Katerina Gregos on Cabinet d’Amis, an exhibition of Jan Hoet’s private collection

For its first edition at Tour & Taxi, Art Brussels is organizing an exhibition of the late curator Jan Hoet’s private collection. Comprised of over 500 works from both Belgian and international artists, the collection is, as the show’s curator Katerina Gregos puts it in this extended interview, “unorthodox, primarily the result of relationships forged with artists throughout his career, not a strategically assembled accumulation of works of art.”

What were the exhibition’s starting points?

Cabinet d’Amis: The Accidental Collection of Jan Hoet is the flagship artistic project for Art Brussels 2016. It is an exhibition showcasing selected works from the collection of the late Belgian, internationally acclaimed curator Jan Hoet. Hoet’s personal collection is unorthodox. It is primarily the result of relationships forged with artists throughout his career, not a strategically assembled accumulation of works of art. Many works were gifts from artists, resulting in a collection joined not by design or intent (or investment criteria), but almost by accident. Indeed, one might use the word ‘collection’ with some hesitation. The word itself implies something with a certain structure, whereas these works came together in an incidental way, with no deliberate intent to form ‘a collection’. The first work acquired by Jan Hoet was an Andy Warhol Campbell Soup Can print, so that was, officially, the start of the collection. There are over 500 works in it, most modest in scale. Cabinet d’Amis features works by Belgian as well as international artists, and Jan Hoet worked closely with many of them. The selection at Art Brussels – which includes almost 200 works (mostly paintings, sculptures, and drawings) – provides insight into his artistic vision and his relationships with artists, through documentation, photographs, letters, correspondence with artists, notes, postcards, artists’ sketches and drawings, collages, objects, faxes, and texts from his personal archives, which in turn give unique insight into his curatorial trajectory, and which have never before been accessible to the public.

Many works were gifts from artists, resulting in a collection joined not by design or intent (or investment criteria), but almost by accident.

The show’s name implies a very intimate relationship between curator and artist. Was that a conscious decision?

Absolutely. The show’s name is both a wink to Chambre D’ Amis, the landmark exhibition that Hoet made in 1986, for which artists were invited to create works for 50 private homes in Ghent, but also, a reference to the very close – and sometimes tumultuous – relationship that Hoet had with artists. In that sense, he was a paradigm in terms of the dedication that he displayed towards artists that he worked with. Though he himself had a larger-than-life personality, he always put the artists first.

The exhibition runs alongside Art Brussels. Why was it important to curate what could have been a museum-quality exhibition within a commercial setting?

We are a fair with a decidedly curatorial profile, and this is reflected in all aspects of Art Brussels, from the gallery selection, the profile of the different sections, the non-profit spaces and the special artistic projects and commissions. As a fair that addresses not only collectors but a diverse international public of 30.000 visitors, we aim to also offer an exciting and content-rich programme for those who are unable to buy art but are art enthusiasts nonetheless. In that sense, exhibitions like Cabinet D’ Amis are projects that are the result of a considered reflection on the public role that art fairs also fulfill.

Can you talk to us about the artists taking part in the exhibition?

The exhibition will feature works by several established, internationally-acclaimed artists from Belgium and further afield, many of whom Hoet worked closely with such as: Joseph Beuys, Cai Guo-Qiang, Thierry De Cordier, Marlene Dumas, Jimmie Durham, David Hammons, Mario & Marisa Merz, Cady Noland, Royden Rabinowitch and Luc Tuymans, among others.

He was a paradigm in terms of the dedication that he displayed towards artists that he worked with.

What kind of works will be on show?

Mostly paintings, drawings and sculptures, but also archival material. Cabinet d’Amis also includes a series of photographs by Rony Heirman and Dirk Pauwels both of whom accompanied Jan Hoet in the majority of his curatorial endeavours, and both of whom accrued an extensive archive of thousands of photographs documenting Hoet’s career.

The exhibition’s scenography is rather unique. How and why so?

The exhibition scenography is by the Brussels-based artist Richard Venlet, who is known for turning spaces into environments. For Cabinet d’amis, he conceived a circular space that functions both as a cabinet / gallery and as a panopticon through which to view the artworks. The viewer enters through a small passage and experiences the exhibition as a diorama, completely surrounded by the works.

From an organizational point of view, who was instrumental in making the show happen?

The exhibition has been organized with the kind co-operation of the family of Jan Hoet, and particularly his widow Liliane and his children Jan Hoet Jr., and Marianne Hoet, as well as S.M.A.K., the museum of contemporary art in Gent which Hoet himself founded and was director of.

His dedication and passion for art was unequivocal and genuine.

How long have you been working on the show?

Since the fall, and I have had the pleasure to conduct research in the private archive of Jan Hoet, which was a real joy to discover and within that I had the chance to witness the extraordinary generosity of the artists towards him.

All in all, what can visitors expect out of the show?

A museum quality show with an impressive list of internationally acclaimed artists, and many surprises, beyond the artworks on view.

Whilst curating the show, what did you learn about Jan Hoet, and the way he worked?

Jan Hoet was a very instinctive curator. Whether one agreed with his choices or not, one thing became clear to me: his dedication and passion for art was unequivocal and genuine. What was also amazing is that he displayed the same dedication to art and artists whether curating a major museum exhibition or just a modest show in a small Flemish village.

Le Cabinet d’Amis
From Friday 22nd to Sunday 24th April (11 am – 7 pm)
Hotel de la Poste, Tour & Taxis, Avenue du Port (1000)