Auctioneer Spotlight: Deon and Jeanne van der Merwe
Many of our Park West collectors develop friendships with the art teams over the course of their land or sea vacations. Here’s a chance to get to know them more as they share their favorite adventures in the art world.
Deon and Jeanne van der Merwe were already a team long before becoming international art dealers. After university, they dove into a business adventure focused on designing and importing bespoke (customized) furniture pieces in Cape Town, South Africa. They realized their partnership created some kind of magic and took their artistic inclinations to the seas.
Previous ships as Auctioneer: Holland America (HAL) Volendam, HAL Oosterdam, HAL Eurodam, Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas, and Celebrity Solstice
Current ship: Celebrity Eclipse
What do you like most about being an auctioneer?
Deon: I get to know people from all walks of life. In the course of a cruise, an art novice can become an art aficionado and a stranger can become a dear friend. Also, the castle of art knowledge that I’ve built over the years makes me proud.
Who is your favorite Park West artist and why?
Deon: Yaacov Agam. When I conduct my auctions, it is Agam’s message that unlocks the audience’s imagination on the “reason” for art. Art is timeless. Being able to participate in his art makes anyone an artist on the spot!
Jeanne: Nano Lopez. In a world of so much mass production, Nano is the exemplar of a truly skilled fine artist. When he cruised with us in 2013, he mentioned that life on all levels is a miracle. Whether it is the leaf of a tree or even the man-made factories, we should celebrate life here like heaven.
What is your favorite guest memory?
Jeanne: I still giggle when I think about a delightful gentleman that cruised with us some years ago. He was infatuated with Americana, and I mean smitten! Every morning he would visit the gallery to show us his meticulously prepared outfit. Imagine: red and white trousers, a star spangled silk shirt, navy velvet jacket, stripes and stars on his hat and shoes, and even a handkerchief to go with it all! Every day he was dressed to the nines. Needless to say, when this gentleman met Peter Max, it was love at first sight.
What has been your favorite port?
Jeanne: One of my favorite memories is the day we were allowed off the ship in St. Petersburg. I conducted a thought-provoking seminar – “The Art of the Hermitage” – every morning before we arrived even though I personally hadn’t been able to go to port due to a visa issue. Luckily, our fates soon changed and I was able to go and feast in viewing all the gems that I had recommended to others to enjoy.
Deon: My sweetheart and I are passionate foodies! In every port we visit, we’ll ask some locals what they’d recommend. This technique always ensures an authentic experience.
Jeanne, how does being an artist yourself affect how you introduce others to art?
Jeanne: As an artist myself, when I encounter someone that tells me they don’t know enough about art, I tell them the only things they need to focus on is how it makes them feel. When I paint – even in my cabin on the ship – the last thing on my mind is art history and rules. The only thing an artist hopes for is the relationship that their creation might form within your imagination.
Since you live on cruise ships most of the year, where do you consider home?
Deon: Apart from our gracious parents, we have not had a home base for over five years…until recently. We became the proud owners of a glorious space that celebrates the splendor of art. We named it Ateljee since it is the Afrikaans word for “atelier.”
Jeanne: Ateljee is situated on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town. The apartment, which we also rent to vacationers, is furnished and decorated with our favorite travel finds, local design and, of course, splendid artworks. You’ll find works by Agam, Lebo, Yuval Wolfson and Robert Kipniss in the collection.