‘These Artists Need Us Most’: Dutch Collector Han Nefkens Explains Why He Became a Patron of Fashion and Video Art

Han Nefkens is putting his weight behind Dutch designers Viktor&Rolf, and funding work in the upcoming Manifesta.

Viktor&Rolf Look 33, The Fashion Show Collection. (Autumn / Winter 2007-2008). Photography Peter Stigter.

Dutch philanthropist and activist Han Nefkens has announced a major donation today of eight pieces of haute couture from the Dutch fashion house Viktor&Rolf. The works will join previous gifts from Nefkens at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. The large gift marks a milestone in an ongoing collaborative relationship between the collector and the Dutch institution, who have been collaborating since 2001, as the museum now solidifies itself as the foremost collection of Viktor&Rolf pieces in Netherlands.

I think they are a part not only of the Dutch cultural heritage but of the global cultural heritage,” says Nefkens of the designers. “That’s why it’s so important for me that their works remain in a museum to be seen by future generations. They need to be able to see how Victor&Rolf looked at our times.”

The former art collector, who boasts a collection of some 400 to 500 pieces (10 to 15 percent of it fashion), was first introduced to the designers’ work back in 2006 when he saw their Silver Collection—a season that featured fanned-out dresses with details of the garments dipped in silver.

“That was actually the first time that I saw that clothing could be more than just something nice to wear, and that there was an idea behind it,” he says.

When Nefkens learned, to his surprise, about the financial constraints that bind even the most preeminent couture designers when it comes to producing pieces that are essentially noncommercial (and sometimes unwearable), he decided to help finance Viktor&Rolf’s production. The fashion house and Nefkens now work closely together.

Viktor&Rolf Fabiana, The Silver Collection (Autumn-Winter 2006-2007). Photography Peter Stigter

The brand was founded by Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren and, for the past 25 years, the avant-garde and conceptually driven duo has been at the cutting edge of challenging the boundary between fashion and art. Their surreal Spring/Summer 2015 collection, “Van Gogh Girls,” sought to capture the energy of the Dutch painter’s floral landscapes.

In Fall/Winter 2014, the fashion world was floored by their monumental return to haute couture after a 12-year hiatus with the collection “Zen Garden.” It was more of a performative installation than a runway show, featuring serenely positioned, makeup-free models donning black dresses and striking meditative poses. Nefkens acquired 10 of the garments.

Nefkens’s collector’s eye does wander. More recently, he has also taken to commissioning works from emerging and midcareer video artists from around the world. He works actively in the production of specific projects by artists, like the Turkish-born Erkan Özgen’s Purple Muslin, which will be presented at the Manifesta art festival in Palermo next month.

He finds that time-based media is another creative field that, like the fashion world, needs sustained support from active and interested collectors to help get ideas off the ground. “These artists need us most,” he says. “I think I’ve also shifted towards the two because of the thrill of being involved in something totally new, where you might not know for certain what will come out of it.”

His monumental donation was bolstered by an additional surprise announcement, one that even the Museum Boijmans’s director Sjarel Ex did not know was coming: Nefkens bequeathed €300,000 ($350,000) to the Dutch institution.

Six of the pieces are currently on view at the “Viktor&Rolf: Fashion Artists” retrospective in Rotterdam’s Kunsthal nearby. The eight will join the other 11 Nefkens previously gave to the collection, in addition to five that the museum purchased with his foundation’s support.

Asked about his favorite piece from the donation, Nefkens admits it’s hard to say: “It’s a little bit like when you ask a parent which of their children they like most. In this case, I have 21.”

See the Viktor&Rolf pieces from Han Nefkens’s donation below.

Viktor&Rolf Irina, Shirt Symphony Collection (Spring-Summer 2011). Photography Peter Stigter.

Viktor&Rolf Look 28, The Coral Dress, Cutting Edge Couture (Spring-Summer 2010). Photography Peter Stigter.

Viktor&Rolf Look 46 B, Bedtime Story Collection. (Autumn/Winter 2005-2006). Photography Peter Stigter.

Viktor&Rolf The DREAM ON (Look 10), NO collectie (Autumn-Winter 2008-2009). Photography Peter Stigter.

Viktor&Rolf Look 19 (Autumn-Winter 2014). Photography Peter Stigter.


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