September 09, 2010

Willem van Genk, Busstation Arnhem / Arnhem bus station

 this picture and the next one show the Arnhem bus station 
as it was exposed in the dr Guislain museum in Gent
(it currently is exposed in Dolhuys Museum, Haarlem)

Willem van Genk (1927-2005) generally is seen as one of the most important outsider artists in the Netherlands. Since the 1990s he has become better known and currently his paintings and drawings can be found in the collections of  a lot of outsider and folk art museums.

Van Genk did not make his visual art in order to become famous by public exhibitions. He was reluctant to sell his artwork. For him, making these drawings, paintings, constructions, structures and collections, was meant to create his own world, a creation he had to do as a way to retain hold on his life.

A problematic life

Born in 1927 in the community of Voorburg, near the Hague, Netherlands, Willem van Genk was autistic, which probably was not recognized in the time he grew up. When he was at the age of five, his mother died and he was educated by a father and nine sisters. At the age of ten he was sent to a boarding school.

During the 1940/45 war, at a young age, he was interrogated by the German military police about the whereabouts of his father, who took part in the resistance. This happening and the black leather coats of the Gestapo-men deeply impressed the young man and during all his life van Genk had an enormous fascination for black coats. He gathered up a large collection of such coats.

Willem van Genk had some jobs, such as working in an advertising agency. Although he made nice drawings, he couldn't adapt to the routine of the office. In the parental home he also couldn't hold himself. He went to live in a pension and from 1947 on he was employed in a sheltered workshop for people with disabilities, where he had to perform simple tasks such as putting dish-washing brushes together.

In 1958 van Genk applied for admission to the art academy in the Hague and its director Joop Beljon, who had recognized van Genk's talent, admitted him. But van Genk was not able to participate in the programs, also because the director of the sheltered workshop wouldn't allow him enough time to attend these, so he ultimately would remain an autodidact. Beljon, incidentally, was the one who arranged that van Genk in 1964 got an exhibition (in the canteen of a printing plant in Hilversum)

In the early 1970s van Genk was declared incapacitated to work. After his sister had died, van Genk in 1972 inherited the apartment. He lived there on his own, but now he was able to work undisturbed and gradually the rooms got filled with collages on the wall, paintings and drawings, his collection of black coats, installations and thousands of books.

In 1976 van Genk had another solo exhibition, which was opened by Nico van der Endt, owner of art gallery Hamer, Amsterdam, with whom he not only got a business relationship but also a friendship. Although van Genk did not like to sell his artwork, ultimately he just agreed that a number of museums in the field of outsider art could buy his visual art (On Wikipedia an overview is available of these museums)..

In his paintings and drawings van Genk created his own world. He was especially interested in means of transport, like trains, buses and airplanes, and in nodes of transport, like stations. From discarded material he also constructed various models of buses and other transport facilities.

Van Genk has traveled Europe. With a travel company he visited Paris, Rome, Madrid, Copenhagen and Prague. However, he never visited Moscow, London  and Tokyo, but getting acquainted with these cities by studying travel guides and maps, he was able to depict scenes of these urban settings.

Arnhem bus station

In 1988 van Genk stopped painting and began making ensembles that combine various creations and constructions from discarded material, such as used packaging cardboard. One of the larger ensembles was the installation which depicts the Arnhem bus station.

detail (Willem van Genk Foundation, published on FB))

This ensemble, about two meter wide, included some thirty trolley buses and a variety of masts and wires. In the field of art environments it can be considered as an installation consisting of miniature constructions and scenes. Arranged in the living room, it could be seen by eventual visitors of the apartment.

van Genk sitting in front of the bus station
picture by unknown photographer, published January 2020
on the FB account of the Outsider Art Museum (Amsterdam)

Van Genk also made another, more detailed series of trolley buses, but this one he kept secret. All together he probably has created some 79 trolley buses.

His health deteriorated 

In the 1990s van Genk's health deteriorated in such a way that he had to be hospitalized various times. Ultimately he could not live at his own anymore and he had to stay in nursing homes until his death in 2005.

His house was vacated in 1998. The paintings and drawings, the books and the collection of coats were saved. Although a number of the trolley buses were scattered, a large part of the Arnhem bus station  ended up in the collection of Dutch outsider art association "de Stadshof".

Exposition of the Arnhem Bus Station

For a number of years the installation was exposed in the dr Guislain museum, Gent, Belgium.
Currently, from January 2016 on the Arnhem Bus Station is exposed in the Museum van de Geest (Museum of the Mind) in Haarlem, Netherlands.

This installation includes more items, and is therefore not identical to the arrangement in the house of van Genk. In 2019 the bus station was part of the large exhibition dedicated to the life and work of van Genk in the Outsider Art Museum in Amsterdam.

Phil Beard, Willem Van Genk: Master of Bus, Tram and Trolley, article in weblog Notes on the arts and visual culture, November 15, 2018
Albert Mobilio, "In Transit: Willem van Genk’s Cardboard Trolleys", in:  Hyperallergic, September 13, 2014
* Ans van Berkum, article on Willem van Genk in Raw Vision, nr 36 (1998) and another one with an analysis of his Collage of Hate also in Raw Vision nr 102 (2019)
* Nico van der Endt, Willem van Genk, een kroniek/a chronicle. Eindhoven (Ed. Lecturis), 2014.
-124 p. ill
* Website of the Dutch outsider art collection de Stadshof

texts in Dutch:
Extensive and well documented article in Wikipedia 
* Dick Walda, Koning der stations. Amsterdam (De Schalm), 1997 (ISBN 90-71230-05-8)
* Ans van Berkum, Willem van Genk bouwt zijn universum. Arnhem (Lannoo), 2010. -144 p.
* Eva von Stockhausen, "De mantelzorg van Willem van Genk" (van Genk's raincoats), in: Out of Art, 2014-2 (December 2014); translation into English in the English section of the magazine.

Current expositions
* The first exposition of van Genk in the USA "Mind traffic" took place from September 5th until December 1st 2014 in the Folk Art Museum in New York 
* The Museum van de geest, dept Outsider Art, in Amsterdam, Netherlands had an overview exposition (September 19, 2019 - March 15, 2020). 

first published September 2010, last revised September 2023

Willem van Genk
Arnhem bus station
originally located in his home in the Hague, Netherlands
currently exposed in the Dolhuys Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands

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