The collective influencing the way we value art

De Fotokopie is shining a light on how the art world attaches value to images and their creators – and turning it on its head

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De Fotokopie installation at Foam
De Fotokopie installation at Foam

Abel Minnée, Bonne Reijn and Guus Kaandorp make up De Fotokopie, a Dutch art collective based in Amsterdam. The trio started working together in 2013, after realising that many of their friends were continuously finding themselves priced out of contemporary art. Rather than kick up a fuss, the three friends decided to come up with an alternative method of attaching value to images.

And thus, De Fotokopie – which translates as ‘The Photocopy’ – was born. Through a number of exclusive, self-run events, the triumvirate collaborate with friends, peers and fellow artists and photographers in order to bring art to the masses via intuitive methods of image reproduction. Names, reputations and ideas of the elite are left at the door, usurped in favour of all-out accessibility – courtesy of the group’s giant photocopier. 

For Collectivism, an exhibition dedicated to art collectives all over the world, Abel, Bonne and Guus will be bringing their show to Amsterdam’s Foam. In conjunction with its launch, we spoke to Abel about what it is De Fotokopie do, what they’re hoping to draw light to with their events and why being in a collective is much more fun than going it alone. 

Can you explain what De Fotokopie do?

Abel Minnee:  It started with a friend of mine, Guus Kaandorp, who’s also a photographer just as I am. We both agreed that it was a pity art wasn’t more accessible. So, we had this idea – what happens if you just copy the work and sell it for a really small price? Obviously, we thought ‘yeah, anyone can copy something from a book’. Whatever. Then we came to this idea: we can make the copy special again by having the artist themselves sign it. The artist would send something in for us to copy that they’d signed themselves – that way, the copy becomes original again. It was a new way to provide cheap, original artwork that’s accessible for everybody. We really liked that idea.

So, artists will send us one original work and 20 blank, signed A3 sheets. We photograph all of the original prints and make a big slide show featuring all of the works, so that the audience can pick a print and walk to either Guus or me, and we make them a copy on the spot. It’s only possible to buy an original print when you’re at the event. There’s no after-show. This makes it so that the edition is decided by the demand. If there’s an artist that sends us some work and only one sells, it becomes one of one. Very famous people who’ve participated, like Juergen Teller, immediately sell out, so then the edition becomes 20 – which is the maximum.

“You pay €10 for a Juergen Teller print, or €10 for the print of an artist who has just graduated from an art academy” – Abel Minnee

When did you start the events?

Abel Minnee: We started in 2013. Guus and I called a friend, Bonne Reijn. I was living with him at the time – he owned an apartment in the middle of Amsterdam and we asked if we could do this idea in his living room and he agreed. We just got in a big copy machine and invited loads of our friends to participate. There was a curator from Foam that attended the event and she invited the three of us to come and do it in a collaboration with them in a space that they were organising other events in. We collaborated with them again at Unseen Photo Festival. After that, we went to the Arles in the South of France for another photo festival – and then we did it one more time in Paris with Offprint, an art book fair. 

What happens to the original image afterwards?

Abel Minnee: We sell the copies for €10 each – everything we earn goes back to the artist, along with the original print. They just lend us the original for the occasion and we send everything back – plus the money.

In demonstrating an alternative approach to attaching value to images, what are you hoping to draw light to?

Abel Minnee: The whole idea was the performance of this whole act. We also wear white suits when we do it, so we’re recognisable – people see us and know what’s going on. It’s the whole reproducibility aspect of photography – how it happens. On the other hand, it’s super nice that, for example, my grandmother can have a print by an artist she doesn’t know – it’s just the picture she sees in the slideshow. It’s the same for kids – they can buy something, too. That’s what we really like about it. It’s all equal. You pay €10 for a Juergen Teller print, or €10 for the print of an artist who has just graduated from an art academy. It’s a diverse line-up every time. We make a careful selection of whom we invite so it’s both famous and unknown. 

Do you approach the artists, or they do come to you?

Abel Minnee: We like to approach them more. It’s very irregular when we do this event, so we just make a list of new artists we live and invite people. We just have to like what they do – the only real criteria for us is that we really believe in the artist.

Does any of the work that you’ve copied particularly stand out to you? 

Abel Minnee: I think everyone has their own personal taste for which copies they like the best. But I’m not gonna say which one is my favourite. It wouldn’t be fair for the rest!

In terms of image culture and its accesibility, what kind of effect do you think that technology and digitalisation has had?

Abel Minnee: It makes it so much easier to consume images nowadays, in comparison to 20 or 30 years ago. I think we consume 10 times as many now. But, I think that people maybe don’t look at images as closely now – because it’s not special anymore. It just goes on forever, like water flow – almost literally with things like Instagram. But it’s not only negatives. It’s also great that if you’re looking for something you can immediately find it on Google or Instagram. I really like that. It has two sides. 

What are the benefits of being part of a collective?

Abel Minnee: I think it’s important to have collectives in contemporary art. These days, I would say people become more and more individualistic – I don’t know why that is. But for me, being in a collective like De Fotokopie is great because we bring our own qualities. Bonne has great social skills, a big network – and he can provide us with a stage to do the events. Guus is a brilliant ideas guy. We compliment each other a lot. That’s a very beneficial experience. I’m sure the three of us couldn’t have done it by ourselves. It’s great. As well, if you’re at a fair alone it’s probably very boring. With three, you can make fun and have a good time. That’s a big advantage!

Do you feel that De Fotokopie are a dissenting voice in art?

Abel Minnee: Erm, I don’t really think so. We just had this idea, really. Is it possible to make something that is both special and accessible? We just had fun executing that idea. Making something really nice... for everyone. 

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