“Play Van Abbe” is a series of exhibitions spanning 18 months, organised by the Van Abbe Museum to experiment with ways “to mediate the public’s reactions to art and its contexts”. The experiment challenges the traditional role of the museum and its conventions to search for the museum model of the 21st century. In light if this, the Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE) joined the “Play” initiative in its third installation, titled The Politics of Collecting/The Collecting of Politics, with the idea of investigating new ways of making art collections accessible. The RCE Accessibility Programme chose an art collection partly owned by the RCE and which presents a controversial character: the “BKR Eindhoven” collection.
Its name refers to all the artworks that were acquired by the Eindhoven Council through the Beeldende Kunstenaars Regeling (BKR) or “Visual Artists Scheme” (1949-1987). During these forty years thousands of artists benefitted from the state financial support in exchange of artworks that were sent to a central government’s and to local depots, Eindhoven being one of them. At the end of the 1980s, when the BKR stopped, the reality showed that the scheme had led to the creation of a contemporary art collection co-owned by the state and the local municipality.
The current “BKR collection” is not a legitimate collection for the art world. It constitutes a bastard creature due to its troubled source and history, lacking the aesthetic criteria that determine the guidelines of an institutional art collection, and this fact leading to the low appreciation that it has historically enjoyed. The BKR collection appears but as a social scheme for art institutions and the bulk of the works remains stored in depots or hang in public buildings with no notice of their history or source leading to its invisibility. This fact makes the BKR collection especially interesting for the RCE Accessibility Programme, which has sought new ways of making art accessible to the great audience. As part of the experiment, the researchers chose social media to make the art collection not only visible but also accessible. Facebook, Twitter, Digg , Flickr, Delicious, Hyves, Linkedin and Stumble-Upon have spread the word over the project in an attempt to catch the attention to younger generations, especially those who do not know about the life and history of these state artworks.
The Play BKR Eindhoven has achieved several unexpected results. Firstly, the state collection-management staff was invited to participate in the project by choosing an artwork from the BKR Eindhoven collection and researching it. As a result, the collection data has been updated—images, titles, dates, etc.—and several artworks have been restored. Another beneficial side effect of the project is that the staff has learned to blog, publishing personal research online. Lastly, the focus of the project shifted from the Accessibility Programme research to the particulars of the BKR case study; they became equally as important, at least for spectators outside of the agency. The abstract character of the research topic on the one hand, and the research possibilities that a forgotten art collection offered to the RCE’s staff and to public that visited the webpage of the project have been the motors of the shift. Interestingly enough, the strength of the audience’s input has been the strongest one and has greatly determined the future developments of this highly experimental project.