DENK means “think” in Flemish, Van Herle’s native tongue. It’s a word that serves as a fitting accessory to this “art for wellness” philosophy, one that began percolating, for Van Herle, during her youth in Belgium. Reared by a physician-father and a mother who taught philosophy and art history, Van Herle was encouraged to use art a means to expand and calm her mind; to assuage everyday stresses. “When my mom took us to museums, she’d describe a piece’s history and its motives in a way that made me realize how art can open up a deep understand of humanity and sociology,” she recalls. “Galleries and art books became a place where I went to when I needed a break, needed to move beyond myself. It was very soothing.”
But it wasn’t until years later, when she met her husband (who had studied architecture and aesthetics) that she began to think that art could be an extension of her medical practice. “Through my conversations with David, I was reminded that art is a powerful tool for holistic wellness,” Van Herle explains. DENK, for the couple, is the embodiment of the idea, and a platform for experimentation. Through the gallery space, they hope to explore different ways in which art can heal—whether it’s through contemplative engagement with artists’ exhibitions; artmaking workshops in schools, hospitals, and community centers; or other channels yet to be discovered.
While it’s not a groundbreaking model—other non-profit and for-profit galleries have explored similar community-focused approaches—Van Herle certainly has the medical chops to sturdily bolster DENK’s goals. She has both a M.D. and a M.S. in public health; was previously the Chief of Endocrinology and the Chair of the Diabetes Task Force at UCLA; and maintains a private practice in Los Angeles.