Art collectors may come in all shapes and sizes but when it comes to why they collect, there are only two camps: those who buy art for investment, and those who buy for passion. The Nijkerks fall squarely into the latter category. To speak to this couple about their collection is to take a tour through their personal histories. Each piece represents a memory, a place or a feeling.
In Lauren and Richard Nijkerk’s apartment in Singapore, art is everywhere – hanging on walls, against tables, mounted on plinths. At one point I’m unsure whether I’m seated on a chair or propped against a priceless sculpture. It is, however, tastefully displayed and very much a home.
The couple say they employ no strategy when acquiring art. What they look for are pieces that appeal to them on a personal level. Lauren agrees empathically with her husband when he says the whole concept of art is to enjoy it. “Is art decoration or is it just art?” asks Richard, before concluding: “It is both.”
Tony Oursler, "Filament", 2009, Video Projection on Wood, Fibreglass and Paint, 73 x 32 x 26cm
Artwork Lauren bought in her twenties is still hanging in one of their homes, as are pieces inherited from their parents. For the Nijkerks, buying art boils down to whether they love it or not. “If you consider art fun, if it makes your life fun, you should not have a strategy,” explains Richard.
Since their arrival from Brussels more than a year ago, the Nijkerks have thrown themselves into the local arts scene, opening their home to both artists and collectors. They host regular events for various organisations so guests can view their collection. The point of collecting art is to allow the artworks to be seen “because it’s good for the artists,” says Lauren.
From left to right: Gregor Hildebrandt, "Take me in your arms", 2015, Inkjet Print, Plastic Boxes in Wooden Case, 159 x 111 cm. Hiroshi Senju, "Waterfall", 2014, Acrylic & Flourescent Pigment on Japanese Mulberry Paper, 162 x 162cm. Sarah Bostwick, "Mayes Lumber #3", 2013, Ebonized Cherry Wood, 130 x 195 x 11.5cm.
Art patrons do more than collect art: they also fuel progress in the art world. And nowhere is this forward momentum needed more than in emerging arts markets. Lauren is a big proponent of local art and describes the Singapore arts scene as being in the toddler phase: full of promise and youthful exuberance. The ubiquity of young people is a good sign, she believes. “Where there are young people, there is a bright future.”
She is closely involved with the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI), a local non-profit art institution that pioneers contemporary art practices. Part creative workshop, part gallery, STPI has, in Lauren’s words, “put Singapore on the international [arts] map.” As a Friend of STPI, Lauren initiated a fundraising initiative that raised $550,000 a fact gleaned from Audrey Yeo, owner of Yeo Workshop – and one that Lauren downplays.
When the Nijkerks says they don’t like safe art, they mean it. By the entrance, a Tony Oursler installation greets guests. Like many of the pieces in their home, the Oursler work is ‘cross-platform’: part video, part sculpture. Mixed media, says Lauren, is a common theme in their collection.
In the master bedroom, a striking piece by Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata grabs my attention. The artwork is a marquette (or scale model) of a favela erected in Ghent, Belgium. The Tōhoku tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011 features heavily in Kawamata’s work, a topic that resonates with the Nijkerks. When the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit, the couple were holidaying in Phuket with their family.
Tadashi Kawamata, "Favela in Ghent", 2012, Maquette on Wood Panel, 100 x 153cm
The couple were actively involved in a recovery project known as ‘The Building International Bridges’ programme which placed high school children from the hardest-hit areas in Northern Japan on an exchange programme with Belgium schools. The point of it was to give young victims of natural disasters a way to look forward. “We knew we had to do something,”says Lauren matter-of-factly.
Their collection is not just about pretty things. A black-faced Statue of Liberty by New Orleans artist Ti-Rock Moore takes pride of place in the TV lounge. Galleries that show her work (including a full-sized sculpture of Michael Brown, whose death incited the Ferguson riots last year) have been subject to threats. This provocative piece in the Nijkerk's home is a statement on white privilege, an issue Lauren believes needs airing.
“Art has always been a medium to convey political ideas,” she says. “Even the work of the Dutch masters were controversial in their time.”
What comes across in conversation is that collecting art is a real passion project for this pair of art patrons. True to form, they have only sold two paintings in the last twenty years. Even without cataloguing their entire collection it is apparent this is a drop in the ocean. For as long as patrons like the Nijkerks exist, art will thrive.