Hans van Dijk 戴漢志 (1946-2002) was a researcher, curator, and dealer for Chinese contemporary art. Based in Beijing for most of the 1990s, he played a pivotal role in bringing Chinese artists to global attention through the historic 1993 exhibition China Avantegarde and the establishment of New Amsterdam Art Consultancy (NAAC) and China Art Archives & Warehouse (CAAW)—structures that facilitated the development of artists’ careers. After his untimely death in 2002, his extensive archive, carefully arranged by year, remains in an office room at CAAW: materials covering over 480 Chinese artists, documents on NAAC and CAAW activities, more than 50 titles of art journals and magazines, over 1,300 art books and catalogues, and a large amount of invitation cards and articles on art—collectively depicting Beijing’s 1990s art scene for future researchers to interpret. With Frank Uytterhaegan, co-founder of CAAW, AAA has been systematically organising, digitizing, and preserving van Dijk’s archive since 2011. This project continues today.
Dutch-born van Dijk graduated from Arnhem and Design Academy Eindhoven in the 1960s and worked as an artist and designer in the Netherlands until 1986 when his interests led him to Nanjing, China, to study Chinese language and Ming dynasty furniture design. His attention turned from China’s traditions to its emerging contemporary culture after encountering the avant-garde movement. While he witnessed the most intense period of artistic reform in China from 1986 to 1989, he traveled throughout the country and met artists to collect, study, and translate materials regarding their work.
Van Dijk returned to Eindhoven in 1989 with plans to organise an exhibition of the latest developments in Chinese art to a European audience. After meeting Andreas Schmid and Jochen Noth, who were negotiating with the House of World Cultures in Berlin to curate a similar exhibition, the three co-curated China Avantegarde which opened at House of World Cultures in January 1993 and toured throughout Europe. It became a seminal exhibit that brought Chinese contemporary art to the world stage.
Van Dijk permanently relocated to Beijing after the success of China Avantegarde. He formed NAAC in 1994, which actively coordinated international exchanges and exhibitions of Chinese contemporary art. Lacking an exhibition space, or even an office, NAAC still served to organise, promote, and sell works for artists—a rare entity in the midst of an absent arts infrastructure in China. With few collectors for contemporary Chinese art in the 1990s, NAAC had no commercial success, but it increased the circulation and research of China’s new art: by organising exhibitions of Chinese artists for institutions in Erfurt, Gothenburg, Munich, Berlin and other European cities; coordinating China-Europe collaborations, including an exhibition of photographers, Thomas Struth and Luo Yongjin, and between Günther Uecker and the New Measurement Group (Xin Ke Du); and arranging the exhibition Mondrian in China. Critical of the post-colonial discourse in Euro-American art worlds for its tendency to exoticise contemporary Chinese art, van Dijk worked with many unrecognized artists whose artistic styles and methods were distinctive from any mainstream or expectation in China or the West.
CAAW, co-founded by van Dijk in 1999 with Beijing-based businessman and collector Frank Uytterhaegan and artist Ai Weiwei, is a gallery and alternative art space that investigates the latest art practices. It moved from its first address in southern Beijing to its current location at Cao Chang Di area in Chaoyang district within a year. CAAW and NAAC are pioneer art institutions that use a hybrid model merging commercial and creative interests, arguably adopted by several new galleries and art spaces in China as an effective approach to sustain a space with no public funding for the arts.
Van Dijk died of illness in Beijing at the age of 56. Since his death, CAAW continues to operate under Uytterhaegan and Ai Weiwei. Van Dijk’s deliberate and meticulous system to organise art materials in spite of their lack of connection to his own activities indicates an archivist’s disposition. The archived materials are invaluable for the period of time they capture and their multifaceted contents—they present a complicated survey of local creativity in 1990s China. The history of NAAC will inform researchers to reconstruct an accurate historic picture of how contemporary art activities in China were organised during the 1990s, shedding light on a unique period in Beijing’s art scene.
AAA would like to thank Frank Uytterhaegen and Pascale Geulleaume who made this project possible.
Special thanks to the support of Ann & Paul Chen.
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