The Dutch entrepreneur’s collection gathers together some of the most influential figures in contemporary art, from the 1960s to today
Born in 1928, Gerard Valkier, a successful self-made entrepreneur from the Netherlands, began his collecting journey while travelling for business in Paris during the early 1950s. Etienne Sallon, Head of Evening Sale at Christie’s in Paris, says that ‘[Valkier] was not influenced by a family history or a friend. He was very independent in his choices.’
It is through these choices that Valkier put together ‘a kind of photograph of the most influential artists of the 1960s and 70s, from Fontana to Hantaï to Castellani to Millares to Motherwell,’ Sallon says. ‘These are names that are not put together generally.’
Valkier devoted a period of his life to collecting Old Master paintings from the Netherlands before he returned to ‘his first love for contemporary art in the last 20 years of his life,’ says Sallon. It was during this time that he put together the works that make up the collection as it is today, with pieces such as Jean Dubuffet’s Plaignante (1958) and Pablo Picasso’s Autoportrait (1955) being standouts. As Sallon says: ‘There is no nice collection without a Picasso.’
Looking at the collection as a whole, it’s clear that Valkier had a strong collecting philosophy. ‘You can really feel that he precisely picked every single work,’ says Sallon. The works included are primarily black, white and grey paintings, with only a few bold and bright works in specific colours, such as red, blue or yellow.
The white canvas of Enrico Castellani’s Superficie bianca (1965) is an example of the works that Valkier was drawn towards, many of which can be similarly described as ‘extremely pure, extremely radical and geometrical,’ says Sallon.
There is also ‘a very interesting and significant focus on post-war and avant-garde Italian art,’ says Sallon. These works demonstrate the collector’s appreciation of experimental pieces that reimagine the canvas as more than just the vessel used to display the work. Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, Attese (1960), for example, features four slits in the chartreuse canvas to create dimension.
Similarly, members of the Zero Group, a group of young Dutch artists who were known for their radical experimentation, ‘started to create a new language for the arts where the painting was not only a composition on the canvas, but the canvas itself was starting to be a proper work of art.’
Heinz Mack used a resin mixture for the striking Sans Titre (1959) and Günther Uecker’s Verletztingen Verbindungen 3 (2007) utilises nails ‘to animate the surface’. Another work in the collection, Achrome (circa 1960) by Piero Manzoni — ‘an Italian artist who had a good connection with the Zero Group’ says Etienne — uses white cotton balls in a geometric composition. ‘You can see that they used a very humble medium at the beginning to elevate it as a work of art,’ says Sallon.
Valkier’s love of the abstract and radical is also present in the portraits and sculptures in the collection. One of the newest additions, Antony Gormley’s MEME CCCX (2013) is one of a series of works that ‘deconstructs the human figure with very minimal and geometrical elements’. The abstract human form can also be found in Tracey Emin’s Hard Core (2015) and Marc Quinn’s Microcosmos (Mirror Sphinx) (2008). Valkier’s collection represents an overview of key contemporary movements, and highlights ‘artists who wanted to push the boundaries of art’, says Sallon.