interviews

‘Moving along across barriers’

Uitreiking AICA Oorkonde 2017 in het Teijin Auditorium van het Stedelijk. Van links naar rechts: voorzitter AICA Nederland Robert Jan Muller, conservator Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen en Tino Sehgal. Foto: Hanna Hachula Uitreiking AICA Oorkonde 2017 in het Teijin Auditorium van het Stedelijk. Van links naar rechts: voorzitter AICA Nederland Robert Jan Muller, conservator Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen en Tino Sehgal. Foto: Hanna Hachula

‘For me and my company, this figure moving on slowly across the stairs and in between visitors, with strange, winding motions, was properly a Fremdkörper,’ Curator Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam remembers his astonishing first meeting with the work of Tino Seghal in 2002 at Manifesta in Frankfurt; he later looked back on it in an article about their cooperation.

‘At first, I didn’t know what to do about it’, he now confesses. But he was immediately enthralled. He became the driving force behind the strong ties between the Stedelijk and Seghal, which in fifteen years have developed further through exhibitions and acquisitions. The Mondriaan Fund awarded grants at crucial moments: in 2005 (back then as the Mondriaan Foundation) at the very first acquisition; in 2015 at the presentation of the artwork This Variation; and in 2017 at the acquisition of this work.

Seghal’s work is exceptional, because everything is live and permanently present in the rooms. ‘Very physical during the execution; intangible afterwards. When it’s over, it’s over.’ But with this fleeting art, the museum captured the hearts of the public forever. During the overview of A year at the Stedelijk in 2015, Seghal presented a different work each month. ‘Intense experiences, all the time, inviting people to move along across all barriers,’ Van Nieuwenhuyzen says. ‘Visitors returned for it. On the first day of the month they would be back again, to see the new work.’

Cooperation is the key

The overview was continued in 2017 with the acquisition of the public’s favourite, This Variation, an already legendary artwork that does not require any storage space. There are only verbal arrangements, memorized by a handful of people, Van Nieuwenhuyzen among them.

‘Cooperation is the key to this work.’

Seghal started out as a dancer and choreographer and applies these disciplines in visual art. He calls his work constructed situations, not to be confused with performances. ‘During his year at the Stedelijk there was dance, song, interaction with the public and with the collection. Seghal plays with the heritage of conceptual art and with the written and unwritten rules of the museum as an institute. The public can always come in; his work is there all day. It is not a performance in the auditorium. You can compare it with the presence of a sculpture or a painting in the collection presentation.’

This was the world in reverse

Van Nieuwenhuyzen was the key figure in the especially founded ‘Tino Team’ during A Year at the Stedelijk. He mediated on all fronts: ‘Technicians, management, information desk and guards, nobody got away. A painting by Willem de Kooning had to be moved, and then a room had to be cleared. Seghal fetched pseudo-guards and strippers. He refused any advertising. Photography was off limits. Sometimes visitors got their money back. We have seen it all at the Stedelijk, but this really was the world in reverse. The beautiful thing is that all the resistance within our doors changed into one big embrace. And applause from the public, as in the last hour of This Variation.’

This Variation was the big favourite out of all the editions, for Van Nieuwenhuyzen as well: ‘In an intensely dark space you felt the dancers whizzing by you, even before you saw them. Sounds came from a far depth. For many people it was a unique experience of art.’

At the transfer of this work, in proper consultation with Seghal, the promise was made that it will be shown again in 2019 at the latest. The Stedelijk is the only Dutch museum that owns work by him. Van Nieuwenhuyzen: ‘ Seghals position is a very special addition to the Dutch Collection. Our commitment to him goes back a long time, but we couldn’t have acquired his work without the Mondriaan Fund. Museums increasingly rely on a mix of private and public funding. And on loyalty. Through a longstanding mutual commitment, a special bond has grown between the Stedelijk and Seghal’s oeuvre. In the future we will also build on that.’