Friday December the 15th, 2023 officially marks the day I became an art curator. Those are some big words for someone that has no background in the art world at all. But on that day I organised a fully-fledged art exhibition, so I will absolutely seize that opportunity to unironically call myself an art curator for the rest of my life. Now let me tell you the story of how all of this happened…

The Dutch Ambassador to Malta Djoeke Adimi-Koekkoek and I at the opening event of the exhibition

TLDR; a summary

  • I organised an exposition in Valletta called M.C. Escher – Mathematical Madness inspired by Malta.
  • Central to this expo are three Malta-inspired M.C. Escher prints.
  • Four other Escher prints were matched up with the works of contemporary Maltese graphic artists Nigel Anastasi and Luke Caruaga.
  • Completely sold out opening event (90 tickets).
  • 45 minute lecture about Escher’s life and works by me.
  • Official opening by the Dutch Ambassador to Malta Djoeke Adimi-Koekkoek.
  • Finished off with drinks and bites 🙂
Jaer Mertens Escher on Malta
Giving a lecture about M.C. Escher’s life and works

Why did I organise this exhibition?

Good question. There are several ways to explain this. First of all I think it’s a natural progression of my studies into the life and works of M.C. Escher over the last few years. I’ve been traveling Europe tracing his footsteps, I’ve been reading books about his life & works, and I’ve been analysing his art.

By the end of 2023, I had come to the point where I felt that I wanted to share the results of my studies. Coincidentally, 2023 is also marked as the official ‘Escher-year’, because it’s 125 years since the birth of the artist. So the stars aligned perfectly for me to organise something.

Picture of the exhibition opening at the Valletta Design Cluster

Initially I was thinking about publishing a series of blog posts on this website. But then I realised I wanted to share my knowledge and enthusiasm in a more active way. That’s when the idea of a lecture was born. Okay, organising a lecture sounds cool. It’s not too difficult. I would just need to find a venue and do some promotion. But as I was letting the idea marinate, I realised that the lecture should be accompanied by some sort of mini exposition, so that the audience could have a closer look at the three Maltese Escher works.

Picture of the exhibition opening at the Valletta Design Cluster

But having only three works would be a bit boring, right? Why not add more Escher works? And while we’re at it, why not invite contemporary Maltese artists to join the expo as well?! You can imagine that my imagination and enthusiasm were going into overdrive at this moment. I could see the vision appearing vividly in front of me. There would be fancy drinks with bubbles, waiters in waistcoats, and a real V-I-P to officially open the exhibition! In conclusion: I was going to become an art curator!

All that was left to do was materialising this vision. And so I cracked on.

Escher Malta expo opening-3
Yes! I made it! There were waiters in waistcoats and drinks with bubbles!

Location: Valletta Design Cluster

Step one: securing a location for the event. My thoughts immediately went to the Valletta Design Cluster. The VDC is a recently renovated historic abattoir in Malta’s capital that now serves as a center for cultural activities. It has beautiful historic features, ample space, a great auditorium, and not insignificantly: I’m also a member of the design cluster. This helped me tremendously in convincing the Cluster’s management to host the exhibition + lecture for free.

Okay, great, location checked off the list. Next up was reaching out to contemporary Maltese artists.

The three Maltese M.C. Escher prints: Balcony, litho (1945), Senglea, woodcut (1935), Print gallery, litho (1956)

Contemporary artists: Anastasi & Caruaga

This task was extremely easy for me. I knew exactly who I wanted to collaborate with for this exhibition. The two graphic artists Nigel Anastasi and Luke Caruaga from the Valletta based design studio 2point3.

I knew their works from il-Lokali, a local art and design shop in Valletta. Every time I take the ferry from Sliema to Valletta I try to swing by this shop to have a look around. They collaborate with many great artists, all local, but the works of Nigel and Luke always stood out to me.

Left: Hands Diptych, 2point3, risograph (2023)
Right: Drawing hands, M.C. Escher, lithograph (1948)

But besides my personal affection for their works, there were some compelling parallels between their works and M.C. Escher’s oeuvre. Without any effort on my end, I discovered many intriguing dialogues between their works and the M.C. Escher pieces.

I decided to reach out to the artists to see if they wanted to collaborate with me on this project. In preparation, and in true professional art curator fashion, I brought a folder full of printed pictures. These printouts were the exact pairings of their works + Escher’s works that I had in mind.

Escher expo Malta-4
Left: Development I, M.C. Escher, woodcut (1937)
Right: Tiles, 2point3, digital print (2009)

This printed folder of pictures would become my greatest asset in my search for partners and collaborators. It’s just very nice to share a vision with someone when you have something to show them and something for them to hold in their hands. It may sound silly, but I truly believe that simply bringing this folder of printed pictures did 83% of the convincing. It showed that I was well prepared, that I meant business, and it helped them to visualise the exhibition themselves.

