Every Activity Takes Jewellery Out Into the World and Brings New People Into the Gallery. Interview with Marie-José van den Hout from Galerie Marzee

Published: 20.08.2019
Marie-José van den Hout Marie-José van den Hout
Carolin Denter
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The new series by Klimt02 offers space for questions, ideas, and discussions about galleries, artists and the current jewellery market. This is the first interview in a series of 12 interviews with gallerists and art dealers from around the world. It begins with Marie-José van den Hout, one of the most experienced and innovative gallerists of the jewellery world, and founder of Galerie Marzee. The gallery is dedicated to artists with an independent spirit that has blossomed outside the manufacturing context, creating work that is meaningful, poetic and original. The creations move along the sidelines, light years away from conformist ‘classical’ or ‘luxury’ jewellery.

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You are running, it’s said, the biggest independent gallery for contemporary jewellery in Europe (even worldwide) and you have been passionate about jewellery for over 40 years. So, running a gallery, what does it mean to you?
It means everything. There are generations of ecclesiastical gold- and silversmiths in my family and I myself worked in my father’s workshop before studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Maastricht. By the time I opened Galerie Marzee in 1979 you could say I had gold in my veins!
Galerie Marzee has been in its current location for nearly 25 years now. I work in this extraordinary building, I live in a beautiful apartment on the top floor and two of my children work here with me in the gallery, so it really is my life, my work and my passion. Running a gallery is not for the faint-hearted. It’s like an addiction; exhilarating, inspiring and challenging. It’s also immensely fulfilling, and this has sustained me and ensured that the gallery has grown and developed over the last 40 years. But let’s be realistic, as with any addiction, alongside the highs come the lows. The job is incredibly hard work, and it never stops, so you have to love it. Really love it. I suppose I’ll be like gallerists all over the world who only stop with their last breath.

The modern building of Galerie Marzee in Nijmegen, Netherlands

Even though you are one of the most experienced gallerists for contemporary jewellery, are there still challenging moments for you? What major successes and challenges have you had this year?
Galerie Marzee is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and that is the most powerful demonstration of success I can think of. Over the years I have dedicated myself to growing the international reputation and stature of the gallery, our artists and young graduates emerging into the field. That we have continued to expand and extend our reach is, I think, a fantastic reflection of the progress of this kind of jewellery but we all – gallerists, artists, collectors, wearers of jewellery – need to make sure this momentum continues.
As ever, this year is a busy one for me. Alongside Marzee’s anniversary and our exhibition programme, I have been invited to work on a number of other projects, including acting as Gallerist of the Year at RISD in the US and curator of the Art Room for the third edition of the magnificent Museo del Gioiello in Vicenza in Italy. For this exhibition I have selected only gold pieces from the Marzee Collection, and I think it makes a very strong and beautiful statement about the possibilities of gold as a material.
The challenges are always the same for galleries and we have to work hard to build and sustain a buying audience, especially in these times of political and economic uncertainty.
  • We have to work hard to build and sustain a buying audience, especially in these times of political and economic uncertainty.

What are the values of your gallery in the professional market and what kind of values do you look for in the jewellery artists you represent?
I want to work with artists who share my values; people with great passion, creativity and curiosity. People who are committed to producing work with a strong, authentic and personal voice. And I work only with artists who have studied jewellery at higher education level, be that at a school, academy or university. This strong educational foundation is very important for me.

Many galleries curate their artists with a specific vision in mind. Your gallery has 4 floors, representing not only experienced artists, but also you are one of the few “big” galleries that support recently graduated and younger artists. What is the idea behind your selection of artists?
Whether established or emerging, I look for work by artists that has life and love in it. Work that is clever, with an idea or concept behind it, and work that has feeling, with depth and consideration. I want to see technical skill, material expertise, innovation and creative excellence. And I want to see hands at work – the craftsmanship of the goldsmith.

  • I want to see technical skill, material expertise, innovation and creative excellence. And I want to see hands at work – the craftsmanship of the goldsmith.

A gallery typically has one monthly exhibition that is promoted with print advertisements, direct phone calls to collectors and the press, as well as hosting the art opening. Galleries such as yours have become like a “brand” that represents a particular point of view. We would like to know more about your marketing strategies and how you are able to attract attention from customers, collectors and artists?
Like most galleries, we find that our presence at the big international fairs, such as Collect and Schmuck, plays an incredibly important role in the commercial life of Galerie Marzee. They’re a great opportunity for us to deepen relationships with our existing collectors as well as garner interest from new and prospective clients. The breadth and quality of work on show draws visitors, including private collectors and museum curators, from all over the world so immediately exposes our artists to an audience that may not otherwise ­have the opportunity to see their work in the gallery setting.
We also take the work of our artists to towns and cities across the Netherlands through our Jewellery: The Choice of series - an ongoing project that I put together to involve and excite local people about art jewellery, something most of them have probably never come across before. We started in Amersfoort in 1997 and for each edition, we invite 25 local people to the gallery to choose a piece of jewellery from the Marzee Collection. They are then photographed wearing the piece and asked to say a little bit about why they chose it. The portraits, interviews, and the pieces of jewellery are then displayed in their local museum, and we also publish an accompanying book. It’s wonderful to see how captivated everyone becomes - I call them my ambassadors for contemporary jewellery!
Our Marzee for Starters series of more affordable pieces has also proved to be a great way to introduce people to the idea of collecting. And of course, there’s our Marzee magazine, which you can subscribe to, if you want to learn more about our exhibitions and artists.

  • We find that our presence at the big international fairs, such as Collect and Schmuck, plays an incredibly important role in the commercial life of Galerie Marzee.

Regarding the marketing aspects of running a gallery, what do you think is the most important part for your gallery?
I view everything that we do to promote the gallery with equal importance. It’s all part of the puzzle that together presents a cohesive picture to each of our audiences – collectors, curators, students, wearers, viewers. From organising exhibitions in the gallery and curating shows all over the world, to participating in fairs, publishing books and magazines and giving interviews and speaking at international events; every activity takes jewellery out into the world and brings new people into the gallery.

Artists typically receive payment for their work when it is purchased, with a percentage taken out by the gallery. If, as a gallerist, you think there should be changes, what are they? How do you see the future of this model?
This is how we pay our artists at Galerie Marzee, and I’m sure this is the most common payment structure in our business. The margins for galleries are so tight that we really can’t afford to change the model and I don’t see this changing any time soon. Of course, in an ideal world it would be nice to be in a position to pay artists upfront, but a gallery is an expensive business to run and gallerists also need to earn, especially those who, like me, operate completely independently, without state support.

Galerie Marzee Graduate Show display

What is your opinion of the price of the jewellery you sell? Would you like something to change?
I think young people often have unrealistic expectations about the prices they can charge for their work. This is a problem we see time and again at the Marzee Graduate Show and we try to educate them about this. Unfortunately, when you are starting out it’s just not possible to factor in all the research time, or the weeks spent experimenting and developing an idea. It is hard for us to sell established names with high prices so they need to be pragmatic. They also need to price their work so that it can appreciate in value sensibly over their career as they build a name for themselves.

Inner view of the ground floor of Galerie Marzee in Nijmegen, Netherlands

Besides selling pieces, how do you see the role of the gallerist in the artist-gallery relationship? What do you think is missing at the moment and what do you think should cease to exist if anything?
The gallerist-artist relationship is often rather familial. This I think comes because the nature of our business is quite personal and intimate. A good relationship sells so it’s important that there is a rapport, connection and good communication. Perhaps we should be more business-like but I’m not sure that will happen.

Galleries are not the only source of contemporary jewellery. Beyond online shops, some artists sell their own work, and go to fairs and markets themselves. Sometimes an artist might sell their work below the gallery price. How do you see the artists you represent as competitors in your field?
I don’t see my artists as competitors. I think exclusive representation works very well. I wouldn’t work with an artist if they also represented themselves at fairs as it totally undermines our business as galleries, and the nature of the relationship we have agreed upon. I am very clear with my artists about this.

About the Interviewee

Growing up in a family of revered ecclesiastical gold- and silversmiths Marie-José van den Hout, Director of Galerie Marzee, was captivated by the baroque craftsmanship of her grandfather. Alongside two of her brothers, she worked in her father’s workshop before studying gold- and silversmithing and then fine art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Maastricht. She established Galerie Marzee in Nijmegen (NL) in 1978 and today it is the largest independent art jewellery gallery in the world.
Marie-José van den Hout is a prominent advocate for young jewellery artists, bringing their work to an international audience through Galerie Marzee, and has curated exhibitions in museums and galleries all over the world.

About the author

Carolin Denter completed her training as Goldsmith at Master School for Craftsmen in Kaiserslautern in 2013. In 2015 she made an Internship at Klimt02, where she is working since 2016. In 2017 she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Gemstone and Jewellery at University of Applied Science Trier, Campus Idar-Oberstein. After her graduation, she started working part-time as Marketing and Design management Assistance at Campus Idar-Oberstein in the Gemstone and Jewellery Departement.