September 09, 2010

Willem van Genk, Busstation Arnhem/Arnhem bus station

 this picture and the next 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 1990's 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 and 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 could not adapt to the routine of the office. In the parental home he also could not maintain himself. He had to leave the house and settled in an apartment in the Hague where one of his sisters already lived..

He applied for admission to the local art school and the director, who had recognized van Genk's talent, admitted him. But the young man was not able to participate in the programs, so he ultimately would remain an autodidact.

A number of times he was hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic and during a period of his life van Genk has been working in a sheltered workshop. Later he was declared incapacitated to work.

Van Genk has traveled Europe. With a travel company he visited Paris, Rome, Madrid, Copenhague 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.

Creating his own world

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

After his sister had died, van Genk lived alone in the house and gradually it's rooms got filled with collages on the wall, paintings and drawings, his collection of black coats, installations and thousands of books.

Arnhem bus station

In 1988 he stoppend 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 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.

A withdrawn life

Willem van Genk already was not the type of person to like an exuberant way of life, but when in the 1960's dutch tv made a program about him, he was frightened and withdrew from public life.

Although he had expositions in 1964 and in 1976 and in the late 1970's also got a relation with Nico van der Endt, owner of art gallery Hamer, Amsterdam, he didn't like to sell his work. In consultation with van der Endt 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 1998 van Genk's health deteriorated in such a way that he had to be included into a nursing home. He would stay hospitalized 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".

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 a special van Genk room in the Dolhuys Museum in Haarlem, Netherlands.

* Ans van Berkum (dutch art historian), article on Willem van Genk in Raw Vision, nr 36 (1998) and another one with an analysis of his Collage of Hate 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 (in dutch)
* 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 (dec 2014); translation into english in the english section

Exposition (2014) in the USA
* The first exposition of van Genk in the USA "Mind traffic" took place from september 5th till december 1st 2014 in the Folk Art Museum in New York (see review in the New York Times)

In January 2019 on You Tube a film (49'53') was published, made in 2001 by Jan Keja and Dick
Walda, entitled Ver van huis (Far from home). This dutch spoken film presents the story of van Genk's life and work, (At 21"22' a sequence starts of the removal of trolleybuses from van Genk's home after he had gone to stay in a nursing home)

first published sept 2010, last revised aug 2019

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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