The town hall as home for SCHUNCK's art collection

7 Sep 2023

On the occasion of the (re)opening of the town hall in Heerlen, SCHUNCK has been displaying a collection presentation in the main hall since the end of August, under the title 'The collection from then to now to ever'. Virginia Hameleers, curator at SCHUNCK, explains this initiative.  

Tell us, why this exhibition?

The exhibition takes place in honour of the opening of the new town hall and municipal offices. Our collection is on display in the main hall of the town hall , in keeping with tradition. Because since 1945, the main hall of the town hall, designed by architect Frits Peutz, has been designated as a place for works of art from the collection and temporary exhibitions. We owe this to mayor Van Grunsven, who chose this at the time with chef de cabinet Pieter Defesche and with the advice of Willem Sandberg (then director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam). They wanted to give the public the widest possible view of what was happening in the field of visual art. The exhibitions provided food for thought, mental stimulation ánd they kept the discussion about art and life going. To this day, the collection can be seen in the main hall of the town hall.

Does the exhibition have a particular theme?

No, it is a cross-section of the collection. We owe a lot to Marcel van Grunsven, the mayor who put cultural Heerlen on the map, and his cabinet chief Defesche. They were behind the collection, which is made up of Amsterdam Limburgers and CoBrA. With the exhibition, we reflect on the genesis of the collection, because without this good, qualitative start, the collection as it is today would not have been possible. That basis made it possible, for example, to purchase a work by Marlene Dumas, or to realise a long-term loan of a work by René Daniëls - which is now on display in the town hall. So while that start of the collection set the tone, and was very important, we don't just want to show what was there before, but especially what is there now. That is why the exhibition mainly focuses on the development of the collection over the years: on regional artists, on young talent, on artists with a national and sometimes international reputation.

Which works are extra special?

The very first acquisition (1954) for the collection - Playing children by Ger Lataster - is permanently back in the town hall. The work hangs on the wall to the left of the council chamber on the upper floor. It also previously hung in the town hall, but it was away for a while for restoration. Now it can be admired again in its full glory. This work was an unusual and bold choice for a first purchase, because at that time - especially in Limburg - figurative art was popular. It was the art everyone knew and liked. People understood it. Children playing was different. On the large canvas, painted in Lataster's abstract-expressionist style, the recognisable representation is completely absent. So the purchase had quite a lot to it.

The purchase of this painting marked the start of the collection and also started the tradition of innovation in the collection, which is still continued to this day. Also special to mention is a work we acquired with our cooperation partner Stedelijk Museum Schiedam: Patriarchy is History by Israeli artist Yael Bartana. Her significant and important message will shine in blue neon on the upper floor of the main hall of the town hall for the next few months.

What else is on show?

Besides Lataster's painting, the exhibition also features work by regional artists Pieter Defesche - the painter, not the cabinet member - and Jef Diederen. Together with Lei Molin and Frans Nols, among others, the three artists belonged to the so-called Amsterdam Limburgers, a group of Limburg artists who left for Amsterdam after World War II to develop their own style. This group of artists - together with works by CoBrA artists - forms the basis of the Heerlen art collection.

A total of 16 works are on display, including works by regional artists such as Hadassah Emmerich, Romy Finke, Tanja Ritterbex, Keetje Mans and Vera Gulikers. Of course, more recent work is also among them. These include Tampan Natural System of Souls by Jennifer Tee, which we acquired together with the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam last year, Your Mother by David Bade and two canvases by Dan Zhu. The latter works, by the way, hang in the wedding hall. Because that room may also serve as the backdrop for this collection presentation.

What is meant by 'someday' in the title of the exhibition?

We continue to look ahead and work to deepen and renew this Heerlen collection that we can all be proud of. Sixteen works naturally show only a very small part of the collection. Therefore, we are happy that the collection will be even more visible in the city from the end of November, when it will be on display in the new Art Depot and Atrium in SCHUNCK. In changing presentations, works that normally spend most of their time in the closed depot will become accessible to the public. From then on, the Aad de Haas gallery will also show exhibitions around the work of the artist, who plays an important role in the collection.

The exhibition will be on display at least until February, and can be visited during office hours. Visitors can report to the desk at Geleenstraat 25.