“You will recognize me by my hat, leather jacket, grey hair and ditto beard and mustache”, an email in my inbox mysteriously reads. A few days later, on an unusually sunny Wednesday morning, I look for a man who fits the description near the entrance of contemporary art museum De Pont, where we’ve agreed to meet. I walk up to a bearded man dressed in a colorful Indonesian batik shirt and a leather jacket. “Kees?”, I ask. “Yes!”, he replies.
I found Kees Braat on Museumkaart Match, a new online matchmaking platform for art lovers. It’s like Tinder, but for finding museum buddies rather than that other type of buddies. The premise is simple: if you enjoy going to the museum but you don’t have anyone to go with, the website connects you to other museumgoers. All you need is a Museumkaart membership – which gives unlimited free entry to hundreds of museums across the country – and a computer or a smartphone. You can even filter the pool of potential matches by age, sex, area, availability and artistic interests. For those whose friends and family generally respond to art with an indifferent “you call this art?” or “this looks so easy, I could have made it”, it’s paradise.
My match Kees is an unreserved 67-year-old pensionado who spends his days hiking, writing and crossbow shooting. On Wednesdays, he often visits a museum – after his retirement, Wednesday became his ‘culture-sniffing day’, Kees explains. It turns out that De Pont doesn’t open for another hour, so we decide to go for a stroll in the nearby Wilhelmina Park. Kees tells me that he has always been interested in art. He’s a big fan of the surrealist movement, and Salvador Dalí is his absolute favorite artist. Before we’ve even set foot in the gallery displaying the work of Fiona Banner that we are both eager to see, Kees has told me about his years of military service, his early career as a teletypist, his job at local news medium BN DeStem, his love for hiking, his travels, his hometown Zundert, his life in Breda, his two failed marriages, his current relationship, his late-onset diabetes and his poetry. Kees definitely knows how to add a little extra to the role of museums as chroniclers of history and providers of life lessons.
“I like to scribble down my thoughts when I look at works that inspire me”
Kees carries a pocket-sized notebook with him as we walk through the museum. “I like to scribble down my thoughts when I look at works that inspire me”, he explains. The last time he visited De Pont, Kees wrote a poem on the spot after seeing the work of visual artist and filmmaker Fiona Tan. He brought the poem with him. I read it as we sit down for coffee in the garden of the museum. Fiona Tan: from octopus to naked woman, the poem is titled. Although the erotic undertone of the poem makes me feel slightly uncomfortable, it’s interesting to get such a deeply personal peek into someone else’s experience of art. Perhaps wandering through a museum with a complete stranger does what a good work of art does: it allows you to see the world from a different perspective. That always comes with some discomfort, doesn’t it?
The majority of potential matches on the website of Museumkaart Match are people aged 45 and up, but young museumgoers in search of company use the website too. A quick search learns that more than twenty people under the age of 35 living in the area of North Brabant have put up a profile. Because I like to think that 22-year-old Lonneke Matthijssen categorizes as someone of my own age, I send her a message. She responds almost immediately, and we set up a day and time to visit the Textielmuseum together.
Lonneke and I are both first-timers at the Textielmuseum. We are surprised to learn that the old textile factory that houses the museum is still in use. Designers are practicing their craft while the old factory halls are pleasantly thumping with the repetitive sound of industrial machines. As we stop to look at an impressive wool-spinning machine, Lonneke tells me that she has just started her first job as an economics teacher at a high school. As coincidence would have it, Lonneke grew up in the same village as Kees. But, unlike Kees, she did not move to a big city like Breda to build a life and a career there. In fact, she did just the opposite: after obtaining her teaching degree at Fontys Academy in Tilburg, she moved back to the quiet village life of Zundert. “I just love living in a village”, she says.
“You have more fun together than alone”
Aside from being a ‘village person’, Lonneke is also a ‘people person’. When visiting a museum, she enjoys being in the company of others. “You have more fun together than alone”, she says. “And I also love meeting new people. I like the idea that everyone has their own story to tell. When I meet someone for the first time, I always wonder whether our paths have crossed before. Maybe you’ve seen each other before somewhere, without either of you noticing.”
I am Lonneke’s very first museum match, she tells me. “I’ve received a few messages, but only from guys who seemed to be looking for a date rather than just someone to go to the museum with”, she says. “I’m not looking for anything romantic, so I didn’t write back.”
Although the Museumkaart Match is not intended as a platform for finding love, some museumgoers are clearly hoping to share more than an afternoon in an art gallery. “It’s a shame that some people use it as a dating website”, Kees says. He has had two previous experiences with the Museumkaart’s matchmaking service. “The first time I ran a bit late because I got stuck in traffic. When I got to the museum, the woman I was supposed to meet was gone. She was upset because I didn’t show up on time. I received an angry message from her which said something like ‘never mind’, and that was it. My second match was a widowed woman, who apparently was looking for a new relationship. Instead of looking at art together, she subjected me to an interrogation.”
Kees has taken measures. “My profile now explicitly says that I’m not looking for anything romantic”, he says. But for those who do seek a museum romance, there are still plenty of profiles to choose from. A spontaneous 57-year-old woman who loves surprises is looking for a man to enjoy an occasional trip to the museum ‘and who knows what else’. A 67-year-old man from Leiden who describes himself as ‘charming and in good shape’ writes that he is looking for ‘inspirational encounters (with women)’. An attractive widow wants to kindle a ‘warm friendship’ with a man who is also attractive. And a man named Remo – 46 years old, 1.72m tall, single – is looking for his ‘sweet, female soulmate’. Who needs Tinder?