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October 2007 – Overnight stay

‘Why don’t you open up your own museum, Mr Nefkens?’

The presenter looks me straight in the eyes over the microphone. I’m a guest on an hour-long programme of a Dutch radio station.

My own museum. I can see it now—a white, sterile building. Somewhere in the distance there’s the hollow sound of the curator’s high heels. She’s pacing back and forth because tomorrow is the opening of our new exhibition.


My own museum. A dead, white space that I myself would have to breathe life into, hoping that people will come and look. What a difference between that and a museum that’s already alive and bustling, one to which I can contribute. I think about the meetings at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, with the seven of us, director, curators, Hilde Teerlinck and myself talking about a project to which dozens of people will ultimately contribute, where everyone has his input, where I’m part of a bigger whole.


When I was a child, nothing was more fun than an overnight stay. It was exciting to walk into another life at my grandparents’ home in Geneva, a life that I could step back out of a couple of days later. In my grandparents’ apartment it smelled different: of the meat that had been roasted that day, my grandmother’s heavy perfume, my grandfather’s cigars, the lilacs on the sideboard. It smelled of a foreign country.


My grandparents had furniture that was different than ours, big and decorated with fandangles that, as I knew, my father didn’t like. In the living room there was an enormous brown velvet sofa with cushions you sunk into, whereas we had an Italian couch with a hard back. The wallpaper here was striped. Ours was beige. And the paintings on the walls were different, bigger, and with complicated frames. Hanging from the ceiling was a crystal chandelier. On warm days, when the windows were open, a breeze would set the crystal in motion, making a glassy tinkling noise that sounded like water in a brook.


Everything at my grandparents was different than at home, yet I was part of it. That’s what I look for in the museums and art institutes I work with. If I were to build my own museum, I’d never have that special feeling of simultaneous distance and involvement.


And then there’s all the fuss: the insurance, the installation, the administration, the dozens of details. Now it all looks after itself. I can concentrate on what I like best: ideas for exhibitions and presentations.

And that’s why, here in the radio studio, I tell the presenter: ‘No, Mr van der Linden, having my own museum isn’t for me. I’d rather spend the night elsewhere.’

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