Hans Sonnenberg, ship broker, gallery owner and collector
Rotterdam’s character is one of strength and stability. The city moves ahead, she is by nature international and enterprising and her people also work together to a certain extent. Preferably by making waves: a mantra as solid as the noise of a pile driver thrusting into the clay. The city continues to evolve. Hans Sonnenberg, a.k.a ‘Mr. Delta’, named after his Gallery, stimulated the urban contemporary art climate in the sixties.
Sonnenberg began his activities as art promoter in the nineteen- fifies when Rotterdam was buzzing from the innovation and rebuilding development.
A modern city without modern art cannot exist. Except for the driven private Rotterdam art society club (Kunstkring), there were few statues in public places; one being the statue of Naum Gabo which was erected in front of the Bijenkorf in 1956, and when Rotterdam was undergoing drilling and pounding with barely any interest for contemporary art. In the sixties, Museum Boymans (then the whole name and without the dots) acquired at that time the collection Van Beuningen and began the construction of their contemporary art collection. The first curator of modern art was appointed in the mid-sixties. The spectacular Bodon wing, with one of the largest exhibition rooms in the Netherlands, opened in 1972.
Landmarks as these, pale when one realises that in 1958 Hans Sonnenberg, a young, inquisitive, widely travelled, committed collector and ship(ping) broker, with an address book full of contacts, together with Piero Manzoni in Rotterdam, established the Zero Movement, and organized an exhibition of the new movement. He caused a traffic jam of epic proportion in the Witte de Withstraat when the beautiful Nanda Vigo in a stunning sports car stopped in front of their brand new Gallery and introduced the future world star Yayoi Kusama who was dressed for the occasion in a coat made of monkey fur.
Gallery Delta laid the cradle for new national and international movement such as Cobra, Pop Art and the new wild painters. This stood out.
‘All the staff members at the Stedelijk Museum are in attendance at my openings since I began with Pop Art’, wrote ‘Mr. Delta’ in 1966 to a client. Hans Sonnenberg advised Boymans director, Coert Ebbinge Wubben with the acquisitions of Cobra. The friendship with Wim Beeren led to a joint visit to an opening of Basquiat in New York in 1981, where they acquired various works for the museum and gallery. Generations of art lovers, art directors, conservators and not to forget gallery owners, began with a visit to Mr. Delta. Without exception, the way was paved due to Rotterdam’s unique friendliness.
In 2000 Hans Sonnenberg decided that it was time to give back something permanent to the city.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen received a generous offer to choose from his personal collection and encouraged the museum not to be too modest. This led to a gift of fifteen eminent art works of invaluable worth, including works of Basquiat, Kusama and Constant, that will for centuries show what a true Rotterdammer feels about his museum.
Sjarel Ex, director Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam