HIDDEN CULTURAL GEMS IN ZUIDAS
With the VU ART SCIENCE gallery, Rialto VU cinema and VU Griffioen theatre, there’s always something on in Zuidas.
Wende Wallert, director of VU ART SCIENCE gallery
If you still think the VU Campus is nothing but students toiling away to earn their degrees: nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, the VU ART SCIENCE gallery, Rialto VU cinema and VU Griffioen theatre are all located in the heart of Zuidas, at De Boelelaan 1111. The gallery is an amazing exhibition space where all are welcome to come explore the connections between art and science and join the conversation about current issues. We sat down with Wende Wallert, director and curator of the VU ART SCIENCE gallery, to learn more.
Wende, you have a wealth of experience in the arts and culture sector. Can you tell us more about your background?
“I grew up with a mum who was an artist and a dad who worked in the corporate sector. I was always interested in both worlds and now I try to combine them by taking art to organizations. This is generating a new audience for artwork among people who don’t normally visit museums, on the one hand, and on the other giving organizations a way to draw attention to societal issues by means of art. I have been at VU for seven years now, connecting art and science. For the VU ART SCIENCE gallery I put together exhibitions and a programme of ART SCIENCE dialogues, inviting scientists and artists to share and talk about their research and artwork with the public. We feel it’s important to get the broader public involved in university research, and, by linking it with art, we can open up multidisciplinary perspectives on specific themes. That’s both educational and fun.”
Your exhibitions focus on the interplay between art and science. How do you go about collecting artworks?
“My connections with individual faculties at VU keep me informed about scientific advances. I also have an ear to the ground in the art world and visit loads of fairs, galleries and art academies. I will come up with a theme I think deserves a spotlight, like climate change, and then try to find artists who are exploring that theme in different ways. Based on those art works, I’ll then look for scientists working in different disciplines to tie in with them. Sometimes an artist is so inspired by a theme that they design a new creation specifically intended for the exhibition theme. If the work fits in the collection, we purchase it to give it a permanent place on campus. In that way, we are actually building a unique collection that’s completely aligned with the research being done at VU.”
Do you also actively seek to collaborate with local organizations, in Zuidas for instance?
“There are a variety of organizations in the Zuidas area that are interesting for us to partner with. So, with the art spaces of ABN AMRO and AkzoNobel, for example, we are developing an art route. This collaboration gives rise to cross-overs between our audiences and also raises awareness for the artistic value of corporate art collections. Previously, we also realized an exhibition with the Amsterdam University Medical Centers’ art department, which has a large art collection as well. Alongside the show we organized a series of dialogues looking at the body in the digital age, bringing together academic researchers from both VU and the Amsterdam UMC. On top of all this, we also have a sound connection with the Gerrit Rietveld Academie’s Sandberg Instituut.”
At the last count, VU had close to 1,200 artworks all across campus. Do you think these works are appreciated by students and people working at VU?
“Since opening the VU ART SCIENCE gallery at the end of 2021, we’ve had a ton of positive feedback. Bringing in visitors was difficult early on because of the Covid pandemic, but more and more people are coming to find us now. A visit to our gallery always includes a guided tour by one of our student-hosts, who tells people about the artists and scientists involved. Visitors really appreciate that personal approach. The gallery is also a lovely spot to take some time out and a nice counterpoint to the rest of the busy campus.”
The VU Campus also has an active cultural scene. You can catch a film, go to the theatre or an exhibition or any number of other events. Why is this on-campus programming so important for the university?
“VU is an academic setting where people exist in their heads most of the time. By offering art, film and theatre, we can create a space to connect with other people. That’s an important aspect of being a social campus, but also valuable for Zuidas more generally. De Boelelaan 1111 is open from noon to midnight daily and everyone is welcome here. You can come see a show, film or play, and the Cultuurcafé Bar Boele is a popular afterhours spot with both students and people from off-campus.”
VU is hoping to attract more people from Zuidas to use its cultural amenities. What can you offer them?
“De Boelelaan 1111 isn’t just for students; our cultural programming is meant to appeal to everyone. It’s a place where education, science and the cultural programmes of Griffioen, Rialto and the VU ART SCIENCE gallery converge. We offer cinema, theatre and art exhibitions all under one roof. So, basically, you needn’t ever leave Zuidas to get your cultural fix!”
Is there anything special coming up?
“Our current show Creating the Commons will run until 31 October. It’s about fostering co-creation in the arts and sciences. It raises a variety of questions around authorship, inclusion and about who has access and who gets to be heard. We bring together a range of artists and scientists who are sharing their methodologies through presentations, performances, workshops and discussions that are open for the public. Besides that, the new theatre season will also be starting again shortly.’’