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Exhibition of works from the Martijn and Jeannette Sanders Collection opens at the Stedelijk Museum
Martijn and Jeannette Sanders in Anselm Kiefer’s studio, Croissy-Beaubourg, 2012. Photo: Waltraud Forelli.

AMSTERDAM.- This summer, the Stedelijk Museum presents Bad Thoughts, a unique, large-scale survey of the works assembled by Amsterdam collectors Martijn and Jeannette Sanders, one of the most important private collections in the Netherlands. During their 42 years of collecting art, the Sanders have never before exhibited their collection on this scale.

The Sanders Collection contains a diverse array of several hundred paintings, sculptures, assemblages, photos, drawings, text-based artworks, films, videos, and installations by over 350 mostly European and American artists. The Stedelijk Museum has now made a choice from this collection for the exhibition.

The title of the exhibition, Bad Thoughts, is derived from a photo work by Gilbert & George. It’s a light-hearted comment on the adventure of private art collecting, as well as the interest in the darker side of the human psyche, evident in many of the works in the Sanders Collection.

Martijn and Jeannette Sanders began collecting art in the 1970s. Unlike many private collections, the Sanders Collection is notable for featuring a significant group of “core artists” whose work is represented in great depth, including Ger van Elk, Gilbert & George, Anselm Kiefer, Cindy Sherman, David Claerbout, Thomas Demand, and Anton Henning. The collection also holds a substantial body of conceptual art and “narrative art” of the 1970s, work by the Italian “trans-avant-garde” (Cucchi, Chia, Clemente), and German painting of the 1970s and 1980s (Lüpertz, Penck, and Baselitz). Recent acquisitions by the Sanders include works by Johan Grimonprez, Harun Farocki, and Hito Steyerl.

When the Sanders began collecting, there were only a few Dutch collectors of contemporary art. Those days, the gallery world was also far more delineated. In Amsterdam, Adriaan van Ravesteijn and Geert van Beijeren (Art & Project) and Riekje Swart ran galleries with a progressive international program focusing on minimal, concrete, systematic and conceptual art.

The exhibition Bad Thoughts is dedicated to Adriaan van Ravesteijn and Geert van Beijeren of Art & Project (1968-2001), with whom the Sanders developed a long term friendship. “Almost from the beginning, we embarked on what became both a literal and metaphorical odyssey with Art & Project,” says Jeannette Sanders. “We couldn’t have asked for better guides.”

For the Sanders, collecting art is both a personal matter and an intuitive process. It is their way of life, and their collection reads as a journal. “It is truly a private collection in the sense that we collect for our own pleasure – we have lived with these artworks,” says Martijn Sanders. “But it was never our ambition to build a collection of museum quality. The fact that it will soon hang in a museum is an incredible honor. At the same time, I hope visitors will sense the collection’s private nature.”

A small number of pieces from Martijn and Jeannette Sanders’ collection was first presented at the Stedelijk Museum in 1985. Wim Beeren invited them to show a selection of their works in the exhibition Wat Amsterdam Betreft (As Far as Amsterdam Goes), his first presentation as director of the Stedelijk. At the time, Beeren voiced his hope of one day presenting a broader selection of work from the Sanders Collection. Now, in 2014, that time has come. “We greatly value our relationship with the Stedelijk,” says Jeannette Sanders. “That’s why we’re so delighted to have the opportunity to present our collection here now.”

History has shown the importance of private collections in building art institutions. Many museums, including the Stedelijk, were founded by collectors. In the wake of World War II, the role of private collectors diminished as the state began to dominate cultural policy. It wasn’t until recently that this dynamic has shifted. Now, museums once again have become more receptive to partnering with private collectors.

The presentation occupies the spacious lower-level gallery in the new wing, in a special architectural configuration designed by Florian Idenburg of SO-IL architects (New York), who has been shortlisted for the Prix de Rome Architecture 2014. Gilbert & George and Anton Henning were closely involved in installing their spaces. Henning even created an installation expressly for the exhibition. A number of galleries will be re-hung in September.

Martijn Sanders was the director of the Concertgebouw for over 24 years, prior to which he led a national chain of movie theaters. Still actively involved in arts administration, his current positions include chair of the Holland Festival and the Vereniging Rembrandt. Jeannette Sanders worked for many years in social psychiatry.

The relationship between the Stedelijk and the Sanders family stretches back many decades, and is expressed in the form of recommendations, presentations, and gifts, among other things.

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