De Pont Museum is a contemporary art museum in Tilburg, North Brabant, the Netherlands. De Pont has been named after the attorney and businessman Jan de Pont (1915-1987), whose estate provided for the establishment of a foundation to stimulate contemporary visual art in 1988. With its founding director Hendrik Driessen, the decision was made to transform a Tilburg wool-spinning mill into a museum. Since its opening in 1992, the collection has grown to include more than 800 works by approximately eighty nationally and internationally known artists, among them Marlene Dumas, Bill Viola and Anish Kapoor.
Attorney Jan de Pont, who died in 1987, had decided that part of his estate was to be used to stimulate contemporary art, but left it up to the board of the new foundation to determine how and where that would take shape. This created the exceptional situation of a private ‘museum’ (director Hendrik Driessen avoided this term for the first couple of years, in the belief that one has to earn such a title) which did not begin with a collection bequeathed by the founder, and which made no appeal for support from government organizations or funds. That financial independence continues to exist to this day.
The fact that the museum eventually came to be located in Tilburg has had everything to do with Jan de Pont. As a former resident of this city, he was concerned about the fate of the vanishing textile industry and, during the 1960s, had helped the Thomas de Beer wool-spinning mill to get back on its feet after bankruptcy. Twenty years later the business could eventually no longer compete with corporations abroad and had to discontinue its operations. This conveniently coincided with the foundation’s search for housing. The property was acquired for a symbolic amount, and four of the six remaining employees of the mill were hired by the foundation.
De Pont opened its doors on September 12, 1992. Since then, the museum has expanded both its collection and its building. Since 2016 photography and video art have been displayed in the museum’s new wing specially designed for this purpose.
Hendrik Driessen retired in June 2019, passing on the directorship to Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen.
Since De Pont Foundation had no collection from the start, its acquisition policy could be determined beforehand. It was decided that there would be no focus on a specific generation, art-historical movement or social ideology, nor on a specific art form. The only stipulation was that the artworks were to be created by living artists. The visual strength of the artwork itself was the sole focus.
After the acquisition of a small painting of Rob Birza (Untitled (The Hand)) was approved by the board, Hendrik Driessen soon started to collect some large and iconic art works, such as Richard Long’s Planet Circle and The First People by Marlene Dumas. Four artists with distinct reputations in contemporary art — James Turrell, Gerhard Merz, Richard Serra and Richard Long – were asked to produce a work in situ for the first presentation of the collection.
The museum had set a goal to collect in terms of depth rather than breadth, meaning that the acquisition policy involved following a limited number of artists over a longer period of time, with the intention of collecting ‘key works’ within a body of work that could represent the essence of that artist’s outlook. In order to achieve that, distinct choices had to be made; and so the collection has grown in a relatively slow manner. Over the years the museum has come to own roughly 800 works, more than half of which is photography or work on paper, by eighty different artists. A number of them— including Berlinde De Bruyckere, Thierry De Cordier, Anton Henning, Roni Horn, Anri Sala, Fiona Tan, Robert Therrien, Rosemarie Trockel, Luc Tuymans and Mark Wallinger — were introduced to the Netherlands or given their first major exhibition by De Pont. The museum has consistently shown three major exhibitions a year highlighting the oeuvre of one of the artists from the collection. In addition, there are smaller solo exhibitions in the ‘podium space’ that are not directly related to the collection.
Among the masterpieces in the collection are Grapes (Ai WeiWei), Vertigo (Anish Kapoor), Planet Circle (Richard Long), Palpebre (Giuseppe Penone), Hermes Trismegistos I-IV (Sigmar Polke), Black Drawings (Marlene Dumas), Gutter Splash Two Corner Cast (Richard Serra), Große Geister (Thomas Schütte), The Greeting (Bill Viola) and Wachsraum (Wolfgang Laib). A full overview of the artists and artworks can be found on the museum’s website (https://depont.nl/en/collection/artists/).