AMS is the airport code for the notoriously unpronounceable Schiphol, and the title of a new ad hoc exhibition series at our Cape Town gallery. In June 2019 we opened a little project space in Amsterdam, in the same building as the studio of Viviane Sassen, a Dutch artist we have represented for over a decade. In 2020, when art fairs ceased, the space inadvertently became a central part of our programme, as it was all of a sudden, with fairs suspended, the only place in Europe where we could exhibit our artists. Since September 2020 we have kept regular opening hours, lockdowns permitting, and we now have a full-time colleague based in Amsterdam.
We are often asked why we chose Amsterdam, instead of a more obvious city like Berlin, London or New York. The answer is quite straightforward: in addition to Sassen, Amsterdam is home to two other artists we represent. Moshekwa Langa has lived there, on and off, since the late 1990s, and Neo Matloga chose to remain in Amsterdam after finishing his studies at De Ateliers in 2018. This means that more of our artists live in Amsterdam than in any other city except Cape Town or Joburg.
While our initial aim was to show our existing programme to a European audience, with time we got to know other artists who call the city home. We discovered unexpected affinities and idiosyncratic synergies between the worlds our artists were building and those of their local peers. Paradoxically, all of this happened at a time when the world kept getting smaller. Now, as the world haltingly emerges from its slumber, it is a privilege to introduce some of our new acquaintances to our friends back home.
The series begins with Amsterdam 2020, a video work by Kadir van Lohuizen, which captures the surreal nature of the city during lockdown and pays tribute to Dutch photographer Ed van der Elsken, an icon in the Netherlands whose work was given a survey show at the Rijksmuseum in between its intermittent Covid closures.
Van Lohuizen, one of the most prominent Dutch documentary photographers, was familiar to us through his relationship with Guy Tillim, remarking: ‘My first visit to South Africa was in 1990, a month after Mandela’s release. I did not know anybody, and was introduced to the young and brave photographers of the Afrapix collective; Guy, of course, was one of its members, and it was the start of a lifelong friendship.’
When we were busy transitioning our office on the Prinsengracht into a fully fledged gallery, we came across Amsterdam 2020, and it felt appropriate to start this series with a portrait of the city. Moreover, it was work that dealt directly with the period during which we got to know Amsterdam, and situates itself in a distinctly Dutch art historical lineage. That such a work was made by a friend of someone we represent could not have been more perfect. Of the work, Van Lohuizen has written:
One of my heroes in photography (and filmmaking) has always been Ed van der Elsken. His film My Amsterdam from 1983 has always been a source of inspiration. The film starts with a fast drive through the empty streets of Amsterdam. Often I thought, gosh that is an Amsterdam that simply doesn’t exist anymore. Well it does today …
Van Lohuizen (born 1963, the Netherlands) has worked as a photojournalist for over two decades, covering global conflicts. He is best known for his long-term projects on the Arctic, the seven rivers of the world, rising sea levels, the diamond industry, migration in the Americas, and Wasteland, where he investigated mismanagement of waste across six mega cities. Van Lohuizen has received a number of prizes and awards for photojournalism including the 2018 Carmignac Photojournalism Award alongside Yuri Kozyrev. In 2021 he published After us the deluge, a book on the human consequences of rising sea levels. He is based in Amsterdam where he teaches photography.