A free five-day stay if artist in residence in a luxurious suite in a five-star hotel in the center of Amsterdam, including dinners, room service and what not. During the corona pandemic, there were few artists who turned down the offer of hotel The Grand. In return for the hospitality offered, they had to give up a piece of art made during their stay.
Mayor Femke Halsema opened the exhibition Artists in Residence at The Grand (AIR), as the project has been named. On the ground floor, the hotel displays 52 works of art by as many painters, sculptors, photographers and writers. A large part of the works are for sale, a smaller part, by the best-known artists, will be auctioned by Christie’s later this month. All profits go to Dutch artists associated with the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. The Prince Bernhard Cultuurfonds stands together with the academy to allocate the funds.
The project is the brainchild of Ivo Weyel, a freelance publicist who writes a lot about the good life. Shortly after the outbreak of the corona pandemic, he was bored. “I wanted to do something, but everything was closed.” When he saw a report on TV about the pandemic’s enormous impact on the arts sector, Weyel called Emmy Stoel, general manager at The Grand.
The director immediately accepted Weyel’s proposal for a year-long artist in residence project at the hotel. “A no-brainer,” says Stoel. “The Grand has a rich art history and the lack of tourists allowed artists to bring some life to the hotel.”
Because of the beautiful light, Stoel reserved suite number 742 for a year (nightly price in high season 1,200 euros). For inspiration, she hung a work of art by Karel Appel from the hotel collection in the living room of the suite.
Writer Sophie van der Stap was the first to move into the premises on 17 August 2020. Sculptor Ivan Cremer stayed at the hotel for five days from 3 January this year as the 52nd and last artist. Weyel: “Due to corona, the hotel sometimes had to close, so the project ultimately took seventeen months.”
The interviews in the comprehensive digital exhibition catalog show that some older artists have a personal connection to the stately hotel building, which until 1988 was Amsterdam’s town hall. Their parents got married there, or they themselves submitted applications for grants to the Amsterdam Foundation for the Arts a long time ago.
Sculptor and performance artist Adriaan Rees (65) remembers that on 2 December 1968 he sat in the then council chamber in a football suit. He was one of the students at Ajax who attended star player Johan Cruijff’s wedding.
More than half a century later, in the summer of 2020, Rees enjoyed his stay at the hotel. He started his days as an artist in residence swimming in the pool. He then visited the sauna, then had breakfast in the courtyard in a white hotel bathrobe with warm rolls and chilled champagne. Rees: “I felt like a little prince. Certainly when I asked if it wasn’t a problem for me to turn up to breakfast in a bathrobe. ‘Mr Rees’, the waiter replied, ‘you are our guest’.”
An experience that inspired him for his contribution to the project. In Tokyo, Rees says, he had once seen a sumo wrestler in a bathrobe on the subway. No traveler took offense at it. Would that also be the case in Amsterdam, he wondered. With a photographer in tow, the performance artist went into the city in his breakfast suit: to Dam Square, the Red Light District, by ferry across the IJ, a ride on the metro.
He got to know his own city in a new way, says Rees. “It is obviously appreciated if you manifest yourself so vulnerable. Tourists took selfies with me and I got nothing but positive reactions.” His contribution to the exhibition is a framed photo of him, sitting in a bathrobe at the war memorial in Dam Square, embracing an Italian tourist. Asking price: 450 euros.
Photographer Bob Eshuis did something completely different. He would comb through trash in the Red Light District for one of his waste-photos: still life à la the fine painters of the seventeenth century, but with trash instead of rums and oysters. Contrary to expectations, Eshuis found little to his liking in the red light district. “A well-kept neighborhood; a sweeper comes by every ten minutes.”
To his delight, he saw magnet fishermen behind the hotel. They fished rusted metal objects from the canal: bicycle wheels, clipped padlocks, a shopping basket. To begin with, he drags the mess through a back entrance to his suite, to his makeshift photography studio. Until the hotel concierge encouraged him to just walk through the lobby. Eshuis: “Staying there felt like a warm bath; the staff were always curious to see what I was doing.” Christie’s is soon to auction off his rust still life, which includes an umbrella handle and a waste can, with a target price of at least €1,000.
Performance artist Adriaan Rees (65) is looking forward to the opening of the exhibition. In line with his contribution to the exhibition, he will once again dress only in a bathrobe and slippers from the hotel. On his wish list, Rees says, is a selfie with Mayor Halsema.