The secret life of things

Esther Manon Van Ekeris talks about her concept-gallery THE 2212
by Mariachiara Marzari

THE 2212, a few short steps from Fondazione Prada, is the brainchild of Esther Manon Van Ekeris. It is a concept gallery, half showroom half art gallery, that houses an educated selection of objects, lights, and art – unique and original pieces, changed regularly.

Created and produced thanks to the precious support of Van Ekeris’s partner, the president of the Valmont Group Didier Guillon, THE 2212 is the dream of a lifetime that turns into reality. Venice couldn’t but be the co-protagonist of this story. For Esther Manon Van Ekeris, passion and study start from lighting design to touch art and high craftsmanship. Her personality created the rest – a perfect mix of taste and exquisite European refinement that, at THE 2212, shows what people want and connects art, artists, designers, and public in what is a true network of beauty. Every item or piece of art chosen by Van Ekeris came to life thanks to extraordinary craftsmanship and artistry. Each have been realized with the most precious materials and bare high artistic value. THE 2212 is a project of knowledge and value. It shows the item as well as its story and its character. This place won us over, as did Esther Manon Van Ekeris.

THE 2212 is a mix of attitudes: art to make, to see, to touch, to discover. It is an exploration of languages and materials of creativity. Before we get to know more about it, what can you tell us about your cultural reference points in art and design?
I have always been interested in lighting design. I spent years studying the European market to discover artists and craftsmen to share my very own creative project with. I found hundreds, and I chose those who were more in line with what I wanted and with my ideas. I still work with them to this day. This, in brief, is what I did before I opened my showroom. I then met Didier [Guillon]. We have been together for almost six years, and over this time, I dedicated myself completely to his artistic research. I felt his creative world was very, very close to my own. At the beginning of our relationship, both he and I kept working each on their own projects; it was only three yeas later, in 2020, after a romantic getaway here in Venice, at Hotel Aman, that we decided to open a showroom in town. We had been talking for a while about opening a place dedicated to art and design, a place to share ideas and scout for information. Venice represented the perfect occasion to make our passions meet and mix them in a single space. Our meeting point was, indeed, my passion for lighting design created exclusively by craftsmen and artists. It took three years to turn this idea into reality, and now, here we are!

Your studies.
I studied design, obviously, and graduated in lighting design. It is in my DNA! My maternal aunt was a designer, and I have always admired her creations since I was a kid. That’s when my passion was born. My mother kept her designs in our old home, in Holland, and each time I visit her, it’s like looking at them for the first time. They are modern, original, beautiful objects, not one bit outdated.

When did you realize that Venice would be the ideal place to settle and to build something stimulating that would be all your own?
That was when things got serious with Didier, who had just moved to Venice at the time. Didier has known Venice for over thirty years. Obviously, I had visited Venice several times myself, but Didier helped me discover the authentic Venice, its more artistic side, which is so different than the more immediate, yet superficial, more touristic vision. Venice offered us a chance to live and work together. We share a passion for craftsmanship – we want to defend it, respect it, and tell its stories. Some craftsmen and artists whom we work with already had their renown, but there are others in town and elsewhere whose work must be made more visible. They are outstanding. They are excellent. Thanks to THE 2212, we will be able to do so. Thanks to all the people we met and we keep meeting here, we understand what is the prime essence of Venice and its history. Each day, we become more aware that all the people who contributed and contribute to make Venice what it is, its very inhabitants, are an essential part of its safeguard and its existence. Maybe Venetians took many things for granted. For them, extraordinariness is an everyday thing. Those who see Venice from the outside, though, can see what is special in the smallest things. It’s unbelievable, the more you know Venice, the more you fall in love with it!

Let’s talk about THE 2212. How does it work as an exhibition site?
An essential part of the project is the large video that, every four months, introduces a new artist or several artists, whose work will be exhibited on site. The next changeover will take place in early May. We have so many ideas and so many themes to work on, as well as much art to study and to present to the public. It has been hard to make choices and pick the right artists, but we believe in what we did. Now, all it takes is to produce the best exhibition there can be. Each video displays different visions, and, consequently, a new exposition: new artists, new art, new objects, new lamps. This doesn’t mean everything will change. There will be a new perspective, a new way to see things and perceive the art. There are also artists we grew very close to, and who will always have a place at THE 2212. They represent in clear fashion the identity of the place, our ideas, and our philosophy. Artists such as Leonardo Cimolin, Aristide Najean, or Kimiko Yoshida will always be present at THE 2212.

An exhibition area, as well as a place for different artists to converge and exchange.
Exactly. We cannot and don’t want to exhibit too many pieces and too many objects. We want to highlight the value in each and the connection they have. It takes particular attention and particular light on every one of them.

Speaking of artists, Didier Guillon has a special place at THE 2212 – not in the foreground, but in a more private and intimate space…
The lounge is, indeed, special in this sense. I love Didier’s art. I first put up the cage in the exhibition area, then the gorilla, then the mask… at this point, a whole room is dedicated to him. He needs to create, that’s what it’s all about.

Is the art for sale?
If anyone’s interested in purchasing the art, we shall put them in contact with the artist, so that they can arrange the sale together. This is a network, that’s what makes all the difference. When you buy art, it is important to know who is the artist, and where and how it was created. This is important for us, and that’s why we decided to produce short films on the artworks and the artists. Most people generally don’t go beyond the work, but in fact, there’s so much more to discover beyond its immediate evidence. That’s what we try to help with using video. Say, one buys a piece by Aristide Najean: to see the ‘Cathedral’, the glass furnace in Murano where it’s been brought to life, allows us to understand fully the real value of the sculpture. Our idea is to make it so that prospective buyers will always know what kind of work, and how much of it, went into the making of the art.

The role of genius loci.
We started with local craftsmen and artists to later expand our horizon. Our research moved anywhere we may find exclusive art that one cannot find anywhere else, art that interests our patrons. This might be a vase, a necklace, a lamp, anything that meets our criteria. For example, there’s a necklace made by Elena Votsi now on exhibition. Votsi comes from Hydra, Greece. She is now much known outside of her country, even though she did design the gold medal for the Athens Olympics, which surely says something. This is a perfect example of our goals: to offer unique, handmade, exclusive art.

Art, not merely crafts
Exactly. What we are after is the exclusiveness of every single piece. Our patrons are people who are interested in something difference than what is offered by mass design companies, like IKEA for example, and are interested in all it takes for the piece to come into being.

I am not sure whether you see yourself more as a curator, a collector, or a gallerist. It has to be a bit of all three. What models inspire you?
More than a collector, I am a creator of design lamps. It is important, gratifying even, to share with others the beauty of discovery of particular objects and offer a chance to feel them. Obviously, one can purchase them if interested, that’s one of the reasons we’re here, though not our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal at THE 2212 is to share with someone else my ideas on some peculiar object, and adapt it to that someone’s needs. It’s like when you find out about a new shoe boutique and you tell your girlfriends. It is a bit like that. I don’t want to push any of the art on anyone. I want patrons to know that they can have it, if they like it. That’s why I don’t really see myself as an art merchant. I don’t want to feel that responsibility. What I like is to offer, and hopefully see the buyer happy with their purchase. I love this space and I am proud to manage it. This is the place where I can express my personality and my character. For a long time I wondered whether I’d be able to actually run the place Didier and I so strongly wanted to open. Whether I’d be able to do my part. I now realize that I am actually doing my part, following my personality, and I believe people will notice. I cannot do it any differently, because this place is me.

One last question: how about running as mayor of Venice next year? We need people like you, people who really love this city. I will campaign for you!
I’ll have to work on my Italian first!