Amsterdam gallery owner Ron Mandos explains what turned him into an artistic life after years in the flower business
Ron Mandos has always had an eye for beauty.
The Dutch collector started running a chain of flower shops in Rotterdam in the 1990s before a momentous encounter with Picasso. Guernica everything changes. Today, he runs the eponymous Ron Mandos gallery in Amsterdam, where he brings ambitious installations to the heart of the city’s vibrant gallery district.
Enjoying an eye for talent early in the artist’s career, his collection includes established names like Isaac Julien, Daniel Arsham and Hans Op de Beeck. He has a keen interest in training young talent and has created an annual ‘Best of Graduates’ exhibition, selected artists have continued to work in important collections such as the Stedelijk and the Museum Voorlinden, and along the way developed his own collection of emerging artists.
We caught up with Mandos about his experience in the flower industry, his conversion from Damscene to art after meeting Picasso. Guernica, and his dedication to new talent.
What was your first purchase (and how much did you pay for it)?
The first purchase I made was a silkscreen print of a machine gun by Dutch artist Joep van Lieshout. It cost 2000 guilders which I think was around 1000 dollars at the time. It was part of a group exhibition that I had organized in my new gallery in Rotterdam. During those early years, I invited artists to create installations in and around my house, a bit like Guest rooms, organized by Belgian curator Jan Hoet. Memorably, Joep installed a huge fiberglass penis in my backyard. Inside the house he installed other types of guns which inspired the impression that I own.
What was your last purchase?
It is a photograph, Palm Springs, American Dream Portrait of Alex (2018) by Erwin Olaf. The work shows a scene of a young man taking a knee beside a swimming pool. It’s a very iconic image with a serious message. I am passionate about art which is aesthetically appealing but also conveys something poignant. I have a fascination with figuration and the classical ideal – the depiction of masculine beauty and strength is a hallmark of a number of works in my collection, including this one, and a few of my favorites, two beautiful paintings by Cristian Schoeler and Rainer Fetting.
What works or artists do you hope to add to your collection this year?
I have been a fan of William Kentridge for a long time and adding one of his works to my collection would be a dream. He is also an artist that I would like to work with in the future. Someone I work with but who is also a great friend is Isaac Julien. I’ve got my eye on a new piece of sound Lessons of the hour series on Frederick Douglass. Julien and Kentridge both do great works, but mostly they are great storytellers and it’s works like theirs that continually inspire me to keep doing what I do.
Over the past year, I have been particularly moved by the developments following the Black Lives Matter protests. I want to play a role in efforts to create a level playing field. We really need to fix things. I feel like I can contribute on a micro-level, and last month I invited Esiri Erheriene-Essi, Eniwaye Oluwaseyi and WonderBuhle to exhibit at the gallery, and I want to add their works to my collection. I hope we will continue to see more museums and institutions engage in this issue and address their collection and acquisition policies.
What is the most expensive piece of art you own?
A 2008 Daniel Arsham gouache painting; it is one of the artist’s first works and a bit atypical for what he is doing at the moment. The gouache shows an image from another world of the reaffirmation of nature on deserted spaces. It hangs in the dining room of my house in Rotterdam.
Where do you buy art most often?
I like to shop at art fairs and I almost always buy a work from fellow gallery owners when I’m there, but having my own gallery means I’m constantly surrounded by temptations. Collectors get the first dibs but I always try to keep a work from each exhibition.
Is there an artwork that you regret purchasing?
No, I have never regretted any decision in my whole life.
What work have you hung over your sofa? And in your bathroom?
I have a picture of Hans Op de Beeck above my sofa, but I don’t have any art in the bathroom. The photograph was one of the first works I bought from Hans, shows an architectural scene devoid of people, imbued with a feeling of melancholy. His power and silence are a hallmark of his work and he focuses my attention when I’m at home and have time to think about the things I do for a living.
What’s the least practical piece of art you own?
An installation by young artist Goof Kloosterman, which I bought during our The best of graduates exhibition in 2014. The work consists of 66 photocopies so fully installed, it is quite large. It’s very minimalist – I think it was created using a failed inkjet printer. The work was originally hung in a pop-up space that I had rented for the exhibition, which I have organized every year since 2008. Supporting young artists is, I think, one of the most important things. important that I do. In 2018, I created the Ron Mandos Young Blood Foundation, which organizes the exhibition and supports the awards that participating graduates can win. Goof Kloosterman won the Young Blood Award in 2014.
What job would you like to have purchased when you had the chance?
Felix in exile, a video work by William Kentridge that I saw years ago at the Goodman Gallery in Cape Town.
If you could steal a work of art without getting caught, what would it be?
El Greco Saint Francis of Assisi at the Museo del Prado in Madrid. A long time ago, before starting my art gallery, I owned a chain of flower shops in Rotterdam. At 33, I sold all of my stores to my staff and traveled the world. It was when I was in Spain that I first saw paintings by El Greco, Goya and Picasso in the flesh. Being in the presence of their works had a profound effect on me, especially that of Picasso Guernica at the Reina Sofia museum, and I experienced what they call Stendhal syndrome. From that moment, I knew that my future lay in working with art.
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