Witte de With Contemporary Art
Our Program—Hans van Dijk - Dai Hanzhi
Hans van Dijk - Dai Hanzhi
24 May 2014 – 4 January 2015

Rediscovering the legacy of Dutch curator, scholar, and art dealer Hans van Dijk.

Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art (Rotterdam) is pleased to announce a special cooperation with Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (Beijing) featuring a multidimensional program dedicated to the life and work of Dutch curator, scholar, teacher and art dealer Hans van Dijk (1946 – 2002). Van Dijk, a significant figure in contemporary Chinese art, was the inspiration behind two exhibitions to be hosted in Rotterdam and Beijing. The program aimed to help increase understanding and appreciation of Van Dijk’s work with many Chinese artists as well as his international curatorial undertakings.

Providing a platform for research and history, this far-reaching program also included a special publication; a conference; auxiliary events organized in collaboration with local and international partners; and the start-up of a foundation dedicated to the research of contemporary art in China as a homage to Van Dijk. The multiple components of the program aimed to extend audience engagement beyond the exhibition, enabling a more dynamic appreciation and understanding of Van Dijk’s legacy and the recent history of contemporary art practices in China.

One part of the program was the exhibition at Witte de With entitled Dai Hanzhi: 5000 Artists, which told the story of Van Dijk and the important role he played in early contemporary art in China, bringing to light the largely unknown history of artistic development in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Artists acknowledged to have been close to Van Dijk, including Liu Ding, Zheng Guogu, Zhang Peili, Wang Xingwei, and Ding Yi, were commissioned by Witte de With to create works for the exhibition, presented along with loans and archival materials. Van Dijk’s work on Ming furniture was also exhibited.

The first part of this program, Hans van Dijk: 5000 Names took place from 24 May to 10 August at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, followed by Dai Hanzhi: 5000 Artists from 4 September 2014 to 4 January 2015 at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art.

About the program

Witte de With’s Director Defne Ayas describes her motivation behind the upcoming program: “When living and working in China, it struck me how so many of my peers and colleagues – artists, curators, and gallerists alike- all spoke so fondly of Hans van Dijk, acknowledging him as a mentor and an important influence on their own respective practices.” Though Witte de With has worked with some important Chinese artists in the past 24 years, Ayas is pleased to now host the most comprehensive exhibition of Chinese contemporary art to date at the Center. “When noted Dutch curator Marianne Brouwer approached us with her research and exhibition plans around Hans van Dijk, we immediately said yes.”

Hans van Dijk: 5000 Names and Dai Hanzhi: 5000 Artists are two exhibitions aimed at archiving and presenting van Dijk’s curatorial oeuvre, which included over forty shows in and outside of China, that enabled the bridging between contemporary artists from both China and elsewhere, mainly in Europe. For these presentations, his various activities in Beijing have been thoroughly researched, giving special attention to his ability of promoting and showcasing the works of emerging artists, many of whom thanks to Van Dijk found their first opportunity to become known to a larger cultural international public.

Both exhibitions feature a meticulously organized, staggeringly comprehensive lexicon of over 5000 Chinese artists born between 1880 and 1980, documenting the history of the country’s modern and contemporary art. The lexicon, discovered on Van Dijk’s computer, is a groundbreaking document, one that he spent decades compiling, and one that details the exhibition and publication history of virtually every influential Chinese artist of the twentieth century.

Exhibition curator Marianne Brouwer notes: “There has been a longstanding awareness of Hans van Dijk’s importance to the art scene in China—as a curator and a dealer, creating relations between art in China and the Western art system, particularly in the early nineties. Finding the lexicon has decisively changed the way in which we must consider his legacy. In this exhibition, we are showing a digital version that Hans created, though he also designed a book he meant to publish in print form. We are now well on our way to setting up a foundation to maintain his legacy, and one of our first concerns is to research and unpack the lexicon but also to see through the possibilities of having it published.”

As a result of the Van Dijk exhibition and in an extension to the program, Witte de With will enable the establishment of a foundation committed to the research of art in China, dedicated to the legacy of Hans van Dijk. “The foundation will provide an effective means of giving back, while creating a more meaningful and enduring connection with the program,” explains Ayas.