insights have helped us enormously in 'striking the right chord'. Marien Schouten should definitely be mentioned, since his involvement as a sounding board for Mels Crouwel and myself aided in the making of decisions about the placement of the walls in the main area. Tessa van der Waals, Hans Biezen and Beth O'Brien I thank very much for their good work that made this publication possible, as well as Elly Stegeman and Dominic van den Boogerd, who took responsibility for a numer of the texts. And finally, sincere thanks to all other staff members of the foundation, who witnessed the entire renovation process and helped to transform the mill into the splendid place it now is.