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Place in the hood #2: Walgenbach Art & Books

'This naturally creates contact with people'

An interview with Hans Walgenbach of Walgenbach Art & Books

From the W1555 Buurt-newspaper March 2024, by Kathrin Wolkowicz

How did you come up with opening a bookstore?

Hans Walgenbach:

I worked at the Centrum Beeldende Kunst for 20 years and then at the Historical Museum Rotterdam for 12 years, and I thought, I'll do something else. What do I actually love the most? That is books and art! An art bookstore I wanted to start. In the past, I had worked with the former Pact op Zuid for a while, to develop more art and cultural activities in Zuid, so I thought: yes, I'm going to be in Rotterdam Zuid! Few people from the arts and cultural sector still lived in South. Foundation B.a.d. and Jannie Hommes were important pioneers in Charlois at the time. And Zuid was cheap, so I started looking around the neighbourhood here. There were many empty shops. I could choose which shop I wanted. That was the beginning, a bookstore in the Gouwstraat with small accompanying exhibitions, sometimes also related to art books. That's how I started 11 years ago actually.

How do you put the exhibitions together?

Hans Walgenbach:

I see if I like someone, and if they make work that is interesting in my eyes. Then I ask the person in question if they want to exhibit work. And sometimes artists themselves come up with this question. I then usually go on a studio visit or we make an appointment to look at the work in a different way. There are about eight exhibitions a year. I have a list of exhibitors until 2028, I believe. I have quite a large network. But sometimes I visit an artist I don't know very well and am surprised by work I didn't know before. I always love that kind of discovery.

I try to alternate it a bit, new artists and old well-known, more renowned ones. Also to keep appealing to new audiences. And they are then also immediately confronted with my art books; this creates a form of interaction. The whole bandwidth of media is basically welcome.

Some of the artists who exhibited with you also held their first book presentations here.

Hans Walgenbach:

The book presentations are usually one or two weekends. I combine them with exhibitions, then I get a more diverse audience. Visitors and especially repeat visitors must have a reason to come here. For some, Rotterdam Zuid still seems far away. When the weather is bad, I always notice it in the number of visitors. Lots of people come by bike, especially from Rotterdam North. You notice this when it rains. But fortunately there are also people who live in Zuid who drop by. I am not a supermarket. Even if you don't buy anything from me, you are welcome.

You moved from one space in the Gouwstraat to another, what's different?

Hans Walgenbach:

I am here at the new location only since September 2023. It's slowly getting back on track now. That was a problem after corona anyway. During corona, artists did exhibit with me, which got a surprising amount of attention via the Internet.

I still have a lot of contact with my audience via the Internet. But after corona, I felt that visits to the shop had to grow all over again, people had to find their way to Rotterdam Zuid again. But in the last few weeks, here in the new branch, things have fortunately improved.

You also sell books through your own webshop?

Hans Walgenbach:

Yes, during Corona that happened more and more. 

It happens quite often that people ask about certain Rotterdam artists, whether I know more about them or have information about them. I like that. I know a lot about that, because I've been around that Rotterdam area all my life. They are also questions from customers with whom I have contact through the web shop.

With everyone who comes in, a conversation about the exhibition or their art interests usually ensues. I am naturally curious, why they come and what they want and are looking for. What I can do for them and what they do for a living. Quite a lot of young people come here, often with jobs in the cultural sector. I have older customers, who collect books; a different exchange takes place with them. 

Yes, people who live nearby also come by. Often curious about what is here, what kind of books there are. With my immediate neighbours, I have very good contact. I've been here in the street for a while so I know some people from the neighbourhood, friendly relationships have developed, without a business side. I really like that. That's what you have in Charlois.

Hans Walgenbach Art & Books

Gouwstraat 56C

open: Thursday-Saturday 12-17pm and by appointment

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