Interview with Michael Kinsbergen

Interview with Michael Kinsbergen

Michael started collecting contemporary art in 1998 as a way of escaping the structure and rhythm of his daily work. We speak to him about his journey through the art world.

6 min read

A man named Michael Kinsbergen sits on a green couch

We meet Michael Kinsbergen at the Byzantium tower in the heart of Amsterdam, a building designed by Rem Koolhaas with views on the ever-vibrant Vondelpark. This is where Michael lives, together with his wife Ulrike and their 5-month old Dachshund Pim– Ulrike fell in love with the dog on a recent trip to New York and could not stop thinking about it upon returning home.

It is here in Amsterdam where Michael has his art collection, covering the walls and floors of his apartment. For 10 years he ran and then sold his company Nedstat after which he was CEO of Ajax football club for three years. Michael started collecting contemporary art in 1998 as a way of escaping the structure and rhythm of his daily work. We speak to him about his journey through the art world.

What got you into collecting art and what was your first piece?

Michael Kinsbergen: In 1998, I read an article in Vrij Nederland, a Dutch weekly newspaper, about the Power Flower Portraits by an artist called Rob Birza. The story and the images of the works triggered me, I had to see the works in real. So I searched for his representative gallery which was Fons Welters in Amsterdam and got in touch. Seeing the works in real I was immediately sold and with Fons I must have spoken two hours about them. Our talk felt refreshing, unlike any business meeting that I was used to. I bought the work and collecting has become a passion since. The Power Flower Portrait still has a prominent place in our house and Fons and I have become good friends.

A wall with many framed artoworks, photos and memorabilia in Michael Kinsbergen apartment

Artwork by Erik van Lieshout

What is it that attracts you to contemporary art specifically, as opposed to, let’s say, old master drawings?

Michael Kinsbergen: What interests me most about contemporary art is that it pulls me out of my daily routines and provides me with a fresh look at the world. Artists can show us insights about today’s life that we perhaps don’t see ourselves.

The true artist is not bothered by the rules, regulations and procedures that most of us have to deal with every day. That gives him or her a freedom of thinking that can help us find new insights into our lives.

Michael Kinsbergen sitting in his apartment against a black painting

What interests me most about contemporary art is that it pulls me out of my daily routines and provides me with a fresh look at the world.

The message of an artist can be difficult to digest and understand. If you for instance look at a work by Thomas Zipp, it may take some time to see what it really is about and I like that. Actually the best is when you see it but not entirely and that questions and phantasies remain. Then a work is most fascinating.

How do you find the artworks and artists you like? Is this through more traditional platforms such as the galleries and word of mouth, or do you employ more modern tools such as the internet?

Michael Kinsbergen: Over the years I have discovered that there are certain galleries with programs that I very much like. These 8 or 9 galleries are like curators for me, I look at their programs for choosing what artists I want to follow and perhaps add to my collection. That also means that I value my relationships with these galleries highly and try to be loyal towards them.

There is such a crazy large supply of art and there are so many fairs and exhibitions, my head simply cannot absorb all that. No matter how passionate I am, I need to have some filtering system and for me this works.

At any moment in time I usually have a list of maximum 5 or 6 artists that I follow intensively. This is in addition to the 20 artists that I already have works from. On average it takes me about 2 years before I decide to buy a work from a new artist. And in any year I add no more than 2 new artists to my collection.

A man hanging an artwork on a wall, Michael Kinsbergen

Artwork by Thomas Zipp

In following artists I regularly visit fairs and exhibitions worldwide and go to gallery shows. I also check Instagram and quite often.
When I have added an artist to my collection, in almost all cases I buy other works by that artist after. For instance, I bought my first work by Erik van Lieshout in 1999 and have bought 4 other works by him since, the last one in 2011. And I am still fascinated by what he makes today.

How important is it for you to know the artist personally that you buy from

Michael Kinsbergen: For me it is first about the work. The work has to catch my interest and trigger my thinking. I am not looking to understand the work per se, I prefer when there are things left to guess or fantasize.

I do enjoy meeting artists but preferably after I have formed some opinion about the work. When meeting an artist I usually do not speak about the work itself so much but am interested in his or her fascinations. Some artists like to speak about their work themselves and that can be interesting. But if it becomes kind of a sales talk, that would generally turn me off.

It can happen that you accidentally run into an artist that you own a work from. Two years ago when my wife Ulrike and I were visiting the FIAC in Paris, we bumped into Rashid Johnson in the middle of the street. Just 6 months before we had bought a fantastic work of his that is hanging in our house. We had a nice spontaneous chat, in front of the Petit Palais of all places, and as a result we may go visit him when we are in New York next.

Artwork by Erik van Lieshout hanging in Michael Kinsbergen apartment

I bought my first work by Erik van Lieshout in 1999 (…) and I am still fascinated by what he makes today.

What is the most effort you ever went through to get your hands on an artwork?

Michael Kinsbergen: As said I always take my time to learn about an artist first. Also, I try to have good relationships with the galleries that I like. So mostly galleries keep me informed about new works and shows by an artist. If I have decided to add the artist to my collection, I make that known to the gallerist and try to be present early at a show or fair. And since I have followed the artist intensively, it is usually no problem for me to decide quickly.

It does sometimes happen that a gallery has already reserved a work for one of their very good clients. That’s fine to me, it is a free market and I can understand that a gallery gives preference to a very loyal customer, next time that could be me.

What is the dream addition to your collection?

Michael Kinsbergen: That changes over time and I am not sure if I have one at the moment. To me it is about being surrounded by art that inspires me. Perhaps to add a higher element to my life so I can think more freely and open myself better to new things and other insights.

But I must also say that unfortunately there are some limitations to what we can place in our home. We live in an apartment in the center of Amsterdam and would love to be surrounded by one of these installations with plants by Rashid Johnson. That, however, will not fit by a long shot so will not happen. But I am not complaining, there is plenty of wonderful works that do fit in our home.

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