For the second time, E52 organises the annual Expat Top-10. There are a lot of internationals in Eindhoven who have done a great job for the city, and by this, we put a spotlight on them. This year’s theme of the Top-10 is ‘Sport & Leisure’. Every day we present you an interview with one of the winners. In this interview, you can read about how they ended up in Eindhoven, how they put an effort in the city and how they look at the Eindhoven with their international perspective. Today: Charles Esche.

Charles Esche
Born in 1964
From Harrogate, England
In Eindhoven since 2004
#1 on bucket list: “To write a book about the possibilities of art in society”

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Charles Esche is director of the Van Abbemuseum, but actually he’s not that often in Eindhoven. He travels all around the globe for his work in the art world. He’s abroad to discuss with colleagues, to collaborate with institutions or to network with artists. For him, it’s a lot about philosophy. To understand a society he has to be there and get to know it. Through artists he can learn about society.


“I moved to Eindhoven for my job”
“I started with medieval studies. It was a broad study about everything from the middle ages. I liked that I could put together my own study, as long as I could find a professor for the subjects, haha. After this, I did my master in museum studies and so I could work in an arts centre in Glasgow as the director of visual arts. In 2004 I moved to Eindhoven for work.” It wasn’t Esche’s own idea to become the director of the Van Abbemuseum. “There was a commission to choose the new director and they invited me. I think it was because of my history, they knew my work, my exhibitions, my books and my projects. The art world is an international one and it doesn’t know any boundaries.” Although it wasn’t his own idea, the Van Abbemuseum suited him. “The museum is well known and it’s avant-garde, so it thinks about the future, it’s progressive and that interests me. Besides that the building was finished so I didn’t have to think about constructions and the form of the museum. I knew I could focus on the content of it.” And so Esche became the director of the Van Abbemuseum. Next to this he is also professor in London and he organises several biennales around the world.

“I don’t make a separation between who I am as a person, and my experience within my working field”
Esche sees art more as a form of sport than of leisure. “Art is like education: to learn and to grow. Like sports you can perform it to relax, but to really get something out of it you have to push yourself. You have to invest and then it really gives something back. That’s what art is.” And therefore it’s not always fun according to Esche. “If you go to a museum just to relax, that’s okay, but you don’t get everything out of it. When you go to the museum there’s a risk that you feel uncomfortable with what you’re confronted with. With your history, your future or yourself. It makes that you understand things and learn, but that’s not always fun.”

Art shows the culture, the time and the society where we live in, says Esche. “Art is the tool to show you where the boundaries of a time period are. It also shows how many space you have to move within this period, so it also shows abilities. Art shows you who you are as a human being in your time.” That’s why Esche’s work is so much about philosophy. “The biggest part of my job is to formulate a vision of the museum. I have to inspire people with my vision and make sure that every part of the museum and all the employees realise this vision.”

“Art is about who you are as a human being and as a human being what you do with your time.”Charles Esche, – Winner Expat Top-10

“Eindhoven doesn’t know ‘average’, it’s either outstanding or minimal”
“The Dutch culture was really exotic for me when I came here, haha.” Especially the Dutch hierarchy Esche had to get used to. “Dutch people say that there is no hierarchy, but there definitely is. It’s only a thing we can’t talk about. In certain situations you really have to be submissive, within a company for example. But there is openness to a certain level though. So people are able to go in discussion. On the other hand the school system knows less of a class system. In England the school where you go to actually means everything. So in The Netherlands there are fewer limitations.”

It’s in Esche’s nature to reflect on society, so also Eindhoven gets his professional meta point of view. “Eindhoven is so fascinating because it’s a mixture of a city and a village. There are a lot of extraordinary aspects, in which it’s the most outstanding in the whole world. But Eindhoven also has areas where there is nothing, liberal arts for example. The quality is either everything or nothing. That makes Eindhoven special.” This identity comes from its history, says Esche. “Philips founded the city and besides Philips, there was not much. The Van Abbemuseum was actually the only institution that wasn’t founded by Philips. Eindhoven is now in an intermediate period. It grew out of Philips and it has to decide to invest in its urban ambitions to become a big city. Or to stay a village with outstanding qualities.”

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