Jan Van Eyck Academie

Jan Van Eyck Academie

infobox University
name =
established = 1948
director = Koen Brams
researchers = 48
city = Maastricht
country = NL
website = [http://www.janvaneyck.nl/ Jan van Eyck]
The Jan van Eyck Academie is a post-academic institute for research and production in the fields of fine art, design and theory, based in Maastricht in the south of The Netherlands. The academy offers individuals and institutes the opportunity to submit research or production proposals.


1947–1948: setting, principles, practice

As early as August 1928, priest Leo W. Linssen, architect Alphons Boosten and artist Jan Engelman meet to discuss the state of art in the province of Limburg. Whatever arguments they adduce in favour of the establishment of a catholic art academy in the south of the country, their ideas never materialise and many years pass without any decisive action being undertaken.

Nearly two decades later, in December 1947, a meeting is called that will engender the constitution of an academy for fine and applied art. In this meeting, the bishopric of Roermond, the local authorities of Maastricht, the Province of Limburg and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science agree on its support.

On 13th May 1948, the day of patron saint Servaas, the charter of foundation is executed. This day, ever since observed as the academy’s Dies Natalis, the St. Bernulphus foundation officially establishes an institute for advanced education in fine art that is based on catholic principles. The academy in Maastricht is a catholic counterpart of the non-denominational Rijksacademie (State Academy) in Amsterdam, founded in 1870. The institute’s main objectives are to further and expand art education in the broadest sense of the word. The academy is a private institute, subsidized by several authorities: the State, the province and the local authorities. Surprisingly perhaps, the diocese contributes little: a limited loan and some money from donations. The deed, after all, stipulated that the students should be trained in their art practice for tasks in the service of the catholic church, which involved the reconstruction, restoration and decoration of churches destroyed in the war.

On 1st October, the official opening, seven students are enrolled; their numbers increase to fifteen in the course of the academic year. The students’ technical competence and theoretical knowledge are meticulously tested. The entrance exam takes about a week and includes a practical exam in which they show their talents for drawing, sketching and modelling and an oral exam on ready knowledge, the history of art, literature and religion. Compulsory subjects include the history of art, iconography, theology and philosophy, liturgy, sources of Christian art, history of civilization and literature. However, the statement of principles stresses that contemporary art, art that reflects the times, is vital to the academy’s set-up. ‘Making do’ is the motto the first students adopt.

In November 1948, the Reverend Leo W. Linssen is assigned first director of the Jan van Eyck Academie. The name is submitted in honour of the painter of the famous ‘Adoration of the Lamb’. Linssen, in his somewhat high-flown opening speech, explains that the Lamb, basking in the Spirit of His Father, makes the life-giving source flow the earth. Christian artists, in contour and colour, make the beauty shine that is the light of Christ, the Lamb. Van Eyck’s altarpiece shows and represents the whole of the earth and mankind and yet the painting’s landscape is decidedly Dutch. Van Eyck, then, was a learner in an extended world. The Jan van Eyck Academie reaches out toward all young artists in the country to help them find ways to a general human art that springs from their very personalities. It is a centre of international relations, a place where people meet geographically as well as mentally. From the city of Maastricht, Linssen further states, catholic faith spread towards the rest of the country. In the like manner, Divine and human beauty is to shine across the Netherlands. The academy, he concludes, sets about as modestly as the artist Jan Van Eyck who took on the motto ‘As best I can’ (‘als ick can’). (Over the years, the catholic ideas and the ideals in general are put into effect and practice with varying success. It is argued that the Jan Van Eyck Academie has adopted changes in teaching methods and educational philosophies more easily than some other art institutes since, the argument runs, it was never too much tied to traditions.)

The Jan van Eyck Academie initially takes up residence in the former Sepulchrine church and the next door Bonnefanten convent at the Ezelsmarkt. The main building, which it shares with the theatre academy and the Limburg Council of Culture (Culturele Raad Limburg), houses the office, the auditorium, and the workshop for monumental painting. In the connecting system of narrow passageways and dark dungeons, natural light is sparse. Some rooms, cave-like in nature, contain the Graphic Department’s studios and printing presses and a recreation area for students. In the attic of the Bonnefanten, above the museum, painters and their models reside in den-like rooms that are divided into compartments by lathing, covered by jute. In there, it is either too draughty or too stuffy. The larger part of the year it is full of vile-smelling fumes from round iron stoves. The short, choleric doorkeeper, always short of breath, can be seen lugging heavy buckets of coals up the creaking stairs several times a day. Behind the convent, barracks are in use for the sculptors.

