Written by

Where's the frame

Maribelle Bierens

December 19, 2022 10:14 PM


Thom Oosterhof is a New Zealand-born, Amsterdam-based collector and curator. His passion for art was sparked almost a decade ago after falling in love with a painting by Max Gimblett. In the last year, he moved beyond only collecting, and started to curate pop-up exhibitions with an international group of emerging artists. where’s the frame? recently caught up with Thom in Amsterdam to learn more about his collecting and curating journey, his thoughts on what it means to be a collector today, and his advice for new collectors.

There is usually that one artwork that triggers such an emotional reaction, it creates a lifelong thirst for art. For Thom, that artwork was by Max Gimblett, a painting hanging in his parents-in-law’s living room. For him, there was something very magnetic about this piece, as he explains: “Max has a beautiful and strong spiritual practice, and his work is loaded with that energy. The painting just did the rest’. Shortly after, buying another artwork from the same artist started his collecting journey. ‘I am lucky enough to live with a unique work of his that resembles this same painting! Funny little full circle story.” 

This first collected piece he bought is a quatrefoil painting, which is an iconic shape in the artist’s practice, according to Thom. “Being rooted in Buddhist philosophies, his practice is very intuitive and gestural. Max has created many works of a similar aesthetic over the years but mentioned that he thought this particular piece was a bit of a personal masterpiece. Couldn’t agree more!”

Thom Oosterhof in front of Georg Kitty, ‘On Mothe Watche’, at Saatchi Gallery, London

Buying that first painting at an art fair in his home country prompted him to actively start collecting. ‘The thrill of the whole environment got me hooked, and I haven’t looked back since.’ 

Although it’s a significant reason to do so, collecting art is not only about supporting artists for Thom. ‘Collecting art for me is a beautiful way to support an artist and their practice while at the same time, having the joy of creating a personal environment that friends and family can also come to enjoy.’  

"Collecting art for me is a beautiful way to support an artist and their practice while at the same time, having the joy of creating a personal environment that friends and family can also come to enjoy." 

Sparking conversations, comparing interpretations, and relating it to your personal life, the meaning of art is often created in the private sphere. ‘Having friends come over and fall in love with a work that is hanging in our living room makes it all the more enjoyable. How a work sparks a passion or a conversation is really rewarding.’ 

A white cube gallery environment, with its empty space, white walls and perfected lights, seems to create an ideal surrounding for an artwork without any distractions. Still, it also creates an impersonal detached setting that might obstruct personal interaction. ‘I sometimes wonder if living rooms, due to their more welcoming nature, compared with grand museums, are a more conducive environment for individuals to explore art.’ 

A sense of close affection and a personal relationship with the artworks in your collection is a unique feeling and something that many collectors will recognise. Within this context, Thom decided to call his art collection the Tesoro collection. ‘Tesoro is a colloquial Italian word that means ‘precious’ or ‘darling’. It has a very intimate meaning and is often used between close friends or lovers.’ He explains how he ‘enjoyed both the sound of the word and the reference to art being something that can be very precious to us on a personal level as well as being loaded with an intimateness.’ Funnily enough, he came to learn that the name of his collection is an anagram of the first six letters of my last name…Ooster. ‘Totally unintentional!’

Thom Oosterhof at Enari Gallery in Amsterdam in front of Douglas Cantor, ‘Horses and Sunsets’, 2022 and Thorbjørn Bechmann, 'UT (2162)', 2022

Responses to art are often intuitive and unexplainable, so it’s often hard to define what about an artwork that makes you want to collect it. ‘I am drawn to paintings with an 'edge', be it in their technique or their subject matter.’ It’s sometimes easier to say what stylistically attracts you. Thom reveals how he has noticed that he’s drawn to brighter works. ‘Love the energy that painting can bring to a space. Definitely 50-50 on the figurative and abstract scale. Really can appreciate both!’

Asked if he has a personal favourite in his collection, he reveals that he has one, a painting from Italian painter Gioele Amaro. ‘Gioele took a massive chance on me by agreeing to take part in my first-ever group show. I will forever be grateful to him for that. The piece we acquired reminds me of that trust every day.’

