Wim Roefs, owner of Columbia’s If ART Gallery and founding member of the 701 Center for Contemporary Art, died May 12.
Roefs died of a heart attack, the gallery announced in an email.
“He was an honest critic, if he was on your side you couldn’t find a better advocate for your work,” said Michaela Pilar Brown, 701 CCA’s Executive Director and Roefs-represented artist. “It also meant caring about what he liked and disliked. He was a very honest person and had a deep love for the integrity of art. He sought intelligent, intellectually curious work that challenged the viewer not only on how he saw art physically, but also on how he thought about things.
Roefs’ role in Columbia’s artistic landscape spanned years, as he helped steer the city’s visual and performing arts scene toward a contemporary lens.
The art gallery owner was known for being honest and direct, yet warm and kind in his support of those he was close to, the friends and associates depicted.
Roefs is best known as one of the creators of the 701 Center for Contemporary Art – an organization that has developed a strong regional reputation for modern art – and for his cozy Vista-based if ART Gallery, one of the only and of the city’s most adventurous shopping malls. contemporary art galleries.
He opened the ifART gallery in 2006 and the same year he began working with a group of local art advocates to start what would later become 701 CCA, which opened two years later.
“He gave it his all, his time, his brain, his connection to the artists, for Wim the priority has always been the art and the artists,” said Anne Sinclair, former Columbia city councilwoman and board member. administration of 701 CCA.
Born in 1959 in the Netherlands, Roefs moved to Colombia in 1989 and did graduate work at the University of South Carolina for journalism, according to an article by The State.
Before his stay in Colombia, he worked as a journalist in Europe, sometimes in dangerous areas, recalled his friend and collaborator Ross Arnold.
Roefs also had a short-lived stint as a musician, founding a post-punk band with two other graduate students in the Dutch city of Nijmegen.
According to details on the gallery’s website, Roefs regularly held exhibitions at his home in Columbia, but in 2006 he took a big step forward and opened his ART Gallery in Vista.
It quickly became a home for some of the most internationally acclaimed artists, but also remained a strong supporter of local artists. In its first five years, the work of acclaimed artists like Joan Mitchel and Karel Appel; and locals like Colombian artist Laura Spong were featured.
Two years later, he took part in the opening of the 701 Center for Contemporary Art. In those early days, Sinclair recalls, it was held together by a “wire” as it operated without full-time staff or a group of volunteers.
Sinclair said Roefs was intimately involved with the organization, from fundraising to artistic duties, but focused intensely on the latter. She recalled that at annual donor dinners for the organization, Roefs would, somewhat painfully, take the time to thank all of the donors in attendance before people could eat – resulting in jokes that the food could get cold before that no one can eat.
Between the two – if ART Gallery and 701 CCA – Roefs has been instrumental in developing an outlet for contemporary art in Colombia.
“They stand out because there aren’t a lot of contemporary art houses in SC and not a lot of contemporary art gallery spaces,” said Pilar Brown. “He was a big voice, there was a big void.”
The Roefs Gallery has also become a home for experimental music concerts.
His friend Ross Arnold booked many of the avant-garde and improvisational jazz concerts that Roefs organized at the if ART Gallery and, initially, at 701 CCA. The concerts, a far cry from the kinds of shows played at local rock clubs, have helped make Columbia a go-to destination for artists working in those genres, Ross said.
The gallery had become a regular host of highly respected improv musicians like Chicago drummer Tim Daisy.
“There’s a pretty strong relationship between a lot of the art he presents (and the music),” Arnold said. “The two often go hand in hand, you don’t mean many of these musicians who aren’t into this often abstract impressionist artwork.”
Outside of Columbia, his roles in the region included artistic director of the Lake City Creative Alliance in 2017 and leading the organization’s ArtFields, an art festival with major awards, that year. His tenure in this role ended after one year.
Roef’s emergence on the local art scene helped usher in a shift in the way art lovers in Columbia viewed art, said Cindi Boiter, founder of local arts organization and publication Jasper Project. and who did graduate work at the University of South Carolina at the same time. like Roefs, although the two weren’t close at the time.
Throughout the 1980s and into the 90s, art in Colombia was primarily valued on the price attached. Roef, she explained, brought a more “European” view of art to the community with the emergence of ifART and 701CCA in the late 2000s.
“Wim was able to come in and help break down those misconceptions. And he taught Columbia that art doesn’t have to be the couch,” said Boiter, who is also a regular Free Times columnist. recently, he also taught us more recently, that art, that art is very experiential.”
Roefs had a progressive streak in his work.
In a 1998 issue of “Teaching Tolerance” magazine, he chronicled the efforts of students, South Carolina school districts, and local policymakers to combat bigotry in school. Pilar Brown said he also remains active in artistic writing, writing regularly for art catalogs and other niche publications.
He was also not afraid of difficult conversations.
In 2012, when several artists he represented were included in a Southern art collection that ultimately included only one black artist, Roefs gave an interview to Free Times despite the book’s publisher not wanting him to. not. He didn’t mince words, calling the lack of representation “appalling.”
“The book looks good, and it’s good that my artists are in it,” Roefs said in a 2012 interview. “But I have a bitter taste about the lack of African Americans and the process .”
In a 2019 email newsletter sent via the gallery’s mailing list, he criticized the state and Governor Henry McMaster’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and sardonically commented on people’s apologies for not having a mask when visiting the gallery.
Despite his jarring honesty for Southerners, Roef was also a strong supporter of those close to him.
When the daughter of 701 CCA’s executive director, Pilar Brown, was only 5 or 6 years old — she’s now 14 — she remarked that she wanted to throw an “art party” for her work. Pilar Brown told the story to Roef, who took the request seriously and worked with her daughter to organize a serious gallery showing her work. Instead of wine and cheese they served boxes of popcorn and juice.
“It speaks to the generosity of his spirit,” said Pilar Brown.