Art, literature, music, politics… socially and culturally this Insider is hugely educated. Ana Zoe Zijlstra is an art scientist and has already pursued an entrepreneurial and distinguished career. Every day she dedicates herself to the powerful art gallery Xavier Hufkens as Associate Director. Private Art Tours spoke with her!
PAT/ Hello Ana Zoe, we know each other for a long time and although it doesn’t seem so at first sight, your roots are situated outside of Belgium. Could you explain to what extent this has shaped you as a person and how this influenced your view as a woman in Belgium?
AZ/ I moved to Brussels when I was fourteen. Although we only crossed the national border, moving from a medium-sized village to the capital of Europe at such an age had a significant impact.
It meant a broadening of my horizon of understanding at an age when I was developing myself. Although I went to a Flemish-speaking school, almost all my friends were of non-Belgian origin: Spanish, Syrian, Moroccan, Greek, Lebanese, you name it! That was a first awareness. This led to the discovery of Brussels as a city and its many characteristics. The high concentration of art galleries, multitude of concerts and accessible cultural excess not only helped to ground me, but also supported my choice to study Art Sciences. Without it, I might have gone in a completely different direction.
PAT/ In times of a pandemic, we all realize how the absence of culture can feel like a loss. How unique is the cultural world to you on a day-to-day level?
AZ/ Culture has been a big driving force for me this past year. While the “IRL” experience may have had to suffer for a while, digitization has made a lot more convenient. Suddenly everything was accessible with one click: concerts could be watched and listened to online, there were podcasts, art collections and exhibitions I viewed through a screen: everything was being posted online. And suddenly there was time for all of it! From my living room I observed, heard and learned an enormous amount. So on that level it has really been an internalizing process. On the bright side, I have developed a very healthy appetite for “real” life, a renewed joie de vivre.
PAT/ Why do you dedicate yourself every day to Xavier Hufkens. Can you explain a little bit for the reader what your position entails?
AZ/ An art gallery has multiple roles, both visible and invisible: supporting artists and their careers. Often it goes beyond organizing exhibitions, promoting artists and selling art; we provide all kinds of services : publishing books, talks, etc. We facilitate, so that the artists can concentrate as much as possible on their work.
More precisely, is my job ambiguous: on the one hand I am press attaché and responsible for press and communication within the gallery, on the other hand I work closely with artists represented by the gallery.
PAT/ Are there any exciting projects you are currently working on at work? Something in the pipeline that you think is definitely worth explaining?
AZ/ With the gallery, we are soon to break into a new chapter. We are renovating and tripling the historic gallery space in Ixelles. Architecturally, it’s about a spectacular design, but there’s so much more to it than that. It’s also a time to think about many other aspects, to ask the right questions, to think about the future and so forth. These are exciting times!
PAT/ What gives you daily energy to accomplish what you do?
AZ/ Enough sleep! Stepping away from art once in a while – through books, close friends and family or sports – helps to keep me refreshed and with healthy energy.
PAT/ hat are your great examples in the art world right now or who is helping to shape your critical eye and framework of reference?
AZ/ I admire people who are good at looking beyond the obvious and making new associations. I have learned a lot from people like Alex Ross, David Van Reybrouck, Malcolm Gladwell, Joost Zwagerman, Simon Schama, Richard Dawkins, Carel van Schaik and Kai Michel.
PAT/ If you would close your eyes for a moment and had all the money in the world in your hands with the best people, no compromises where would you like to go in the world and with whom?
PAT/ What advice do you have for future art scholars or do you have a golden tip for new professionals in the art world?
AZ/ Be receptive, creative and receptive. Watch, read and absorb and make sure you keep learning. Have one eye on the past and one eye on the future.
PAT/ Thank you Ana Zoe, we are very happy to invite you to one of the next Private Art Tours events! Who is your ideal date for a Private Art Tour?
AZ/ That’s a tough one to choose! Roberta Smith, Ann Temkin, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, David Van Reybrouck or Giorgio Locatelli. But of course, Naomi Meulemans and Giovanna Tamà!