By Akky van Ogtrop                     

 My time in the Netherlands

I was born and educated in the Netherlands in Bussum, the youngest in a family where the arts and especially music were very important.  My father was a musicologist, principal viola player and conductor and my mother a concert pianist. I grew up with two brothers and look back at a very happy childhood.

After finishing high school in Hilversum (8 km from Bussum, which meant a lot of cycling every day), I graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in ‘s-Hertogenbosch a city in the south of Holland, majoring in Graphic Design and Printmaking. The five years study was divided in 3 years general and two years specialization. I mainly focused on lithography, woodcut and engraving and graphic design. This is where and when my love for works art on paper started.

I finished my study and was faced with the real world. Earning enough money to live on as an emerging artist was nearly impossible and alternative work had to be found. I was very lucky to find employment in one of the major art galleries in Amsterdam; Gallery de Eendt and for the next four years I learned the ins and outs of managing a gallery and the art of curating and organising exhibitions of paintings, works of art on paper and sculpture by Dutch and international artists.  Also, during that time my interest in art fairs developed as the gallery participated regularly in art fairs such as: Basle Art Fair, Düsseldorf Art Fair, Art Cologne and KunstRAI Amsterdam.

Relocated to Melbourne

In 1973 I left for Australia and settled in Melbourne with my husband John (Joppie) The company he worked for in Holland sent him for initially four years to Australia.

I loved my job in Amsterdam, but a new adventure at the other side of the world was interesting and just for four years.

So, there we were in Melbourne. A city with at that time still some old-fashioned rules for women visiting pubs. But as so often happens in international jobs, within a year we were transferred, this time to Sydney. 

But that year in Melbourne did shape a bit of my future endeavors in the art world in Australia. Within a month after my arrival I had been asked by Auction House,  Mason & Green to try and set up an arts department. I think the only auctioneer who included art auctions at that time in Melbourne was Leonard Joel, founded by the late Leonard Joel in 1919.  Mason & Green wanted to diversify, include the arts and expand in that direction. Mason & Green specialized however in the sale of carpets so this was a bit of a challenge. They gave me a tiny broom closet as an office which I reached climbing over stacks of carpets.

In the Netherlands I regularly went to auctions as part of my gallery job. Art auctions in the Netherlands were well developed and most commercial galleries used this channel to sell works they had in stock for a while.

This was certainly not the case in Melbourne and for that matter in Australia. Which I soon realised when I set out to work following my expertise in Holland. I started with visiting galleries in Melbourne including the famous Joseph Brown Gallery, Crossley Gallery, Sweeney Reed Gallery, Warehouse Gallery and Tolarno Galleries 

But none of these galleries, except for Tolarno galleries with director George Mora, were interested in the auction ideas of a newly arrived Dutchie. No way: commercial galleries had their own method of selling old stock as I soon found out, they had yearly sales. In my experience sales were only held in department stores, certainly not in art galleries.

I persevered with the auction concept until we moved to Sydney. And of course, today art auctions are fashionable in Australia and around the world.

My career in Sydney

The first years of our stay in Sydney I looked, listened and learned a lot about Australian Art as I only knew artists such as Arthur Boyd, Sydney Nolan, Fred Williams and writer and printmaker Barbara Hanrahan.

I wanted to take up printmaking again, especially lithography but to my surprise it was impossible to find an open access workshop or art school with lithography facilities. It was only until much later, through artist and lecturer Rose Vickers who set up a studio/workshop in North Sydney, that I returned to making prints.

Another important event was the arrival of our first baby, son Floris.  I soon realized that small children and acids (used in printmaking) do not go very well together and not having any family in Sydney did not make it easy to find baby sitters and day-care was still very much in its infancy. I decided to return to my other interest: art history and curating art exhibitions.  

On my various visits to galleries in Sydney only one gallery was showing regularly international art: Stadia Graphics Gallery in Paddington one of the first and foremost galleries in Australia to specialise in Works on Paper. Stadia Graphics Gallery was founded by Stanislas de Hautecloque and his wife Diana in 1974. I became a regular visitor (with the kids) and we became friends.  

Stany needed curatorial assistance for a Picasso exhibition and asked me if I could help out.  By that time I had my second son Derk who was one year old. Keen to be involved in the arts again we were able to find a nanny for one day a week. As a result, I continued to work in the gallery on a more permanent base and managed Stadia Graphics Gallery, until we closed the gallery at the height of the art boom in 1988.

1989 turned out to be a very busy year as I finished my Masters Degree Fine Arts, at Sydney University, and graduated with a Thesis about Holland Dada combined with aDada exhibition in Sydney which later travelled in NSW.

 I established Akky van Ogtrop Fine Arts, specialising in Works of Art on Paper by 19th and 20th Century Masters, as well as contemporary Australian and international artists.

And in that same year I founded and established the International Master Print Fair.

Why start an art fair in Sydney?

Well, a few reasons, 1) there was no art fair in Australia as yet, 2) my passion about getting works of art on paper on the Australian art map.

It is amazing to think that the Sydney Art on Paper Fair was celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2005. Much changed in that time – not the least being the name of the Fair and the venue. At the beginning, in 1989, the International Master Print Fair and the inaugural Fair was held at the Hotel Inter-continental with nineteen participating galleries, including seven internationals.

