Linda van der Vleuten, born in Nederweert in the province of Limburg, has lived in Rotterdam for 18 years. After studying graphic design at the School of Art & Design in Den Bosch and Breda, she decided to put down roots in Rotterdam. Then as now, landing a job at a good design studio wasn’t easy. Still too inexperienced to start her own business, Linda wound up working at a succession of agencies. There she learned a lot, but never felt quite at home.
In 2007, Linda met Bruce Tsai-Meu-Chong, and in 2010 they opened a gallery together: Opperclaes. Neighbours offered the couple an old vacant ground-floor shop to use as a project space for three months. They crammed their calendar with projects and expos, setting up new openings nearly every week. In the end, they got to use the space for seven years, enabling them to build Opperclaes from the ground up.
You host exhibitions in your gallery on Claes de Vrieslaan and take on a variety of projects on location. What kinds of exhibitions and projects are we talking about?
We ran Opperclaes gallery from 2010 to 2017. We noticed that, like us, many artists, designers and photographers had a hard time forging a path for themselves after art school. They can’t get a foothold because they’re not known or experienced enough to get gallery shows or enough clients to make a living. We had this amazing space in the city and tried to offer a showcase for as many talented people as possible – a first, for many. It was an experiment, but I’d say we did really well. And in those seven years we also built up a big network that’s still immensely valuable to us nowadays.
In 2010 we called it quits. It was time for a next step and we were increasingly keen to make work of our own. There were a growing number of requests and commissions coming from outside the gallery and we wanted to focus on those: to make our own work again, while still collaborating with the many artists and designers we got to know through the gallery. It’s still important to us to connect young designers and artists with clients, and we’re still curating all kinds of projects.
Bruce Tsai-Meu-Chong is your partner, both in life and business. How did you two meet?
Bruce and I met through a mutual friend. We were at a horrible party in the Maassilo and got to talking. A few days later we went to the première of a documentary about Wu-Tang Clan at Thalia – that was our first date. Bruce was still in art school in Utrecht, and I had a job with Unilever. Our lives were running on very different tracks, but in 2010 we finally moved in together. Now we have two kids and work together full time. That’s going surprisingly well. We don’t always see eye to eye, of course, but we complement each other well.
You mentioned how important it is to both of you to provide a showcase particularly for artists just starting out. Why is that so important?
It’s important that young makers are given opportunities. After all, you learn by doing. As an artist or designer, you’ve got to be incredibly motivated, have discipline and grit. Even more so when you’re taking your first steps. Not everyone gets lucky, so to give someone an opportunity could well make all the difference for them. Had our neighbours not offered us that space years ago, Opperclaes would never have existed.We feel it’s important to show clients and Rotterdam what a wealth of designers and artists we have, so projects don’t just always end up going to the usual suspects. When we had our gallery, we noticed a lot of people have a hard time even crossing the threshold. That’s why, years ago, we started painting the mural on the side of the Hofbogen. Now we invite different artists to paint the wall each year, and it’s still a kind of public gallery. We believe art should be for everybody, not just for the elite. Artworks evoke emotion in everyone, they set something in motion. That’s another reason why we mostly work in public spaces.
Opperclaes has a high profile in RCD. What’s your view of this neighbourhood?
We’re proud to have contributed to making this a highly diverse area. We painted the Schieblock Luchtsingel [‘air canal’, ed.], our studio and Joren Joshua collaborated on a large mural, we curated the two painted tunnels here, supplied new paintings for Biergarten and laid out a skate park in Park Pompenburg with great big wooden 3D letters for skateboarding. RCD is a fertile place: there are lots of terrific things being developed and produced here. It encourages us to keep working to enhance the public space, both in and outside RCD. There’s also an incredible energy here. We work from a studio along the railway tracks in the Schiekadeblok and are surrounded by wonderful, hardworking partners. We support each other’s progress. The architectural firm ZUS, Operator, Hiphophuis, the furniture maker Jeroen van Sluis, Biergarten, Pinkman’s record shop, Poing (previously BAR), MESS, Crimson Historians & Urbanists and so many more with whom we’re striving to make this area more beautiful, better and recognized. Despite the fact that the Schiekadeblock finds itself in a turbulent time and many changes will take place in the near future, we consider this a creative period in which beautiful collaborations can arise with new partners. We feel at home here and will remain in this area. We think the soul of the area is important. That is why we regularly get together with our neighbors Crimson Historians & Urbanists to talk about the future and the preservation of the creative ecosystem of the Rotterdam area.
What more do you think RCD needs? Is there anything missing here?
We think it would be great for the area to have a public outdoor sports facility. We’ve discussed this with MESS in the past and did some sketches, so – who knows – maybe one day? Wouldn’t it be great though if after a hard day’s work there was a court with awesome murals where everyone could go shoot some hoops? An RCD tournament: I can see it now!
What are your plans for the rest of 2021?
At the moment we’re hard at work on Project Rebound, one of our own initiatives that – thanks to CityLab010 and a whole bunch of others – we’re fortunate enough to start developing. This will transform the pitches along Beukelsdijk in Rotterdam West into valuable public spaces where art and sports converge. Working with residents and sport partners, we’ll be developing leadership programmes to turn this area into a positive gathering space, with a massive 2,500 m2 floor painting. This project will start taking shape this summer. It’s been a long road, but it’s amazing to be going into production now. Moreover, we’re also continuing on existing projects like the Opperclaes XL-Hofbogen mural project, the Luchtsingel and the skate park in Park Pompenburg, and there are various other projects in the pipeline we hope to tackle soon.