Hanging at the Chiellerie

From ashtray collections to shit on a plate… Five years of low-threshold art is now available in a handy book format.

By Steve Korver, 25-10-2007, Amsterdam Weekly

We’re sitting on a bench in the sun outside the Chiellerie on Raamgracht. The cabaretier Freek de Jong walks by and glances inside, alerted by a sign for Club Zonder Filter, the name of the artist collective who are setting up for their opening that evening. The gallery’s owner — and the city’s nachtburgemeester — Chiel van Zelst shouts out ‘Go have a look!’ De Jong responds, ‘Ah I remember the days when there was cabaret without filter’ before stepping inside the exhibition space.

Van Zelst began his gallery five years ago — ‘actually there’s still debate about the exact date, but somewhere in July 2002’ — in a former insurance office in Bos en Lommer. ‘It was a Quentin Tarantino affair with ceiling fan, wood panelling and smoked glass.’ In short: not your traditional big white space. And now there is a non-traditional book to celebrate five years of non-traditional art openings.

‘Originally I was using the place as a studio, but since I usually finish a painting in about an hour, that left another twenty-three to play with. There were two windows and the artist Wal Russ and I thought we’d fill them each week with a different artist.’ The first show was from Andre Noorda, who’d built a disco ball satellite dish, and people showed up to hang out, talk art, talk shit and drink Freedom beer. So then Van Zelst thought ‘OK, who’s the next sucker?’

‘We built a bar and put the numbers one through fifty on it, where people could sign up to be the artist of the week. Once you put your name there you were bound. Even though a lot signed up while drunk, I can’t remember anyone ever backing out. ‘Some people just showed up with a painting strapped to the back of their bike. Others, like Serge Verheugen, set up a whole Love Outlet complete with silk-screened shirts. One guy just shat on a plate and left it in the window. I was living there but the smell wasn’t that bad and anyway — that’s art.’

From there, things just grew — the only subsidy came from selling beer. ‘I always tried to get subsidies, but I never got money, only recognition as: “Oh you’re the guy who always asks for subsidy and never gets it.”’

But now, things have changed. Van Zelst has a lease at his new location until 2021. ‘We still stick to the same rules: no birthday celebrations, no art by children and no incense or open fires. And I still only select based on people and not on art. It can be an ashtray collection as long as there’s a story behind it. Quality is like the stock exchange. It can be high or low. And if it’s low, who cares? I only have to live with it for a week. If people want to show something, I tell them to come back next week to talk and if they show up, that’s a good sign.’

Seen any larger trends occurring in the art world? ‘At the beginning there were lots of photographs and now there’s a lot of street art. Next year who knows? Ceramics maybe?’ We both laugh loudly.

After establishing the artist-of-the-week concept (and the-artist-of-the-day at last year’s Kunstvlaai), Van Zelst will be presenting them every 15 minutes at the Stedelijk’s Andy Warhol show during Museumnacht. In retrospect, this seems inevitable.

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