Anthon Beeke’s irresistible URGE to collect
Anthon is seated at a large desk facing an important client who has invited him to give a presentation. Behind the client, a coat hanger hangs on a nail in the wall. Anthon can’t keep his eyes off the coat hanger; it obsesses him and he can barely suppress his impatience. At the end of the presentation, he says to the client: ‘one more thing. May I please have that coat hanger?’
Anthon ‘steals’ coat hangers in stores and hotel rooms all over the world. He defends himself by explaining that if he asks for a coat hanger for free they won’t give it to him and if he wants to pay they can’t quote a price. Besides, for a theft so insignificant(insignificant to anyonebut Anthon) there’s very little chance that someone will call the police. His friends describe Anthon as a coat hanger kleptomaniac, helpless in the vicinity of a coat hanger he has never seen before. (Someone told me recently that a trip to China in 1970 was a great disappointment for Anthon because the coat hangers were all identical.)
Coat hangers, matchboxes, jazz records, posters, books on typography, books on art, magazines, photographs, calendars, white plaster torsos of women… Women! You name it, he’s got it!
For the sixteen beautiful calendars – collectors’ items in themselves – that Anthon designed between 2003 and 2006 for Flevodruk, a printer in Harderwijk, Anthon used both his own collections and those of others: tattoos, buttons, wax seals, insects, cheeses, cuddly toys, ethnic postcards, African radios, etc… all so beautifully designed you’d want to steal them yourself.
Collecting is a disease, the only healthy incurable disease that exists. The true collector is curious, obsessive, passionate, greedy and insatiable. Why do so many people collect, I often ask myself. A great deal has been written lately about both private and public (art) collections and a few years ago the University of Amsterdam even introduced a Chair in Collecting.
(One Monday morning, the story goes, Anthon purchased – for practically nothing – on the Noordermarkt in Amsterdam a unique collection of literally thousands of matchbox labels from the 1950s and 1960s from Russia, Romania, Belgium, India, Japan and Sweden.)
I have developed my own little theory about the motives of collectors, and have come to the conclusion that the desire to collect (not only art but anything) springs from the overwhelming supply of thingsin the world. When a collector concentrates on one thing(be it art, postage stamps, coat hangers or anything else imaginable), he has the illusion of being in control and is able to concentrate on that one thing. Not only that, but roaming around a flea market, looking in a shop window, visiting galleries and hunting for specific objects, is much more fun and gratifying than just ‘looking’.
You don’t have to be wealthy to be a collector, by the way. Many of my most beautiful objects cost just a few euros. I used to collect pigs, pressed glass, pictures of Mona Lisa, bowls and plates in the shape of leaves, small coffee cups and shoes. Lately I find that I am satiated, finished, done with. Less is more.
My (modest) collections are stored in the basement, in boxes, out of sight, and fill only a few shelves. Anthon’s collections are stored in huge warehouses, also packed and out of sight, but accessible for students, colleagues and other collectors. His URGE serves a purpose.
Anthon Beeke is a collection in himself!
tekst Deborah Campert
photo Anthon in his studio
2002, photographed by Jos Lammers