Escher expo Malta-8
Left: Tower of Babel, M.C. Escher, woodcut (1928)
Right: Brick Tree, 2point3, neon litho print (2021)

I was very pleased when Nigel and Luke responded positively to my offer. And I’m convinced that my folder with printed pictures contributed heavily to their decision, because bear in mind: in reality, I was just a random fella that approached them. I’m not some sort of famous art curator, I’m not even associated with any cultural institute. I’m literally just a guy.

But I’m a guy who just really enjoys organising things and bringing people together. And I think that my enthusiasm also helped a lot of people to oversee the fact that I’m not a trained art professional.

Top: Three Spheres I, M.C. Escher, wood engraving (1945)
Bottom: Global Injustice, 2point3, digital print (2020)

Strategic partner: Dutch Embassy

The first time I started to doubt if I was convincing enough was in the office of the Dutch Ambassador to Malta Djoeke Adimi-Koekkoek. I had made contact with the ambassador via email and had managed to get my foot in the door. In her office we were having a lovely conversation about the event. I had laid out all of my plans in front of her and she seemed very enthusiast about it! But then she hit me with the question: ‘So are you like an art historian or something?’


[our eyes lock for a moment]


[dramatic pause]


I had to come clean now.

‘No, I’m not an art historian. In fact, I don’t have any formal background in the arts.’

*Shit, what am I saying?? That’s not very reassuring for her, is it? Quick, try to fix this!*

‘But, ehm, I studied industrial design, and I’m into making generative art (by writing code)! So I have a lot of affinity with the intersection of art and technology, just like M.C. Escher! And of course, I’ve also studied Escher’s life and works extensively!’

Maybe not super convincing… but it worked. She still trusted me enough to want to collaborate on making this event happen.

And I’m very glad she did. The collaboration with the Dutch embassy made this exhibition into a great success. In the first place of course because Her Excellency the Ambassador officially opened the exhibition by cutting a red-white-blue ribbon.

Her Excellency Ambassador Djoeke Adimi-Koekkoek moments before she officially opened the exhibition by cutting the ribbon

Next to this clearly super-awesome moment, the embassy also supported the event financially and in terms of promotion. They shared the invitation with their network of other diplomats on Malta, as well as the Dutch community on Malta. This lead to a huge boost of ticket sales for the opening event, and it was one of the biggest contributing factors to it being completely sold out.

Lecture: preparing a 45 minute talk

When all of the preparations and partnerships were taken care off, it was time to focus on writing my lecture. This process started approximately ten days before the opening of the expo. It was somewhat funny to me that I had arranged all of the various moving parts of the exhibition (the catering, the artworks, the easels, the promotion), but that I hadn’t worked on my lecture whatsoever. It was funny to me because this whole event started out as just a lecture about M.C. Escher’s life and works.

Fortunately, I knew a lot about M.C. Escher. I didn’t have to do any research anymore, it was just a matter of selecting the right stories to tell. It was like my dad told me the evening before the opening event: ‘You can’t really go wrong, because in the end you’re just telling the stories, and you clearly know the stories very well.’

And I think that was the best point of reflection for me: giving the lecture was not about presenting, it was about storytelling. Stories are easy to tell, even if you forget half of it, you will always remember the point of the story. And that makes it incredibly easy to zip various stories together into a big story.

That was a great realisation and it paid off well. After the presentation I received many compliments about my natural and engaging way of speaking, which made me very proud 🙂 I was just so happy that everyone had a good time and that I managed to convey a bit of my enthusiasm about Escher’s art and history.

Escher Malta expo opening-4

Reflection & takeaways

So now you know the story of how I became an art curator. I personally really enjoyed organising this exhibition and I’m super proud of all the positive feedback I received afterwards. I worked together with so many interesting people to make this happen, and I’m very grateful for everyone that joined me for this ride.

I want to give a special thanks to a handful of people:

  • H.E. Ambassador Djoeke Adimi-Koekkoek, for partnering up with me
  • Emma Maria Borg, for her enthusiasm and connecting me with the right people
  • Nikki Petroni, for her valuable insights into the world of art curation
  • Victoria Camileri, for all her hands on help with the organisation
  • Nigel Anastasi & Luke Caruaga for trusting me with their art works
  • Frank Mertens, for flying over to Malta to attend, and helping setting everything up

And finally I would like to thank Andrew Vella Zarb. Andrew helped me out by making custom art easels for the exhibition. I had initially planned to make very simple easels made out of discarded pallets, but Andrew could not accept that. His background in architecture and woodworking dictated that these easels should be a work of art in themselves.

Escher expo Malta Andrew Vella Zarb Woodwork

And a work of art these easels became! I love how all easels are completely modular; all pieces can be interchanged and the structures don’t require any screws or nails. The dovetail joints look super neat, and the overall design served the purpose of easel very well. They were elegant and neat and they didn’t take away any attention from the actual artworks.

Escher expo Malta Andrew Vella Zarb Woodwork

Andrew spend a lot of time making these beautiful easels, for which I’m very grateful. They helped to elevate the level of the exhibition and brought everything well together.

Escher expo Malta Andrew Vella Zarb Woodwork