Meet Nanna Kassenaar, the Young Gallerist Everyone’s Talking About in Amsterdam

We spoke with the founder of Kallenbach Gallery about her curatorial vision and upcoming all-female show, made in collaboration with Your:Own art agency.

All photos courtesy of Kallenbach Gallery

The Kallenbach family name has been around in Amsterdam for a little while, originating as a rags and tatters shop in the Jordaan. For the last couple of years, however, Nanna Kassenaar has been holding the name high albeit in a different field. Through her curatorial vision, Kassenaar has established the Kallenbach gallery as one of the best destinations for new contemporary art in the capital of the Netherlands. We sat down with Nanna to talk about gallery life, moving around in Amsterdam and the new exhibition titled ‘Shaping the Future’—a group show featuring nine international female artists who have strong visions about the lives of women and girls in contemporary society.

GIRLS ARE AWESOME: Hi, Nanna. Can you briefly introduce yourself?

Nanna Kassenaar: Born and raised in Amsterdam, after a short side-step into law I found my love for art was greater: five years ago, I had the opportunity to start my own gallery, Kallenbach Gallery.
 Since I’m based in Amsterdam, I thought to carry on with my family’s name (and tradition) of running small businesses there; in the old days they used to run a rags and tatters shop amongst other things, in the Jordaan area. So when I started out just a few blocks away, it felt only right to bring back the Kallenbach name, albeit associated with the arts now.

The old Kallenbach shop.

How and when did you roll into the gallery life?

Many years ago, I started working at a gallery on the Amsterdam canals. I then moved on to working freelance in the creative industry. After learning a lot and developing a wide network of artists, collectors and professionals in the art world, I found that I wanted the choose the art that I myself wanted to present and represent.

When and how did you start the Kallenbach gallery and what was your idea and vision behind it?

We started in late 2012, at the height of the financial crisis—great timing. But I started as an agency first, working closely with artists in bringing their commissioned works to fairs or to the attention of internationally-renowned galleries. I loved that, but at the same time I was getting more and more requests by people to come in and see artworks in the flesh, here in Amsterdam, instead of just online or at fairs. That’s when felt that I should set up a physical gallery, with walls. It’s a bit traditional, but I was determined it should never feel stuffy, old-school or un-welcoming.

Do you work on the gallery all by yourself, or do you have a team of people there?

We have a very small team. I have a partner in the gallery who is passionate about the arts, but his focus is mainly on the business side of things. I have an assistant for day-to-day issues, and often my husband (a commercial director) works with me and joins me at art fairs. Most of the artists I work with I’ve been working with for years, so it often feels like a team effort when we do an expo or fair.

Although you’ve moved gallery spaces a few times, you’ve always stayed in Amsterdam. What is it about Amsterdam you think makes it a perfect place for a gallery?

Earlier this year we moved to our current location, an industrial area on the South-West side of Amsterdam. The main motivator behind this recent move was my decision to leave the city centre for the vibe of creativity and upcoming that can be found at our new location.  There are many ad agencies and creative businesses here, but it is also still mixed with the grittiness of old garages and warehouses. The other day we had some long time collectors come in, very much used to the traditional highbrow galleries in the centre. I thought that they would be too culture-shocked by the gritty area before they came in, but directly upon entering the gallery they exclaimed: “We love this – it’s just like the Meatpacking District in NY!”A bit of a stretch maybe, but not a bad comparison.

Who’s taking care of curating the artists and what is the red thread throughout the artists of the gallery?

I mostly do the curating myself. But sometimes I work with an external curator, e.g. with the upcoming show Shaping The Future, which was co-curated by Your:Own, a young art agency led by Jeroen Smeets. I’ve known Jeroen for many years now, and I’ve always admired his keen eye for emerging artists. He’s very innovative in his ways of bringing artists to the greater public.

Looking over the roster of artists that you have, the majority are male artists. Is this something that you consider while curating artists, or what are your thoughts on this?

To me, it’s always been about the artworks first. And they do not give off a very masculine or feminine vibe, I feel. I’ve had collectors get surprised when they learn that artist SIT is in fact a guy—same goes for Silas Schletterer and his portraits of striking women.
 But of course it has crossed my mind regularly, and it has been one of the reasons I wanted to do an all-girl group show for so long. As a (female) gallerist I feel I do have to make sure that I offer an inclusive roster. And I am excited that it is now happening with this upcoming show.

How did your next exhibition, Shaping the Future, come about, and why did you bring these artists together for the show?

Jeroen and I both had the idea of doing an all girl exhibition and decided to co-curate this together. But we felt that just a group show with only female artists would not be sufficient as a criterium in itself to curate a coherent and interesting show: it needed an extra dimension. So together we looked for female artists that we feel are part of a generation of international artists who have strong visions on the standing of women and girls in today’s society. For instance, take Jangkoal, a young artist from South Korea; she has an immense following online and is very popular in South Korea, as her work often reflects the struggles Korean girls face balancing what society demands from them and what they want to set out for themselves.

What’s next for Kallenbach? Where would you like Kallenbach gallery to be in five years time?

To be able to still work with the great roster of artists I currently work with, and maybe expand the Kallenbach family with a few more artists along the way. I’m so incredibly proud of the artists and their steady growth in the past years—like Jaybo Monk, who has been involved in some amazing projects in the US and here in Europe and has an ever widening group of collectors, very exciting.

Last: what would you do with a €20.000 production budget to spend on an exhibition?

I would love to set up an artist residency here in Amsterdam. To have an artist come in for 1 or 2 weeks and provide them not just with a place to stay, but also with materials and maybe walls to works on whilst they stay in Amsterdam.

Thanks, Nanna.