Artikel NRC 2017. foto: Martin van zomeren en videostill uit Hollandse Meesters.

Engels for damaging all your cars

As director of Engels Products Organization, Pieter Engels marketed his work through slick catalogs.

In 2010, Pieter Engels called himself ‘The rrrolls-royce amongst artists’ on the poster of his retrospective in Museum Jan Cunen in Oss. Selling himself, Engels was a master at that. As director of the Engels Products Organization, he sold his work by means of glossy catalogs. Engels died on Friday, he had been ill for some time – his gallery owner Martin van Zomeren announced.
Pieter Engels (Rosmalen, 1938) studied at the academy in Den Bosch (1955-1958) and the Rijksacademie in Amsterdam (1958-1962). Until then he had been engaged in painting. But in the early 1960s, Engels transformed himself overnight from a long-haired artist into a fresh, clean-cut businessman. In 1964 he founded Engels Products Organization (EPO), a small company that sold art objects from a showroom in Amsterdam via attractive leaflets and posters. He himself took on the role of director, his alter ego Simon Es became the sales manager’.

On behalf of the EPO, Engels offered services and activities under the heading of ‘wonder events’, such as cutting banknotes on demand and signing both halves. You could also have your car damaged or signed with a rusty nail, starting at 100 guilders. (ENGELS DAMAGES YOURE CAR BEAUTIFULLY, price from fl 100,-‘). Like his colleagues Marinus Boezem, Ger van Elk and Jan Dibbits, Engels also dealt with the conceptual ideas of the time in a humorous way. His work was full of perspective and irony, but was also subversive and denounced the market mechanisms of the art world. For example, he made twisted “Bad Constructed Canvases,” sold empty frames, and painted white canvases in complete darkness using whips and black paint. EPO also sold repurposed chairs”: chairs that had been sawed through and reassembled with hinges into disfunctional objects.

In 1971 he wrote a letter to the then Minister of Culture, Marga KlompĂ©, in which he offered the Kingdom of the Netherlands to refrain from making art for life in exchange for the sum of 25 million guilders. The offer was rejected, and so Engels continued to work. From the 1980s onwards he started painting again. In 1987 he produced the series Remembrandt: paintings and drawings after Rembrandt. Many of Engels’ actions were temporary, but the Monument to the City of Amsterdam that he created in 1977 can still be visited. It lies on a grassy field between the Goenhoven and Gouden Leeuw flats in Amsterdam Zuidoost. In a kind of Swedish granite grave he hid seventeen sealed, stainless steel boxes containing magazines, newspapers, photographs , samples of earth and water from the canals, plus the artist’s breath. According to Engels’ instructions, the time capsule was not to be excavated until 500 years later, in 2477. A film projector and a movie clip can also be found in the boxes. This shows an advertising airplane dragging the text ‘Pieter Engels and Amsterdam 1977 greetings Amsterdam 2477′ behind it. A saved radio broadcast contains news about the 1977 Dutch parliamentary elections and the train hijacking at De Punt. And there is reportedly an account booklet of the Nederlandsche Middenstandsbank in one of the boxes. There the artist opened an account with 100 guilders in 1977. It was not until 2477 that Engels’ descendants were allowed to withdraw that amount, plus interest. It is earmarked for the establishment of the Pieter Engels Museum.

Sandra Smallenburg