Speaking: Petra Cardinaal
Petra Cardinaal, who took over Gallery Pennings from Harry Pennings in 2006, accidentally came into contact with the gallery. “In 2004 I visited the gallery for the first time, not as a visitor, but as an employee of a business broker where Harry was a customer. During one of the following visits he told me that he was looking for a successor for the gallery, because he was almost 70. Running a gallery takes a lot of time, I now know. If you do it professionally, it is a full time job. You cannot organise all things within the opening hours of the gallery. An additional problem was that the Melkert jobs (see blog #3) were being discontinued. From now on people had to be hired on a permanent basis. Harry did not want to incur additional personnel costs. Some time later Harry had found a successor for his gallery, but this one dropped out in March, April 2005. And he had the intention to stop the gallery. Then I thought, ‘Why don't I do it?’ In April 2005 I started discussions with Harry and we agreed that I would give it a try for a year, every Saturday."
“I don’t have a background in art gallery. I had a training in HR (human resources). I knew nothing about the history of photography, ‘ne rien’. But I took pictures myself at an early age. I was interested in photography though. In 2000 I had been to The Photographers Gallery in London and I was very enthusiastic about that. Photography as a contemporary medium really appealed to me. I had something with art. Years ago I had already attended an art history course at the open university for a year. And when I had taken over the gallery, I started taking photography history classes at Leiden University.”
"Harry was the curator of the exhibition ‘Onwerkelijke Schoonheid’ (Unreal Beauty) of Breda Photo 2005 (see blog # 12 and # 13). I was then at the photo book fair with the portfolios published by the gallery (see blog # 3). ”Harry and Françoise visited Paris Photo every year, together with Jan Buster (see blog # 1) and his wife Bep. André and I came along in 2005. ”(André is Petra's partner). Jan Buster took a photo of Harry in the metro during that stay.”
“The idea was that Harry and I would work together for a long time. Me staffing the gallery and Harry doing the content. And gradually we would complete the programming together. But things went differently because Harry died in 2006. Jan Buster meant a lot to me then. I had no experience with gallery work, I had no network and I knew little about photography. Jan Buster then said, "We're just going to make sure you learn a lot as quickly as possible." By studying books. And together we have visited many exhibitions. When Jan Buster died years later, I bought his legacy library.”
“In Sept 2006, I had made an exhibition in honor of Harry with photos from the portfolios that he published. And I have organized the Harry Pennings Award for young photography talent. The Award, with his name, was my present to Harry when I took over the gallery. I wanted him to be part of the jury. Unfortunately he passed away. The first exhibition with a shortlist of nominees was in 2007. The prize is awarded approximately once every three years."
“Gallery Pennings was a gallery for photography in the south. At that time the gallery was not considered as equals by photo galleries in the Randstad (the west and middle of the Netherlands). That was disappointing. Harry could be cynical about that. Harry also took pictures himself, poetic still lifes, but he did not exhibit his own work in his gallery. He focused not only on photographers but also on artists who used photography as a medium and he showed work by, among others, Boltanski, Hans Biezen, Toos Nijssen and Paul Bogaers. Harry chose photography with a story. I continued that. We have always maintained the content. Aesthetics were not normative, nor marketability. That policy was continued. Harry was an erudite, intelligent, amiable man, but he could be very resolute. He often showed intellectual, specialist, high-end, poetic, hard-to-access work.”
“Harry did not get any income from the gallery. I too could not live from it. I always reinvested the profit from the sale of artworks into the gallery. That made the gallery cost-effective. Françoise has always supported the gallery, and so has André. And I have always had the support of a number of volunteers, including Irma van Bommel, who joins the gallery for ten years now.”
“When I took over the gallery, some things had to change. How could I get more visitors and especially, how did I reach a younger audience? The address file was old. Visitors were often Harry's peers, so an aging audience. Rejuvenation was needed. I tried to get a younger audience in by showing more accessible work such as by Mamabart, Suzanne Jongmans and Wiesje Peels.”
“I also wanted to bring in people by organizing lectures. I initially did that together with Jan Buster. We started organizing artist talks by our own photographers during exhibitions. Later, other lectures were also organized by Stichting Fotografie Zuid Nederland (Fotosz.nl). This foundation was set up with the idea that, should the gallery somehow not make it, an organisation of photography would remain in Eindhoven. And we set up a foundation to apply for grants. However, Fotosz.nl has received a grant for organizing lectures only once. In cooperation with Fotosz.nl we organized portfolio reviews twice a year, for photographers, but also for students and leisure photographers.”
“I also looked for connection in the city by working together with other institutions. Which implied broadening of activities. In 2006 we had a group exhibition, together with Peninsula. We had a project together with De Krabbedans. We organized an Art Walk along galleries twice a year. The crisis started in 2008 and one gallery after the other fell over, putting an end to the Art Walk. The gallery and the foundation together have initiated a number of activities and events. Together with Jan Dijkshoorn, Theo Visser and others, we organized a photo festival in Eindhoven, in 2011 with the name Photo 3.0, in 2013 with the name Reframe Festival.” (The 2015 edition was canceled due to a lack of structural funding and due to the fact that a few leading organizers left. IvB) "We organized an exhibition twice during Glow. And in the vacant building Geldropseweg 63 we have already organized a Photo Book Fair three times in a row.” (After the bankruptcy of the successor of Harry's furniture store Pennings Binnenhuisarchitectuur, the property was vacant and regularly leased. IvB)
“I also went to art fairs, including Art The Hague, Fotofever in Brussels and in Paris and Art Rotterdam. Art Rotterdam was the highlight. But is a fair the best way to show art? I wondered that. Gallery Pennings was a name, was known, but I was bothered by the name ‘gallery’. We did much more than just sell art. Times change. Galleries have their own stable, Galerie Pennings did not have that much. After all, you cannot offer artists a salary. According to a study by NGA (the Dutch Gallery Association), 3% of the population buys art in the Netherlands. People do look at art, but have little intention to buy art. Years ago I wrote in my diary: ‘Can't we find another way? How can we help artists on their way? How can we generate attention for art?’ There is a lot of attention for established art in museums. Little attention is paid to contemporary art. That is how the idea came about to create a place where visitors and artists can meet each other, with a gallery function.”
To be continued.