In 1949 the Board decides that, as an applied art institution, the academy should incorporate the education and training of architects. Consequently, three workshops are set up: for architecture, fine art (i.e. monumental and decorative painting) and sculpture. Classes of theory, aesthetics and technical education – with a firm scientific basis and run by experts – are compulsory for all. Education and training focus on the cultural-artistic, the aesthetic and the technical. There are studios for (glass) ceramics, mosaics, plaster casting; even the goldsmith’s trade is taught. Through lectures, public classes, plays and musical performances the academy intends to spread its influence. In 1951 the Jan van Eyck Academie spreads physically as well: the main building takes up the larger part of the 17th-century orphanage in the Lenculenstraat. The second decade: looking for a distinguished identity

On 21st July 1952 the first Laureates are given to 15 students. In October 1954, J.J.M. Timmers, professor of art history and iconography, director of the Bonnefanten museum, published author and generally a very busy man, becomes the Jan van Eyck Academie’s second director. His major tasks are to find the academy a new building, to take action against students who, all too often, play truant, and to establish an equal treatment and status between the Jan van Eyck Academie and the Rijksacademie in Amsterdam. Consultations concerning the latter soon run aground because the Board of Governors insists on the Jan van Eyck Academie remaining a private institute, based on catholic principles. In the same year, plans for a new building, designed by the leading architect Frits Peutz, are presented and approved. However, the building job is only put out for a contractor in 1959. In June 1959 construction works begin and in January 1961 the new building is finally moved into – a building that is but a third of the size of Peutz’ original plan. Timmers further intends to effect a new and distinguished identity for the Jan van Eyck. By 1961, when it finally can take up its station in a building of its own, the academy has undergone a drastic transformation. Teaching and advising staff have changed considerably, the basic catholic principles are more moderately adhered to. (It should be noted that until the summer term of 1965 the Academie kept on a student moderator who was responsible for the students’ social and spiritual welfare.) In a speech at the consecration of the new building – presided by the bishop of Roermond and opened by the secretary of State – Dr. J.A.J. Peters, professor at the university of Nijmegen, opposes the idea that art perfectly fits the divisions of inspiration and craftsmanship, vision and skill, emotion and expression. The characteristic feature of contemporary art, he argues, lies in the inextricable unity of moments that can only be separated by some degree of abstraction. It is rightfully claimed that the artist reveals truth, that the work of art shows a vision of man and world, that it creates a world in its own right. As such, the artist is a seer in the very act of creation. In shaping material he puts forward his message. Creative use of material and sense of poetic vision are one.

At the beginning of 1965, Prof. Timmers resigns from his function as director and is succeeded by Albert Troost. Troost, for some time, has reflected on and considered the status of the Jan van Eyck as an institute of higher education. With Ko Sarneel he visited art institutions in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Düsseldorf and Brussels and studied their educational programmes and methods. The two men draw a master plan that emphasises the Academie’s need for a cachet of its own and a clear statement of principles, which includes the integration of different disciplines and a well-founded programme. It boils down to the following: the policy of education matches developments in contemporary art practices, entry requirements become more rigid, more visiting lecturers are employed, the subject of chromatics or theory of colour is introduced and a station for the testing of materials is equipped. Organisation-wise, a base year and fact-finding or reference year are introduced. The adage, initially instigated by a 1962 policy plan, is that art education should be more individually directed: the student, his consciousness and questions feature centrally. Education is restricted to fine art; classes on perspective and anatomy are abolished.

The third decade: a new setting of task

The Jan van Eyck Academie’s third decade shows drastic changes. Subsidies are gradually increasing. In order for the students to be trained as all-round experts in fine art, divisions between fields, subjects, disciplines and classes are done away with. As an art institute it offers room for education, research and experiment. When in 1966 the Minister of Culture, Recreation and Social Affairs opens a new wing next to the existing building, he praises the Academie for being outstandingly fitted out: there is a shop for metal working, a welding workshop, a carving workshop, a foundry or moulding shop for bronze, a kiln for pottery and means are provided to work with synthetic materials.

