There is something anarchic in the tall silhouette, massive white beard and black outfit of Anton Herbert. The character is deliberately anti conformist, overtly expressing his disinterest in the financial value of contemporary art and the fashionable frenzy of art shows.
Collecting has been a family affair instigated by Tony Herbert and his fondness for Flemish expressionists. After he dies, Anton sold his father’s paintings to follow his own taste. Buying art is a serious commitment shared with his wife Annick. It has become, for the Herberts, an active way to participate to political and social change as reflected in contemporary artistic production. They visit studios, document their acquisitions and stay informed. Both know all the artists themselves. The creator’s personality and artistic motivation are granted as much importance as the actual physical artwork. Everything entering the collection is selected for its radical nature and inherent political engagement.
Their collection spans from 1968 to 1989, two milestones marking the dawn and twilight of a period of revolution and utopia. 1968 is the student’s uprising in Europe and incidentally a time of artistic revolution for the Herberts. This same year they discovered Marcel Broodthaerds’s surreal work in Brussels. The underlying meaning of his art was a revelation and the kick-start of their activities as patrons. Carl Andre’s Lead Square is the first piece they acquired in 1973. It was soon completed by names such as Sol Lewitt, Judd, and other prevailing conceptual and minimal artists. After 1989 the collection has continued to grow onwards, mainly with works from Martin Kippenberger, Franz West and Mike Kelly. The Austrian art dealer Fernand Spillemaekers played a significant role in introducing the German avant-garde to the couple.
The recent opening of their collection to the public is a secret still well kept. A former steam machine factory in Gent, Belgium, has been restored as a 4000 square meters white cube exhibition space. Visits happen only twice a week, with a limited capacity of 20 pre-booked visitors. The show on view has been curated by the Herbert’s themselves. Works on view share themes such as the quest for identity and issues of self-construction affected by new media. It has been titled ‘As if it could’, a title commissioned to and designed by Lawrence Wiener. With a twist of cynicism it evokes the aspiration of the Herbert’s for the fulfillment of this project.
Aside from the Foundation they plan to open a documentation centre to gather all the archives documenting their acquisitions. Some side material is already on display next to the works on view. It is striking to look at artworks in relation with all kind of peripheral material such as books, posters and press releases.
The foundation opened on June 20 and will close on October 26 to allow the set up of a second show. A short period of time that will welcome the well-informed to see a selection of 50 works of art and 250 documents on display.
Words: Amélie Timmermans © 2013 Artlyst
Images: Top: Annick and Anton Herbert in Public Space / Two Audiences by Dan Graham © Herbert Foundation. Photographer: R. Lautwein (2006)
Bottom: View on the exhibition As if it Could, ouverture (second floor) © Herbert Foundation. Photographer: Ph. De Gobert (2013)
Herbert Foundation Coupure Links 627 A B-9000 Gent