This year, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is taking visitors on a journey through the world of haute couture, with the help of arts patron Han Nefkens.
He is one of the most ambitious patrons of contemporary art and fashion in Europe. A video installation by Pipilotti Rist and a silver-plated dress by Viktor & Rolf were among his first purchases. Last year, he bought half of the creations from the famous designer duo's acclaimed autumn/winter collection before they had even been shown on the catwalk. Immediately after purchasing the ten sculptural dresses, coats and capes, art lover Han Nefkens donated them to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. The outfits, which are based on the well-known Japanese Zen gardens in Kyoto, will be given a prominent place in the 'The Future of Fashion is Now' exhibition in October, among the work of other leading international designers such as Hussein Chalayan from Cyprus and Rejina Pyo from Korea. Nefkens took the initiative to create this exhibition, together with fashion expert José Teunissen. Nefkens does not buy his artworks as an investment, but in order to share them. “Giving is one of the most underestimated values in our society. It provides such a sense of satisfaction,” says Nefkens from his current home, Barcelona. “If only people knew how much fun it is to be a patron of the arts, supporting artists and fashion designers and being involved in special museum projects.” Sharing is, he feels, the antidote to loneliness. “As a little boy, I loved people, but I just wasn't able to reach them. Through fashion and art, I found a way to do that. I make the works I buy available to museums on loan, and after my death, they will become a permanent part of their collections.” His only condition is that the museums put the Nefkens collection on show once every five years.
Sjarel Ex, director of the Boijmans Museum, considers himself lucky to have as generous a donor as Nefkens. In addition to haute couture, the museum receives hundreds of thousands of euros worth of contemporary art every year, which is purchased in consultation with them. But Ex wants more: he is looking for art lovers, who, like Nefkens, also want to invest in young fashion talent. “Textile manufacturers are barely investing in innovation, if at all. And famous designers of the calibre of Viktor & Rolf or Hussein Chalayan don't always have the financial means to realise new, groundbreaking ideas – even though every entrepreneur is aware of the importance of research and development,” says Ex. He has compiled a list of textile companies and suppliers who need to be convinced that investing in young talent is necessary for the future of the Dutch fashion industry. In cooperation with Nefkens, the energetic Ex is also hoping to enthuse new sponsors and arts patrons about the 'Future of Fashion is Now' exhibition project which, in addition to featuring work by leading figures from the fashion world, also showcases work by six young, as yet unknown, designers. Nefkens and Ex agree on one thing: arts patronage demands a tailor-made approach, and can be applied in many different ways. The Boijmans, for example, recently established a foundation which hopes to build up capital of at least 25 million euros, and, through usufruct, intends to use it to make necessary investments in the building and the museum's collection.
For a long time, Nefkens operated from the shadows, but in the past few years, he has emerged from anonymity to demonstrate that individuals can play an important role in supporting the arts. “To achieve something substantial, you have to go out into the world and let people know what you stand for.” Since 2001, he has been involved with the Boijmans in a number of ways. For example, in 2005, the H+F Mecenaat (H+F Patronage) was established – an exclusive partnership with the museum, with the goal of encouraging and promoting art and artists. In 2010, this partnership resulted in a second initiative. Under the name Han Nefkens Fashion on the Edge, this foundation focuses on encouraging experimental developments in the fashion world. In addition to these projects, Nefkens also created the ArtAids Foundation. Being HIV-positive himself, he knows from experience that art and the battle against aids can go hand in hand.