A hole with a heart for artists

A hole with a heart for artists

Els van Oedijk.Sculpture by Charlotte Odijk

Nor did she let the wheelchair stop her. At the special meeting the Rijksakademie organized last June 6 for its former director, Els van Oedijk, there was already activity. She bound people left and right, lit fires, forged ties, lured people out of the tent. Despite her illness, her talent as a networker was not affected. Nor her faith in the artists for whom she did everything.

This passion has been a constant in van Oedijk’s life from the moment she began working as a freelancer at the Rijksakademie voor Beeldende Kunst in 1987. The institute had just begun a transformation that would catapult the dusty and outdated academy into a globalized presence. With her background as a technical advisor to companies, Van Oedijk has been asked to shape the internationalization process. It does this, among other things, by organizing a traveling exhibition in the United States. For Marijki van Warmerdam, she arranged a meeting with Jeff Koons, who was then at the height of his fame.

A world class institute

It soon turned out to be the right-hand man of director Janwillem Schrover and since 2010 she has been at the helm of power herself. Over the course of thirty years, the Rijksakademie has developed into an institution for the world, with residents from all over the world. It is also a world-class organization, with more than 2,000 artists applying each year to twenty available positions. At the last Venice Biennale, Rijksakademie alumni were responsible for five country pavilions and a similar number were included in the main exhibition.

Van Oedijk opens the doors at regular intervals so that the outside world can see what is going on behind that gate in Sarvatistrat. Open Rijksakademie is growing into one Must see An event on the national and international art calendar. Especially after Van Oedijk made his studio days in collaboration with a group of gallerists the flagship of Amsterdam Art Week. But the director is frugal in granting access to the Rijksakademie. She knows that residents who have been dragging themselves artistically and intellectually indoors here for two years need a rest.

A brain tumor that is not treatable

There are also setbacks. Halbe Siegelstra’s austerity measures are hitting the ground and necessitating painful realignment. A proposed merger with De Ateliers was torpedoed at the last minute. But Van Oedijk is a terrier and he is determined to survive in the Rijksakademie.

With things calming down at the Institute and its 150th anniversary approaching, she decided to hand over the baton in 2018. She will travel, expand her network and teach at the Royal Academy of Art in London. It is full of plans and energy. Until she returned from vacation in Italy last summer feeling ill. What appears to be heatstroke turns out to be an incurable brain tumor. Els van Odijk leaves behind a husband and a daughter.

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