After allMilco Onrust 1961 - 2015
"Art is the highest form of hope."
- Gerhard Richter
Galerie Onrust was established in August 1986 by Milco Onrust at the Prinsengracht 627 in Amsterdam. From its start the gallery program has had an emphasis on contemporary painting.
After allMilco Onrust 1961 - 2015
In his early days as the owner of an art gallery, Milco Onrust set out from his parents' home in Zaandam every day and, via the ferry, went to his place of work, a tiny space on the Prinsengracht. In his bike bags there were always a few paintings, which he treated with great care. The boyish enthusiasm with which he continued to approach art and artists was combined with great expertise. That made him one of Amsterdam's best gallerists. Last Tuesday Milco Onrust died at the age of fifty-four. He had been suffering from a lung and pulmonary disease for some years.
Wim van Krimpen helped Onrust in getting started. "At about three in the morning I received a phone call: 'This is Milco Onrust. Is that drawing by Günther Tuzina still for sale?' That was my first encounter with Milco. He, a student of art history, was being kept awake by this. Later, when I set up a gallery for drawings next to my gallery on the Prinsengracht, I asked him to run that department. He was inspired by art, and was also a kind person with a great sense of humor. He had all the makings of a good gallerist."
Van Krimpen immediately gave Onrust carte blanche. "When he proposed, after a while, that we put Jürgen Partenheimer on the program, I said: now it's time you become independent. That artist, though well-respected, didn't fit with my view of the world, but I supported Milco entirely in his choice. Milco always made his choices. Full of conviction and confidence. And, in his modesty too, he epitomized the true lover of art, not influenced by commercial pressure but having complete concern for the artist. An increasingly rare phenomenon."
Onrust set up his gallery in the 1980s, in a space that was famously small and jokingly referred to by friends as 'the gallerette'. From the very start he was making unusual presentations: with a Sol Lewitt wall drawing, for instance, and exhibitions of work by Kees de Goede, Felix Droese, Tim Ayres , Reggy Gunn and Jürgen Partenheimer. But there were also wonderful 'side trips', such as a presentation of antique Japanese prints. Milco amply compensated for a lack of space with his tremendously impassioned presence. The threshold to many contemporary art galleries was high, but not at Onrust. Here there was always time to talk about art, and not just about the works hanging in the gallery at that moment. Nor did it matter whether someone was a big collector or a poor student. Everyone was taken seriously.
Such conversations were customarily continued in De Pels, the café around the corner from the gallery which served as an add-on to his office. There he met up with the artists who were friends: Dirk Wiarda, Toon Verhoef and Han Schuil. Onrust also managed to attract many German artists, in particular, to his gallery and was extremely well-informed about goings-on in the German art scene.
Rudi Fuchs came to know Onrust during his university days. "He admired me at first, to the point of embarrassment. And we were friends, but perhaps I was more a kind of father figure to him." Fuchs praises Onrust's broad interest. "It made no difference to him whether we were visiting a Romanesque church or an exhibition of contemporary art: everything fascinated him. He was unstoppably curious and averse to trends.
His relationships with artists in the gallery were based on friendship and the exchange of ideas. Fuchs: "He always kept his cool. He had a fondness for painting. That didn't prevent him, though, from keeping a close watch on developments in video art. But a different gallerist might have adapted his program once such art forms began to get more attention. He didn't. With good reason. Hypes weren't his thing; artists were his thing. There's an old-fashioned term for that: warm heartedness."
Together with Adriaan van der Have, of Torch Gallery, Onrust spread his wings in Cologne during the 1990s. There the two Amsterdam gallerists had a gallery for some time.
Onrust also opened a new second space on Planciusstraat in 1992. Boudi Eskens joined the gallery to run it. In 1997 Onrust closed down 'the gallerette' on Prinsengracht and moved to Planciusstraat, where he and his wife Boudi Eskens who in time had become an equal business partner run the gallery together. Initially the gallery was situated on the upper floor, but later they moved to a large space on the ground floor.
Here, too, Onrust introduced primarily the work of Dutch and German artists, including Han Schuil, Eli Content, Felix Droese, Hans Hovy, Jürgen Partenheimer, Derk Thijs, Veron Urdarianu and Robert Zandvliet, and Ina van Zyl. Schuil: "He needed friendship to be able to work with an artist. He wasn't able to work with someone whose work he might have admired greatly, but with whom he couldn't see eye to eye. The work always came first, but it always had to end in friendship. Sometimes he preferred to get to know artists over a period of many years before showing their work. To him, a working relationship was for eternity, for the next three hundred years."
Translation: Beth O'Brien