In 1969 the departments of Theatre, Design and Mixed Media are set up. They are anti-departments or rather multi-disciplinary departments and as such perfectly tie in with the idea of doing away with divisions between disciplines. In working out and effecting their multi-disciplinary concepts, students of the Mixed Media Department use the timberwork shop, the welding shop, the photo studio, the darkrooms, the silk-screen printery, the audio-video studio, the printery, the foundry. These creative activities result in installations, prints, performances and actions. Math Cortlever, alumnus of the Stadsacademie, expert in forging and welding and worker in precious metals, is appointed as assistant. The departments of Monumental Art and Applied Art are closed. Society has gradually become secular and the Church has always been the main commissioner of stained-glass windows, murals and mosaics. (Troost’s idea of monumental visual art materialised in the church of Marpertuis. In a cooperation with architect Jean Huysmans, Troost made a colourful glass coating – which is both wall and gigantic circle – all around the church’s interior.)

In 1971 a report of the Study Committee for the Education of Fine Art (Studiecommissie Onderwijs Beeldende Kunsten) states that for a student to be successful and polyvalent, he needs a sense of mobility and of completeness, and a way to integrate the materials – which comprises the student himself – and the techniques he uses. A student should not be expected to specialise prematurely, but should instead work beyond departmental or institutional divisions to bring about cooperation and exchange. An art institute should be a breeding ground for research and experiment, a sanctuary of innovation. Education in the sense of systematic schooling and instruction is no longer its core business. The year 1978 sees a new official setting of task. Rather than a place of instruction, the Jan van Eyck Academie becomes a platform (‘werkplaats’): a complex centre where manufacture is carried out as well as a place for discussion, study and experiment. Accommodation, equipment, expert supervision and coaching should promote research and trigger new developments and projects, presentations, work placements in the art milieu, post-graduate or continuing education, new courses, extra-curricular activities and events that reach beyond the Academie’s community.

In 1980 Ko Sarneel, head of the Mixed Media department, becomes acting director and proposes a Five-Year Plan, which entails a new master workshop and assistants, an increase in the scope and quality of projects and manifestations for the public at large. Visual token of Sarneel’s term of office are the round wholes that still mark the building. On a November night, John T. Kormeling, alumnus of the TH Eindhoven, transforms the Jan van Eyck Academie into an ‘Art Factory’ for twenty-four hours. The ribs and diagonals of this imaginary building are visualized within and through the existing one by means of laser beams that concur high up the sky.

Two years later, William PARS Graatsma becomes director when Ko Sarneel resumes his function as head of the Mixed Media department. During his directorship a video studio and audio room are set up that soon flourish and the photography section becomes autonomous. The Mixed Media department increasingly accommodates researchers who do not nicely fit into the traditional pigeonholes. When the Jan van Eyck Academie celebrates its 40th anniversary in 1988, Wiel Arets and Wim van den Bergh are asked by Mr Graatsma to make a design for the institute, to translate the policy plan into architectural terms. ‘Macchina Arte’ is the name chosen for the project, the architectonic concept that is about a complex set of thoughts that converge in the concept of ‘machine’. By this time, the Jan van Eyck Academie has truly become an international centre and platform. The majority of advising researchers are from abroad, as are the bulk of the students at the Mixed Media department who come from Iceland, Scandinavia, Great-Britain, Germany, the Balkans, Spain, Poland, Egypt, Israel, the United States, Columbia, Mexico, Peru, South Africa, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan. Dutch and English are the languages of communication.

The 1990s: three disciplines

The 1991 policy plan, with Jan van Toorn as director, states that the Jan van Eyck Academie is an international post-graduate centre in which three disciplines of fine art, design and theory are given equal standing. The dynamic programmatic set-up, in which individual freedom, disciplinary discourse and a wider cultural context are intricately linked, and the horizontal organisational structure ensure far-reaching independence and mutual interchange and interaction in the disciplines of architecture, sculpture, photography, graphics, painting, video-audio and mixed forms of these media. The Jan van Eyck Academie is a venue for practical and theoretical reflection that is not restricted to accepted values, a place to explore the historical, social and intellectual preconditions for visual production, to extend and deepen reflective practices and stimulate critical debate. Researchers are expected to have attained a practical and theoretical level that allows them to make full contribution to discussion and research. They engage in multi- and trans-disciplinary activities (practical and theoretical) and critical inquiry, combining empirical research with primary and interpretative research.

In 1992 a computer workshop is set up and in 1995 the Academie is connected to the Internet. By now, there are seven professional technical workshops: the audio and video studios, the computer workshop, the printery, the photo studio, and workshops for graphics, wood and materials. The media and documentation centres and archive are expanded and the documentation centre carries out an active policy of acquisition of books, video and audio material. The Academie increasingly goes public through publications, presentations, lectures, seminars, symposia and exhibitions. In the 1997 policy plan director van Toorn calls the Jan van Eyck Academie an ‘ongoing work in progress, a place for debate, for controversy, and hopefully for contradiction. It is a question of not excluding the element of incalculability, of taking risks with what has not yet received articulation.’

In 1998 Marianne Brouwer, former curator of sculpture at the Kröller-Müller museum in Otterlo, is appointed director. New research programmes in Transcultural Studies and Design and Media are set up. In the spring of 1999 the Board asks to start formulating the new policy for 2001-2004. In the autumn this process continues under the management of Simon den Hartog, acting director and former director of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and founder of the Sandberg Instituut of which he remains director until 1999.

The millennium year and following: post-academic institute for research and production

In 2000 Koen Brams is appointed director of the Jan van Eyck as a post-academic institute for research and production in the fields of fine art, design and theory. The institute’s programme, as indicated in the policy plan, is the sum of all research and production undertaken. The Academie, today, is involved in the various disciplines in complex and challenging ways. To establish inter-disciplinarity (in the sense of factual collaboration) and trans-disciplinarity is less than evident and yet, Brams claims, it offers a multitude of opportunities in terms of depth and range. The concept of production is to be understood in the broadest sense possible: it is the result of any form of research: lectures, exhibitions, presentations, seminars. The Jan van Eyck offers high-standard artistic and technical advice that is truly customised – that is: in response to individual requirements. Researchers are invited to theorise, produce, formulate and methodise. Hallmark of research is its discursive character; many different participants engage in discourses of various kinds. The institute is post-academic in that it offers alternative views of research and production. For the research and production to be successfully organised, a climate of involvement should prevail in which researchers, artistic and technical staff establish alliances, networking and collaborations that are both conceptual and technical. Since 2001 the Academie’s weekly programme is accessible to the public; opening up the institute has created a greater critical space. A new artistic advisory structure is introduced: advising researchers of the three departments carry out departmental tasks together. In every department a core team of advising researchers is active. They initiate and supervise research projects, but their tasks also include matters of institutional and policies, programming, selection, studio visits, lectures, seminars, presentations. They are doing their own research and set up productions in the Academie.

The Jan van Eyck Academie keeps questioning the institutional, the premeditated model, received opinions. It stretches itself to move beyond definitions, beyond the stability of construction. It requires openness and redefinition. It is a place where concepts are forged and tested and then dropped or taken on. Clearly, in reconsidering and reformulating its principles and practices, the Jan van Eyck Academie has always looked towards the future.

List of works consulted

Rita van den Boogaart-Boerdijk. (1972). De geschiedenis van de Jan van Eyck Academie te Maastricht. Maastricht, NL: unpublished dissertation.

Octavian Esanu, Franziska Lesàk & Giselle de Oliveira Macedo (eds.). (2000). Unfortunately last Sunday afternoon somebody left the door open…. Sittard, NL: Museum Het Domein, Maastricht, NL: Jan van Eyck Academie.

Ko Sarneel. (1988). De geschiedenis van de Jan van Eyck Academie. Maastricht, NL: Jan van Eyck Academie.

Policy plans and annual reports of the Jan van Eyck Academie. (1988–2004). Maastricht, NL: Jan van Eyck Academie.

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