Foundation Van Achterbergh-Domhof, Netherlands, in awarding the Van Achterbergh Prize to Babs Haenen, described her as, “solid as a rock’, both in her art and personality. But it is only half the story. She is also as wild as the sea, waves crashing relentlessly against those rocks.
The Foundation writes that Babs Haenen’s work is technically virtuoso, sophisticated in finishing and color, monumental and poetic at the same time:
“At the basis of that work is a small but very strong woman, who, for almost half a century, has been working extremely hard on a consistent oeuvre with which she is at the top of international ceramic art, to this day. That commands respect and admiration. We award this prize to her as a tribute to her work, but also as a stimulus, because we still expect a lot of her”.
Princessehof National Museum of Ceramics in Leeuwarden, is presenting a selection from Haenen’s oeuvre that range from historical work to recent pieces, created in her studio in Amsterdam. Below are installation views of this exhibition with permission of the Museum.
Receiving the prize was an emotional moment for Haenen. Jacob van Achterbergh, a collector, followed and supported her throughout her career and they had both a professional and a personal bond. As she commented: ‘It is as if, even now, after all those years, he is still taking care of me.’
In honor of this award, her work was on show at the Eye of the Collector Viewing Room, organized by Ting Ying Gallery in London, through to May 31, 2020. She is also one of the artists in their exhibition, Time Suspended – Group Show of Women Artists (29 October – 23 December).
Part of her qualifications for the prize was as an ambassador for ceramics. Peripatetic, Haenen is a fearless, sometimes shockingly blunt speaker (“it saves time” she says) and Haenen has driven the medium forward in Europe, the UK, US and China.
In full disclosure, we are friends and Mark Del Vecchio and I represented her in LA and NYC from 1984-2008. We remain close friends. I remember meeting Babs in the mid-1980’s when she invited me speak at the Gerrit Rietveld Akademie in Amsterdam. Through her I met the uber-minimalist, Geert Lap, (with whom she was very close) and she opened up a pivotal door into European Culture, linking us to the famous design and art couple, Friso Broeksma and Benno Premsela. For us, meeting them, was a life changing moment.
Every summer for fourteen years (sometimes with our young sons) we lived in their guest apartment in an old canal house on Kaisersgracht (we renamed it ”our” apartment). Haenen and Broeksma were our anchors in Amsterdam when we organized the huge Ceramic Millennium Conference in 1999, attended by over 3,500 international delegates. We owe so much to her. So does the field.
In an interview, Haenen singled out a comment from an essay I wrote about her work, “Garth wrote ‘the inside is trying to become the outside’, and that specific sentence captures my Turbulent Vessels work perfectly.” I am flattered.