Gallery owner Cokkie Snoei says goodbye: ‘I didn’t want to listen to the art elite’

“This was work that Nan Goldin made at the very beginning, when she started photographing her friends, even when they were dead in the coffin.” The well-known Rotterdam studio owner Cokkie Snoei stands in front of a photo of a thin man lying in an open coffin and a woman looking away over her shoulder. “That is Cookie, a good friend of Goldin, in the coffin lies her husband Vittorio – he had AIDS. Three months later, Cookie was dead too, also from AIDS.” Goldin is one of the 33 artists in the exhibition that Cokkie Snoei (67) made this year in the Rotterdam Kunsthal. 33, because her gallery, which Snoei stopped a year ago, has existed for 33 years.

There are many of the big international names that Snoei brought to Rotterdam when they were still relatively unknown: Claude Cahun, Larry Clark, Andres Serrano, Lee Miller. But also work by artists who did not continue. Like Bert Sissingh, who takes photos of staged situations with his elderly parents. “When his father also died after his mother, he stopped.”

Bert Sissingh, La ville detruite2003 (c-print mounted on aluminum, 100 x 125 cm).
Photo Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2023

Snoei wants to provide an overview of the development of her gallery. “Then you need some kind of leitmotif. What has always triggered me in art is friction, friction, contradictions. So it became Fancy some friction, honey? These 33 artists best fit that theme. Of course, I have also shown artists who are good at other things, but they are not here.”

“With the exhibition I want to show insiders that I had my finger on the pulse – that is the greatest challenge of your profession: seeing whether someone has quality and a future. I also want to entice visitors to the Kunsthal to further discover art and perhaps start collecting.”

Walking between the softly colored walls especially for the exhibition: “I don’t think ‘let me take gender as a theme’. Analyzing in retrospect, lately it has been about queerness, gentrification and postcolonialism. In the beginning it was more sexuality, gender and power.” Collector René Gouwens described Snoei’s antenna as follows: “If she thought work was good, hot or cool, then so be it.” He says this in the booklet accompanying the exhibition. This contains work from the exhibition, and an overview of all exhibitions that Snoei ever made in the gallery. And collectors, artists and curators will speak about Snoei. Then words such as ruthlessly honest, groundbreaking, uncompromising, relaxed, adventurous and good salesman are used. “I didn’t want to be an art dealer, nor did I want to listen to the art elite.”

100 visitors per day

Cokkie Snoei initially started as an agent for artists, but she soon opted for a gallery and moved into a gigantic building in Witte de With Street. “So that was quite noticeable. When I started it was much more normal to visit galleries. Sometimes I had as many as 100 visitors in one day on weekends.” But people don’t go to galleries that much anymore.

This has also changed the profession considerably: “the time when you could sit quietly and wait for collectors to come in automatically is long gone.” And anyway, she says, a gallery is much bigger than a shop window with works of art. “There is the business side, which is quite tough, but above all it requires personal involvement. Love for art and the artist.”

We have now come across a series of photos in which a naked woman lies in strange positions on a low windowsill. “That’s Carolee Schneemann, in the Kröller-Müller Museum. She was at the academy during the time of abstract expressionism, like Pollock and Willem de Kooning. She wanted to break away from that, and she did that through performances. A very famous one is that she pulls a ribbon with text from her vagina and reads it: a critical text by a reviewer about her work. This work is a secret performance, when the guard was changed in the museum, she quickly took off her clothes and had herself photographed.”

Last December, the Cokkie Snoei gallery closed its doors. “Running a gallery on your own is very tough, especially the fairs that you have to attend all these days. Packing, clearing, insuring, setting up, standing all day, packing again, clearing… In recent years I have also skipped those international fairs. Moreover, I reached ‘retirement age’, as it is officially called. I’d like to stretch out on the couch. If I get bored with that, I can always do something else.”

We end up in front of a large screen on which something organically moves slowly, a skin, it contracts and stretches. Video work Color of Shame by Dutch artist Koes Staassen. “His own scrotum – he colored it a bit. And those hairs are not gray, but very blonde – he is still young.”

Fancy Some Friction, Honey? Cokkie Snoei’s gallery has been in Kunsthal Rotterdam for 33 years until 20/1. Info: