Writer, journalist and a prominent art collector over the past ten years, Han Nefkens likes to create networks, to establish partnerships with museums and galleries. He dislikes the term patron, which he considers too patriarchal. He functions as a link, facilitating projects that would not otherwise have come to fruition. The art collection he began in 2000 is emphatically public property. Nefkens is the broker between art and the public.
Han Nefkens (1954) studied journalism in France and the United States and worked for many years as a radio correspondent in Mexico. His life changed in 1987 when he was diagnosed HIV positive. He threw himself into his real passion: literature. The first offering was Bloedverwanten (Blood Brothers), a novel about two HIV-positive brothers. The dormant virus then began to play an active role. In 2001 the virus caused a life-threatening neurological infection, leading to loss of several functions. He overcame his disabilities: learned to walk and eat again and to speak, read and write. In 2008 he wrote about this period in his book De gevlogen vogel (The Bird Has Flown); the title of the anthology on his website also speaks volumes: Borrowed Time. He is indebted to the virus, which on the one hand limits him, but on the other enriches him with the realisation that he must do as much as possible in the here and now and not put things off until tomorrow. As he has said himself: ‘I know that later does not exist, that only now is real. In that respect I’m one up on other people.’
Nefkens is lucky enough to have inherited wealth. (1) Until 1999 he spread the income from his fortune across various investments, but when the stock market plummeted that year a friend suggested he use his money to collect art. Before taking his first steps in this direction, he did thorough research into the developments in contemporary visual arts. At the 2000 Basel art fair he was ready, but rather than restricting himself to a single first purchase he spent his entire sum he had budgeted for five years. This was the birth of the H+F Collection (the letters H and F stand for Han and his partner Felipe). Initially the aim was to strengthen the collection of the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, whose then director Sjarel Ex was with him in Basel that day. Later Nefkens acquired works for other public institutions including the De Pont Foundation in Tilburg, Huis Marseille in Amsterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam and foreign institutions such as FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais in Dunkirk and the CRAC Alsace in Altkirch (both in France), the Reykjavik Museum (Iceland) and Museum Folkwang in Essen (Germany).
Nearly all the works in the H+F Collection are given (directly) on long-term loan to the institution whose collection they best complement. Nefkens has more than one work by most of the artists he collects. It is one of his criteria: he must be interested in more than one work by a particular artist. Other criteria are form (a lot of photography or photography-related work) and content (peaceful, contemplative images and that do not give up their message quickly). A common thread running through the collection is tranquillity and the capturing of meaningful moments in time. Alongside photography another important focus in the collection is objects that occupy the middle ground between art and fashion: clothing for the museum. Nefkens has an internationally oriented acquisitions policy; Dutch artists such as Gerco de Ruijter and Edwin Zwakman are well represented in his collection, but he collects the work of artists from all over the world. For a period while he was in recovery Nefkens was unable to connect words and images. In that respect art is consoling: the message is distilled into a single image.
Over the past few years Nefkens has rapidly developed from a collector into an initiator of varied partnerships with museums. In addition to H+F Collection, from which so many people benefit, he has also established H+F Patronage (an exclusive partnership with Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in which a select group of artists are supported through acquisitions and exhibitions), H+F Fashion on the Edge (design on the borders of fashion and art, in partnership with the Centraal Museum from 2005 to 2010 and with Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen from 2010 to 2015) and the H+F Curatorial Grant (enabling a participant of the Curatorial Programme of De Appel Arts Centre to curate an exhibition at FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais). He is also the founder of ArtAids (art against AIDS): ‘art helps’. This foundation makes people aware of the inequality in fighting the disease between the prosperous West and the developing world, and raises funds to fight this inequality. Han Nefkens cannot and will not sit still. He must do good.
Author: Frank van der Ploeg
(1) For Nefkens’ development as a collector see: Alex de Vries, ‘Vulnerability as Strength. Moments That Don’t Slip Away’ in: The Suspended Moment, 2005, ISBN 2 911660 11 0, the catalogue of the eponymous travelling exhibition. The text can also be found at www.hfcollection.org.