 After three years, in 1991, I extended the Fair to include photography, watercolours, drawings and posters, and to make it a biennial event at a new venue – the Powerhouse Museum. I remember this as a great venue although accessibility was difficult. I was especially happy to have Garner Tullis the famous master printer from New York as one of the exhibitors. He was the founder of the International Institute of Experimental Printmaking, one in a succession of workshops which enabled him to collaborate with top artists like: Richard Diebenkorn, Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler, and Sean Scully.

In 1993 we moved the fair to the State Library of NSW on Macquarie Street, a “fantastic venue”, both for location and ambience. Lots of visitors, the galleries loved it and the Fair was a great success – which is probably why, after three Fairs there, it became clear that the library became too small.

In 1999 the Sydney Art on Paper Fair took place for the first time at the Byron Kennedy Hall in Moore Park and stayed there until 2005

By now the Fair had diversified even more, adding all kinds of ‘contextual’ activities and events, aimed principally at educating the public and, thereby, developing the audience and market for work on paper. Starting an emerging artists program FRESH,

printmaking demonstrations and floor talks. A day-long symposium with guest speakers from around the world included the director of the famous Sprengel Museum in Hannover and from the Netherlands: Hedwich Fijen, Director of Manifesta, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art.  

In 1996 I opened a small gallery in Glenmore Road, Paddington, showing Australian and International artists.  I continued to curate and participate in various national and international exhibitions and art fairs to introduce Australian art overseas in London; Cologne, Amsterdam and locally the Melbourne Art Fair and the Artists’ Book and Multiple Fair, Brisbane and brought international artists to Australia.

In 1999 I closed the gallery as I accepted a new job as Marketing and Public Programs Manager of the Biennale of Sydney and continued as the Manager International Cultural Relations until 2004.  A very exciting job and again I was fortunate to work with a fantastic team and artists from around the world.

The Biennale of Sydney 2000 broke from the tradition of a single artistic director. In a strategy designed to distinguish the event in a year crowded with activity, Nick Waterlow OAM was invited to chair a selection panel of six curators and museum specialists from around the globe: Fumio Nanjo (Tokyo), Louise Neri (New York), Hetti Perkins (Sydney), Sir Nicholas Serota (London), Robert Storr (New York) and Harald Szeemann (Zurich). The curatorial collective was tasked with selecting living artists whose work had had lasting impact and ‘challenged the status quo in the past 15 to 20 years.

The result saw senior artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter and Richard Serra joined by artists equally significant in their regions: among others, Cai Guo-Qiang, Mariko Mori and Xu Bing from Asia; Doug Aitken, Vanessa Beecroft, Marlene Dumas, Juan Muñoz, Chris Ofili and Pipilotti Rist from Europe and the Americas; Seydou Keïta, Bodys Isek Kingelez and Shirin Neshat from Africa and the Middle East; and John Mawurndjul, Destiny Deacon, Ken Unsworth, Mike Parr, Rosalie Gascoigne, Lisa Reihana and The Pacific Sisters from Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific. Yayoi Kusama’s spectacular inflatables at Customs House and Yoko Ono’s Ex it, 1998 – 100 coffins planted with live trees at the Art Gallery of NSW – were among many memorable works.

It was exciting and an honour to work with these artists.

When I left the Biennale, work life continued with curatorial challenges, and lots of contract work, plus my work as an Art Historian/Curator and Valuer Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program.

And then in 2015 a new challenge. I joined Sydney Contemporary Art Fair (SCAF) accepting the role as curator for the PAPER Contemporary segment, which I still do to this date…PAPER Contemporary is an important segment of Sydney Contemporary.  where we make sure to keep works on paper in the forefront, stimulate debate and create a wonderful ambiance for the general public to enjoy and appreciate Art on Paper.

Active in the Dutch Community and beyond

Over the years I was asked to join various volunteer organisations as a board /committee member. I certainly enjoyed my time as committee member and president of the DACC for many years as well as being president of the Sydney Chamber Music Festival. I continue to serve on the board of Dutchlink and the Anne Frank Australia Travelling Exhibition. Being president of the Print Council of Australia Inc and Walter Burley Griffin Society takes time, but is interesting and fun and definitely keeps me informed about what is happening in the art and design world.

Over the years I have witnessed and been whole-heartedly involved in the progress of the Australian art market and important arts events and continue to work for it…

raising awareness of works of art on paper as an important factor in the history of art.

I am very lucky that I have had and still have terrific support of my family who always encouraged my artistic endeavours.

Well…We never planned to stay longer than four years in Australia.  But the plans changed and yes, we are still here.

March 2023


See also:

Interview with Akky van Ogtrop – Sydney Contemporary 2022

Taking up with modernism: The Akky van Ogtrop Collection

Video: Meet the Board – Akky van Ogtrop, Dutchlink Board Director

Video: Yvonne Boag and curator, Akky van Ogtrop at the opening event and discussion for Travelling, Leaving, Settling, Scotland, Korea, Australia: Paintings, Works on Paper and Artists Books. Cowra Regional Art Gallery – December 2022