Kees Moonen, of Jan Royce Gallery , An Interview

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I have a love affair with art and I often find myself wondering around in the CBD exploring art spaces and the surrounds. Jan Royce Gallery caught my eye one First Thursdays evening and it’s become one of my favorite galleries to date. I love the space, where it is located, the simplicity of it, the crisp white walls and the amount of detailing in each and every art piece that is on display. It is absolutely exquisite and it is definitely worth a visit! I sat down with the gallerist, Kees Moonen earlier this year  to find out a little bit more about him and the art gallery that we have come to know as Jan Royce.


MTF: How did the gallery come about? Did you start it because you have a love for art?

Basically I have a background in business, a hardcore corporate business. But I always had a passion and have a passion for art. I have been collecting pieces from all over the world. I worked also in different countries—in Asia, in the US, in Europe. So I have an interesting private collection myself. And I thought sort of after retiring from the hardcore business, that I would go on to do what I really love that is open an art gallery.

MTF: Wow. Just like that?

We opened in October last year; so it’s still fairly new. It will always be Contemporary Art and a combination of work by local talent so to say (South African talent) then combined with international pieces.

MTF: Why Contemporary Art? If I may ask?

Because that is the part that I really understand, you know.

MTF: Oh okay.

So when you look back to the Old Dutch masters of the 16th and 17th century for instance, I like them but I don’t know enough about it.

MTF: Why South Africa? You could have settled almost anywhere? Are you South African?

No I am Dutch actually. I am from the Netherlands. I moved to Cape Town in 2008 and then went sort of back and forth commuting between South Africa and Europe for quite a few years. I did some odd jobs and I decided to move here on a permanent basis. Also what I can tell you is that there is a Jan Royce Foundation, this is called the Jan Royce Gallery but this is quite a privately owned gallery…

MTF: What’s the story behind the name?

Jan is the name of my late father and Royce is the name of the late father of my partner. And in everything we do in life we use the names actually. It’s a bit of a legacy thing, and it removes it from ourselves… What we do with the Jan Royce Foundation is 5% of the sales of the gallery flows into the foundation and the Jan Royce Foundation is supporting artists on a project basis (local artists).

MTF: That is Amazing.

What we did for instance we required the first bronze cast made by Adriaan Diedericks. If the foundation can support these young and upcoming artists it gives them a few months, let’s say, to focus on new work instead of just a bread and butter thing.

MTF: How do you select your pieces?

As you can see I have a passion for sculptures, so that’s how I started. I started making contact with local artists by calling them and I would go visit them in their own studio environment—to see what they do, why they go for certain work etcetera—and then if there is a good connection and I feel that I can actually market and promote their work we can decide on an exhibition here.

Besides the combination of work from local artists and international artists I also want to have a combination of well established artists like Anton Smit…

MTF: I have heard of Anton, yeah.

but also young and up and coming artists like Adriaan Diedericks or Stanislaw Trzebinski. He is just in his 20s the guy and also quite talented. Well, that is a bit of what I try to do or try to present.

MTF: Do you ever do just an exhibition of artworks? Or will the gallery always feature sculptures?

You mean installations?

MTF: Yes. Canvases, portraiture?

Yes. Yes. Yeah. We are exhibiting a solo work of Christopher Rimmer, an exhibition of photographic prints which just finished in New York. It was quite successful and now his work will be here. It features Nguni cattle on the Beach in South Africa. He spent half a year photographing these bulls on the beach in the Transkei. That is quite a different medium of works that we usually have.

In November this year I have a German guy called Ralph G. He does large acrylics and oil paintings.

MTF: You have love large works don’t you?

Yeah. Also they work in the space.

MTF: That was my next question; The Space. What did you envision for it when you started?

I was actually trying to find a space and I had a look at spaces in Woodstock etcetera etcetera. But what’s important if you have a gallery? I mean foot track is important and Church Street is like the ideal place to be. The nice thing is to have let’s say neighbors that are also art gallerists, we have the Cape Gallery, World Art, Smith Gallery, AVA Gallery. It’s perfect. So you know the first month people were queuing to come in and so there is a lot of exposure for the gallery but there is a whole lot of exposure for the artist as well.

MTF: I get what you mean.

This used to be an antique shop for many many years.

MTF: Why keep it all white and clean and..? Does it somehow go along with the Contemporary feel of the space?

It doesn’t distract from the artwork which I think the art should speak for itself. I installed professional spotlights; it’s always a combination of white cool light and warm sort of yellowish light. What is does is that it brings out the true color of the artworks, it doesn’t distort them. If it’s white you see white and if it’s red it’s red. So it doesn’t distort the color, it really enhances the colors of the artwork itself. And I think what works here with the high ceilings is how the artwork has room to breathe and it makes it quite special. Even if work comes in here sometimes I think mmm and you start unpacking stuff, but when you hang it the spotlight makes it look like a million bucks.

In the exhibitions some works will come back in a period of a month you will see new work and new artists.

MTF: How has Cape Town welcomed art gallery? How’s the response been?

Actually it’s a very positive response. It is great to be in this location because it’s very alive this area. Whereas if you are tucked way somewhere. There is a coffee shop nearby. Well if you look at the clients that buy the artwork I would say 50% is local South Africa client and 50% overseas. A lot of people from the US, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands are interested really interested seriously interested in art in South Africa. Most of the artworks are being shipped.

MTF: What was your vision for the gallery?

My vision was to provide a platform for artists and also to present something different and to put a focus on sculptures as well. If you compare Jan Royce to other galleries on the street it’s different work. I don’t see this as competition. I would say the more the merrier. It becomes a hub for the art lovers in Cape Town. It’s almost like the old fashioned way in medieval times. You had everything sort of concentrated in one place, you know.

MTF: Describe your perfect day at the gallery.

My perfect day at the gallery would be lots of people walking in, lots of interest in the artwork and the artists, a lot of interaction. I think that for me is the perfect day. People enjoying the artwork and that’s why we work so the artist in the end gets the exposure.

MTF: Your MOST favorite Artwork of all time that you’ve actually purchased.

It’s by a Chinese Contemporary Artist. It is a painting. I was thinking of exhibiting it in the gallery NOT FOR SALE for people to enjoy. Cai Fujun – “My Classmate”.

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Jan Royce Gallery:

64 Church Street, Cape Town, Western Cape, 8000

Tel: 082 566 9625

Opening Times:

Wednesday – Friday 11h00 – 16h00

Saturday 10h00 – 13h00





Interview and Images by: Lee Lebotsa