Being this passionate about art ultimately led him to curate exhibitions as well. ‘Being an active young collector based in Amsterdam, I felt I wasn’t seeing enough of the work that I was lucky enough to see in Paris or London or NYC or Basel. This was the type of work that was igniting conversation across the globe and burning the fire of the contemporary art movement.’ Bringing together artworks from local and international artists, he started to organise pop-up shows in Amsterdam. ‘I wanted this kind of work to be physically present for those who wanted to enjoy it here in Amsterdam. Being an older and more established art market, I wanted to bring something fresh to the scene and felt all I had to do was bring it in, and the work would speak for itself!’ 

According to Thom, Amsterdam has a strong scene he points out how there is a need to shift the focus a bit. ‘There are a number of important players in the market, but I felt it could do with an injection of young energy. The collector base is small, and many are older, more established collectors.’ Thom continues, ‘There needs to be a continued focus on the next generation of artists, collectors, curators and gallerists. They will be the ones who build the future! Shout out to the legends at Grimm Gallery. What those guys are doing on a local and an international scale is to be admired. They are a bit of an inspiration!’

'In Motion', an exhibition co-curated by Thom Oosterhof at Enari Gallery in Amsterdam

For Thom, the biggest reason to not only collect but curate shows are the creative aspects of bringing it together and placing the work in great collections for artists who often become friends. ‘Creatively, it is a treat! I get to come up with an idea and find a way of presenting it in a physical gallery space. Often as I do this, the artists' work takes the show in different directions that I could not have foreseen. Or relationships form between works in the show that I didn’t envisage. This is the most fascinating thing to see/ experience.’

In his curatorial project, he finds it’s important to ‘say something’. ‘I think as a curator, in order not to simply choose artists / artworks, I want to bring something to the show. I think the idea and the presentation of the works are critical to this. I put a lot of thought into it and have postponed a show because I couldn't secure the artists that I wanted to present the idea.’

Thom primarily works with artists in the beginning stages of their careers. ‘Working with primarily younger artists, some straight out of art school, it is a pleasure to place their works in collections. The joy it brings them is so rewarding! I was lucky enough to completely sell out of young Dutch artist Robin Speijer’s work and sold a number of works from young Dutch artist Daan Koens. I am super excited about taking Bobbi Essers down to Barcelona in January to fly the young Dutch flag! The fact that these artists trusted me to show their work is an honour in itself!’

As has to be said, of course, organising shows is not without its headaches. ‘Shipping and the nervous wait for packages to arrive! Especially in the US or Asia. Fingers and toes are crossed for weeks!’ 

For aspiring curators, he shares some advice. Most importantly, you should not doubt yourself too much. ‘Trust yourself! We are all full of doubt and the imposter's syndrome but if you have an idea that you think people would enjoy / should hear and experience, then don’t be afraid to make it happen. It may seem like there is nothing but barriers but they dissolve as soon as you see them for what they are. Figments of your imagination!’ 

Francisco Mendes Moreira, The Big Inn, 2022 at 'In Motion' at Enari Gallery

In a similar vein, aspiring art collectors should also trust themselves and their own eyes. ‘Don’t follow the hype. You will be offered so much work that really establishing what you like is super important. If not, you will end up with a whole bunch of work that you never really liked and that you bought because you thought you should! Take your time. Explore the work and get to know the artist. Also, above all else, trust yourself. You have the only thing nobody else does: your eyes.’  

"Take your time. Explore the work and get to know the artist."

So try and see and understand as much as you can. A good start to do so, are Thom’s favourite shows this year. ‘I Loved Leonardo Meoni at Amanita in NYC, loved Anthony Cudahy at Grimm in Amsterdam, loved Jamie Gray Williams at PM/AM in London, loved Gioele Amaro at Almine Rech in Brussels, loved Gabe Cortese at M+B in LA.’ 

Douglas Cantor, ‘Horses and Sunsets’, 2022 at 'In Motion' at Enari Gallery in Amsterdam

Thom has an exciting year coming up with multiple curatorial projects. ‘I am super excited to announce a number of shows early next year! I have been super fortunate to have had a number of galleries approach me to curate a show together, and the shows have all come together beautifully. Again, so many incredible artists have trusted me to show their work. Next step, work incredibly hard to ensure the shows do their work justice!’

You can see 'In Motion’, a show curated by Thom’s Tesoro collection and Enari Gallery, until January 7, 2023. For more information, visit the gallery’s website here. He has an upcoming curatorial project in Barcelona. For more information, you can follow him on Instagram

Suggested reading: