Rob Ittmann
Written by Rob Ittmann
July 16, 2021

Linda van der Vleuten, geboren in Nederweert in de provincie Limburg, woont al 18 jaar in Rotterdam. Na een studie grafische vormgeving aan de School of Art & Design in Den Bosch en Breda besloot ze zich te vestigen in Rotterdam.

Just like it is now, landing a job at a good design studio wasn’t easy. Still too inexperienced to start for herself, Linda wound up working at a succession of agencies where 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, organizing 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 hold exhibitions in your gallery on Claes de Vrieslaan and do 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 their way 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 – their first, for many.

It was experimental, 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 now. In 2010 we stopped with that. 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, yet while still collaborating with the many artists and designers we got to know through the gallery. It’s still important to us now to connect young designers and artists with clients, and we’re still curating all kinds of projects.”

Net als nu was het vinden van een baan bij een goede ontwerpstudio niet eenvoudig. Nog te onervaren om voor zichzelf te beginnen, kwam Linda terecht bij een opeenvolging van bureaus waar ze veel leerde, maar zich nooit helemaal thuis voelde. In 2007 ontmoet Linda Bruce Tsai-Meu-Chong en in 2010 openden ze samen een galerie: Opperclaes.

Buren boden het stel een oude leegstaande winkel op de begane grond aan om drie maanden als projectruimte te gebruiken. Ze propten hun agenda vol met projecten en exposities en organiseerden bijna elke week nieuwe openingen. Uiteindelijk mochten ze de ruimte zeven jaar gebruiken, waardoor ze Opperclaes van de grond af aan konden bouwen.

Je houdt exposities in je galerij aan de Claes de Vrieslaan en doet diverse projecten op locatie. Over wat voor tentoonstellingen en projecten hebben we het?

“We runden galerie Opperclaes van 2010 tot 2017. We merkten dat, net als wij, veel kunstenaars, ontwerpers en fotografen het moeilijk hadden om hun weg te vinden na de kunstacademie. Ze kunnen geen voet aan de grond krijgen omdat ze niet bekend of ervaren genoeg zijn om galerij shows te krijgen of genoeg klanten om de kost te verdienen. We hadden deze geweldige ruimte in de stad en probeerden zoveel mogelijk getalenteerde mensen een showcase te bieden - voor velen was dit hun eerste ooit.

Het was experimenteel, maar ik zou zeggen dat we het heel goed hebben gedaan. En in die zeven jaar hebben we ook een groot netwerk opgebouwd dat nu nog steeds enorm waardevol voor ons is. In 2010 zijn we daarmee gestopt. Het was tijd voor een volgende stap en we wilden steeds meer eigen werk maken. Er kwamen steeds meer verzoeken en opdrachten van buiten de galerie en daar wilden we ons op richten. Om weer eigen werk te maken en toch samen te werken met de vele kunstenaars en ontwerpers die we via de galerij hebben leren kennen. Het is nu nog steeds belangrijk voor ons om jonge ontwerpers en kunstenaars te verbinden met klanten en we zijn nog steeds bezig met het cureren van allerlei projecten.”

‘We had this amazing space in the city and tried to offer a showcase for as many talented people as possible.’
Linda van der Vleuten

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 started talking. A few days later we went to the première of a documentary about Wu-Tang Clan at Thaila – that was our first date. Bruce was still in art school in Utrecht, and I had a job at 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 get 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 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 been.

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 began painting huge murals on the wall at the top 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 activate something. That’s another reason we mostly work in public spaces.”

‘We believe art should be for everybody, not just for the elite.’
Linda van der Vleuten

Opperclaes has a high profile in RCD. What’s your view of this neighbourhood?

“We’re proud to have contributed to this very diverse area. We painted the Schieblock Luchtsingel (‘air canal’), 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 motivates 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 Radio, 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 seen.”

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 sport park. We’ve thought about this with MESS in the past and done 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!”

‘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?’
Linda van der Vleuten

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 be able to start developing. This will transform the pitches along Beukelsdijk in Rotterdam West into valuable public spaces where art and sport converge.

Working with residents and sport partners, we’ll be developing leadership programmes here to turn it 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 amazing to be going into production now. Aside from that, 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 others in the pipeline we hope to tackle soon."

Featured photo by Ruben Stam.

Rob Ittmann
Written by Rob Ittmann
July 16, 2021