photo: Rick Messemaker

Marjolijn van den Assem

Interview with Marjolijn van den Assem by Ove Lucas

Uit: Artists do not retire. 48 Rotterdam visual artists
publishing house Duo / Duo

If it ever happens, you will be amazed by what you know.

 

Cycling along the Schaardijk along the Nieuwe Maas is a beautiful journey to the studio of Marjolijn van den Assem, which, together with her husband's house and architectural office, is located in a barely conspicuous sleek box above the river. Once inside I am surrounded by beautiful vistas and special works of art. On the built-in bridge to her workspace, Van den Assem draws my attention to a beautiful small painting. She painted it when she was 11 years old. It is the beginning of a conversation that takes us from misunderstood desires via Friedrich Nietzsche to one twig.

Marjolijn van den Assem (Rotterdam, 1947) has been at the forefront of Dutch drawing for decades. Her work can be seen in many places at home and abroad and is also included in many collections. As is often the case, however, this was not without a struggle. “In my youth I was extremely shy for a while and felt misunderstood. I identified with artists and poets, but found no resonance with my environment. My father had his own business and so his ideas about the future of his children. Of course, an artistry did not fit in at all, at most as a fun hobby. I went back to Rotterdam from Emmen, where I moved with my parents at a young age, to do the Academy there. In the end I didn't finish because I was pregnant with our daughter and suddenly felt ten years older than the rest of my academy class ”.

Van den Assem can hardly remember anything of the earliest years as a professional artist (“I think you are born as an artist!”). “That is a blind spot. I do remember that I had an exhibition at Albert Waalkens in Finsterwolde (1978) and in the Groninger Museum (1981, 6 Dutch artists in the Mohr-Mathon collection). At that time, an article by Hans Vogels appeared in the Volkskrant about fundamental drawing. "That's when I realized I was being seen."

A decisive event in her artistic career Van den Assem calls the meeting with Josine de Bruyn Kops (1940-1987), who was director of Museum Gouda from 1976-1986. “The meeting with her and later also with Liesbeth Brandt Corstius, their support and encouragement have been very important to me. My way of working was very monomaniacal and withdrawn, it was my way of survival. De Bruyn Kops and Brandt Corstius gave me solo exhibitions in their museums in Gouda and Arnhem because they felt that my work should be seen in the outside world, they thought that could also be encouraging for other female artists! ”

At that time, Van den Assem was already working on work that arose from her intense interest in the work of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. “I fought for Nietzsche's work and gained a lot of self-confidence from it. But I didn't tell anyone about that, because that was not a job for me, but an inevitability, the only way to get my brain going.
From the artist John van 't Slot I received a not yet opened copy of Ecce Homo, which I myself cut open page by page and 'conquered', it became my favorite Nietzsche book.

After that, I started reading Nietzsche's entire oeuvre and many interpretations of it in a very disciplined way, even if I sometimes didn't understand much of it at the time. However, a good friend and guide, who was important to me at the time, said: If it ever comes up, you will be amazed at what you know. "

Marjolijn van den Assem thus discovered Nietzsche around her thirtieth birthday and began to trace the journeys he made and to visit the places where he worked. A few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, while traveling through eastern Germany, she arrived in Naumburg (an der Saale), a town in a deplorable state. A note was attached to the derelict Nietzsche-Haus stating that a Nietzsche Gesellschaft would be established, including the address of the founders. “When I got home, I wrote a note that I would like to become a member and I added the German marks that we had left from our holiday as a deposit. Never heard anything again, until about ten years later I received a pass as member.
Years later I received a call from Paul van Tongeren (Nietzsche Research Group, Nijmegen) who had been asked by the director of the Nietzsche Dokumentationszentrum Naumburg to mediate for a solo exhibition there.

As it turns out, you will be given space, but nothing else is being arranged, no transport, no jetty, no assistance, no fee. You really see that more and more, also in museums, everyone is paid, except the artist. The artist is often screwed, the child of the bill. Unfortunately, you cannot live off your artistry, despite regular good sales and stipends.

 

I jumped in the air! I was more or less instructed to make a work especially for a space of six meters high. But I rarely do commissioned work, it does not suit my working method. Fortunately, Jisca Bijlsma (now director of the Chabot Museum, Rotterdam) knew my curator for this exhibition Seelenbriefe, to convince me that I could do it in this particular case. I then retired to my studio and made a work that eventually gained a place of honor next to the bust of Nietzsche, which I am still extremely proud of. I made small drawings on a roll of ten meters, which slowly became more and more spatial, in the end they literally crawled out of that roll. ”

Van den Assem leads me through her studio and tells about an exhibition that she is currently working on, Big Art in the Bijlmerbajes (2018). She wants to show the monumental work she showed in Naumburg there in a gym, but while she talks about it, her irritation increases. “I feel more and more called upon to protect my profession. As it turns out, you will be given space, but nothing else is being arranged, no transport, no jetty, no assistance, no fee. You really see that more and more, also in museums, everyone is paid, except the artist. The artist is often screwed, the child of the bill. Unfortunately, you cannot live off your artistry, despite regular good sales and stipends.
Fortunately, I still have my 'work of the month', my own materials fund on my blog, with which I can use the proceeds to buy materials from Harolds every month. Marjolijn is commercial, colleagues say, yes, fortunately, because that means I can continue to work and do not have to take out loans that I have to pay back later. ”

Marjolijn van den Assem has learned to use her voice. For example, she is one of the few of her generation who is very active on social networks and has her own blog on which she regularly posts and shares her views. “As an artist you have to have character to survive in life. Many people say that I am so nice and cooperative, but in the meantime I am one through all the experiences twig become when necessary. So in the end I became an adult. ”

 

Publication date: 29 / 11 / 2019