The Dutch philanthropist continues his sponsorship with a donation of EUR 50,000 to a prize for young talent awarded by the MACBA.
ROBERTA BOSCO, EL PAÍS, 17-12-2012
Han Nefkens (Rotterdam, 1954) says that he has been living on borrowed time since 1987. For that reason, he wishes to share it with others and, over the five years he has lived in Barcelona, he has become one of the most prominent patrons in the city. Since the time, 25 years ago, when he was a journalist in Mexico, that he discovered that he had contracted AIDS, he has been aware that his life hangs in the balance. Indeed, all the more so since 2001, when HIV attacked his brain and left him unable to speak, write, read or walk for two years. “I am lucky enough to have always been able to count on the very best medical care, but art has helped me through some very difficult times. The crisis has made some people think of culture as a luxury, a frivolous and unnecessary extra. That is a mistake. What would become of a people without its culture? It is the very essence of the human being, it shows us who we really are and the ties that bind us,” he says.
Tomorrow, the name of the winner of the first international award for young talent, which he is organising with the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), will be announced. The role of this prize goes far beyond the mere award of EUR 50,000, a generous sum even in other times. “I am lucky enough to be able to write, and that is why I would rather offer somebody the opportunity to create, rather than buy something that is already complete,” said Nefkens, who has written three books, all autobiographical in nature. The first two in Dutch; the third, Tiempo prestado (Borrowed Time), was published in Spanish in 2009. His awards are all in the form of grants and provide support to the award winner, from the conception of the work until it is disseminated. In addition to this award, he organises, in the Netherlands, a prize for young fashion designers and, in Spain, an award for audio-visual creators and up-and-coming writers. “I have a network of talent scouts in a many countries who keep me up to date with creative talents. The finalists emerge from their list and the winner is chosen by a jury.”
Nor is he just an ordinary collector. He is passionate about art, and even more so about displaying it, which is why practically all of the 450 works in the H+F Collection (named after him and his Mexican husband, Felipe) hang on the walls of different museums throughout the world, including the MACBA. He manages all this through his two foundations. ArtAids, which he set up in the Netherlands in 2006 and two years later in Spain, helps him use art and culture to combat AIDS. It has already produced some 150 works on this theme. “The biggest obstacle to prevention is still the fear of being stigmatised, socially excluded and morally condemned. Art is one of the most effective ways of speaking about what we fear and showing what we do not wish to see,” he says.
However, he set up the foundation that bears his name to interact with Catalan institutions. “There is a good artistic infrastructure in Barcelona and when I arrived here everything was thriving. Things are different now, but that does not mean that new opportunities will not arise. The MACBA shows that a tradition of public-private partnership already exists in Catalonia, and all we have to do is re-energise it. That requires a sponsorship law to regulate taxation and to grant fair social recognition to sponsors,” said Nefkens, pointing out that you do not need to be a millionaire to be a sponsor. He is tireless in his efforts. In February, he is to present the Lawrence Weiner installation that he is gifting to Barcelona, a sculpture with typical German typography where you can sit and socialise. It will go to the Mercat de Santa Catarina. In October, he is to inaugurate both a photographic exhibition by Anna Scheidegger at the MACBA to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the discovery of HIV and the International AIDS Vaccine Conference, which will be held in Barcelona. And in December he will launch a new collaboration with the Virreina Centre de la Imatge, with an exhibition by Dutch artist Gerald Van der Kaap.