Interview Zoë Schoonbrood & Bryan Claessen
"Learning to look through new eyes"
When you think about it, it is really extraordinary. Over the past five years more than three hundred young artists from sixty countries have, together, created an extensive art collection. Over fifteen hundred works of art are located in a surprising, but above all fitting environment in the Belgian Neerharen-‑Lanaken. So far, the global art center GLO’ART could only be visited by invitation. A spectacular opening on 20 June will change that, when interested parties will have free access to the center for four days. Of course, reaching so many artists does not just happen by itself. There is a hardworking and passionate team behind this. Zoë Schoonbrood (34) and Bryan Claessen (41) are sharing their story.
Zoë: "After obtaining my arts degree in Antwerp, I worked in arts education for five years. I was indirectly introduced to Willy Gilissen, a passionate entrepreneur who wanted to build a Valhalla of art. However, he urgently needed help from someone with an arts background. I rang at his door, he told me his story, we had a coffee together and he shook my hand. I started the next day, on 1 April 2012. That was seven years ago."
In 2012 there was still a lot to be done. At that time only a few other employees were involved in GLO'ART. Jochen Deluyker took care of the conversion of the domain, along with Willy Gilissen and a team of workmen. Old warehouses and a barn were transformed into useful buildings that would serve as office space, studios and exhibition areas. The first artists arrived in November 2013, but in the months before that, Zoë visited countless universities and art academies all over Europe to promote GLO'ART and to find suitable candidate artists. Thus the project gradually got under way and Zoë was involved in designing and streamlining GLO'ART's mission and vision.
For twelve years Bryan worked for a leading company in home entertainment and music carriers in the Netherlands, but in addition he was also passionate about painting. Via mutual friends he met Zoë, who invited him to come to GLO’ART to paint. The aim was to test the working space, to see if everything was functioning well and whether an artist would feel good there. This was before any artists were invited. Bryan: "At a later stage I was invited by Willy to participate in a trial, and for two months I created my own art there. At that time only two groups of artists had been invited to the global art center, so I was part of one of the first groups. At the end of my trial period, Willy asked if I wanted to stay and work for GLO'ART."
Point of contact for the artists
Both Zoë and Bryan are a first point of contact for the artists. For example, Zoë is in frequent touch with artists in the first phase, when they register for the GLO'ART programme and when the selection process takes place. Bryan, among others, coaches artists during their stay at GLO'ART. He provides them with the required materials, and together they discuss the nature of the various art projects. Setting up the various exposition areas is also one of his tasks. Both Zoë and Bryan are closely involved in the selection procedure, which is not only aimed at selecting the most interesting artists, but is also meant to put together a complementary group, since the artists will be living under the same roof for a full month.
It is definitely an interesting job they have at GLO'ART. Bryan and Zoë get to meet many new artists from all over the world, whom, when opportunity arises, they also visit from time to time. "We continue to follow our artists when they go back home or to a different place,” says Zoë. "As such, it can occur that we get invited for an exposition in Spain or Russia and that the later work of one of our former GLO'ART artists will end up in a prestigious museum."
The challenges in the world of art
Since they are artists themselves, Zoë and Bryan have a strong affinity with the experience of the artists that are invited to GLO'ART. "We know all the artists and all of the artwork they create here," Bryan explains. Zoë confirms what Bryan says, and adds that throughout the years she has learned to look through new eyes at art and how one can experience and create art. "A finished arts education or Masters is not definitive for our selection criteria," she says. "
A diploma may well be proof that someone is technically qualified, but the question remains what he or she does with it eventually. If an artist develops himself all on his own, that can also make a difference. If we look at the framework of arts education, it is important to offer all possible kinds of options. Reflection is important, but knowing what is out there, what people once thought, and how we "can" evolve is key to developing yourself. Even in case of a bad idea, it is important to continue to motivate and to say: "GO FOR IT". After all, you learn the most of your worst works. Give art students flowers, but please, also a lot of weeds. Bryan and I look through different eyes than Willy, for whom it is also important that an artwork will, one day, find its way to a buyer. What we have certainly learned here over the past years, is to look beyond our own taste in art. In addition, we try to create a balance between what can be commercially attractive, and what the artistic meaning of the art and the artist is."
Bryan: "The essence of art is hard to understand or to describe in only a few words. For many people it is also a mystery, what exactly is art? Being an artist myself, I experience that the rules of the game are constantly changing. In the years that I have been active in the world of art, I have learned that everyone has a different view on art. That is exactly what makes it interesting. For me, the essence of art is to let people experience beauty, to surprise and inspire them, and to unleash their imagination." Zoë summarizes it in a quote of Edgar Degas: "Art is not what you see, but what you make others see."
Uniting artistic and commercial values, or the incompatibility of art and commerce, it has been a recurring discussion in the art world for years. For GLO'ART as a global art center, which will only start selling art after the opening in June 2019, there is certainly an exciting challenge ahead.