Jeannette Dekeukeleire: ‘If art is no longer allowed to prick, irritate or provoke, I will stop’

A picture of a Japanese girl with the characteristic almond-shaped eyes on the facade? Can’t do anymore, discovered gallerist Jeannette Dekeukeleire. Because racist, according to a member of an Asian committee who rang her doorbell. The famous PSP election poster from 1970 with a naked woman and a cow at a political poster exhibition? Sexist, complained visitors.

Dekeukeleire: “As a gallery owner, today you are a victim of cancellation culture, the subject of some annoying Tiktok video.”

After almost thirty years, Dekeukeleire (60) had had enough. On January 20, she will close her ArtKitchen gallery in Amsterdam. From February she will make books and organize projects with artists from home.

Her gallery ArtKitchen has been a guarantee of stimulating and sometimes provocative art for decades. First from Provo and Fluxus artists, later from punk artists. The gallery also regularly organized Cult Club evenings, themed meetings with lectures and performances.

A portrait of Jeannette Dekeukeleire by stencil artist Hugo Kaagman from 2006.

Just buttocks

The facade of her gallery in De Pijp is a permanent canvas for template artist Hugo Kaagman. He reacts to the news with a wink. In recent years, it has regularly caused problems, says Dekeukeleire. The art climate in the capital has changed radically and has become increasingly commercial and limited, she said in the press release for her farewell exhibition.

Before entering her gallery, she encounters more and more negativity, she says. Trucks load and unload in front of the door. Aggressive passers-by, the municipality that wants to put a bicycle rack in front of its shop window. “Recently a man came in screaming and demanding that I remove a piece of art from the wall. It showed a few bare buttocks.”

For the first twenty years she could do whatever she wanted, she had so much fun. Because of the changing zeitgeist, the prevailing culture of calculation, it has cost her a lot more effort in recent years, she says.

For years she helped put together corporate collections. Jobs that made it financially possible to realize fewer commercial projects in her gallery. She now refers to corporate collections as ‘united sausage’.

Art in the office no longer has to excite, she says. “An example? Recently I had trouble about a work by Charlotte Dumas, a photograph of a dog. The dog’s gaze was so penetrating that the employees of a company thought the picture should be removed from the wall.”

If art is no longer allowed to prick, irritate or provoke, then its own stimulus disappears, she says.

Sensitivities

When young people asked her to remove the PSP poster with a naked woman and cow, Dekeukeleire refused. “At a moment like that, I rebel. I said, ‘I’m willing to empathize with your feelings, but take the time to immerse yourself in my time.’

Times have changed for unconventional galleries like hers. “The Netherlands has increasingly become a country of hype. So street art is today’s problem, so this, then that. Or all the big art collectors are suddenly looking for the same artist. Art is also increasingly seen as an investment, something you sell if you can make money.” She has problems with the flat economy. “For me, art is above all one treasurea treasure you buy as a mirror of your soul.”

The most beautiful things arise from chaos, says Dekeukeleire. But there is less and less room for disorder and confusion. “Take the art fairs. First you have to pay 10,000 to be allowed to participate, and then there is an inspection committee that assesses whether what you want to hang is suitable for the exhibition.”

Very narrow shaft

The influence of large clients on the art market is far too great for her. They decide what is important and what is not. A street artist who gives a nurse a face mask with the Superman logo is praised. But an artist like Rob Scholte is dropped by collectors because of his attitude. I do not understand. Scholte is through his imagery and his statements about copyright Goddamn important for our time.”

Yes, agrees Dekeukeleire, the discrepancy between commerce and interesting art is timeless. “But I feel that we are now in a very tight tube. Sometimes I have the feeling that we are returning to the time of Entartete art: art that can and art that cannot.”

For her peace of mind, “to stay positive”, she traveled to Cologne last summer, to the Museum Ludwig. She did that for Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s sculptures. These images, which are embedded in colonialism and power inequality, are now once again viewed as wrong art by some. Dekeukeleire: “They may have been made in Africa, but the look of these sculptures makes me feel great.”

The solution to her problems with the art market was simple, says the gallerist. “I had become a prisoner of my gallery – of the fixed opening hours, of my staff. The art that I love so much, my fingerspitzengefühl for what you can achieve with art, I have much more time for that without a gallery.” With a sense of relief, she says, she will lock the door for good in ten days.

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