Axel Vervoordt on Collecting with Vision

By Sotheby's
Ahead of his appearance at Chatsworth House's Art Out Loud festival, we sat down with Axel Vervoordt, who remains one of the world's leading collectors, to discuss his passion for art and objects and his ambitious museum projects.

Can you talk a little bit about your first encounter with art? When did you realise that you wanted to express yourself visually?

As a child I was already confronted with art. I visited many museums and collectors, often friends of my parents. From the beginning, art been very inspiring for me and influenced my way of being and understanding life. I started collecting when I was 7 and when I was 14, I went on buying trips with my father to England, visiting private collections.

Installation view of Artempo at Palazzo Fortuny, Venice, 2007. © Jean-Pierre Gabriel.

You have amassed an important collection of art, and invested in education and the development of the creative world. What do you personally feel is your greatest legacy?

I’m very proud of the exhibitions we’ve created in Venice. Together with Director Daniela Ferretti we have made a series of six fabulous exhibitions in Palazzo Fortuny exploring the transversal links between philosophy, science, music, history, creative heritage and art. Every exhibition was born out of think tanks held with scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, architects and musicians. Artempo, our first exhibition in Venice, started as a kind of present I wanted to share with the rest of the world for my 60th birthday. It was based on the concept of time being ‘the big sculptor’.

The success of the Artempo show was the ongoing quest to work diligently between the discovery of great art, and sharing it with friends and clients. These exhibitions put the spotlight on a side of our company’s activities which had always been at the core of the business – finding inspiration, balance and energy through art.

Axel Vervoordt by Frederik Vercruysse.

Do you think it is important to mix styles and period side by side in an interior space?

I’ve always lived among the artworks and objects and juxtaposed them in my house so that they form an interesting dialogue, which is enriching in many ways. My clients appreciated my view and taste by visiting our house; they were never forced in one direction. I guess the books and the exhibitions we organised in Venice opened many eyes as well.

Can you talk about the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice? What was your vision there, and how did the project develop?

I absolutely love the architecture of Palazzo Fortuny, and its history. I also respect Mariano Fortuny, the artist, designer and collector who lived in this palace. He turned it into a ‘place to be’ for collectors, musicians, stage directors, and artists in Venice.

Sculptures on display in the Karnak chamber of the Axel and May Vervoordt Foundation's Kanaal museum.

What advice would you give to somebody starting his or her collection?

My advice is to collect with your intuition — your gut feeling. Afterwards, you can study it more in detail and ask for advice to connoisseurs. My advice is to keep your eyes open. Go to a lot of exhibitions, museums and churches. I was as much attracted by antiques as by contemporary art. I like art that is positive and that gives you a broader way of thinking; universal art that gives a solution to the evolution of our society. Old art that speaks to contemporary art, and contemporary art that creates space and silence.

Ellsworth Kelly in PROPORTIO at Pallazo Fortuny, 2015. © Jean-Pierre Gabriel.

At this year’s Art Out Loud festival you will be talking about your personal approach to collecting and supporting the arts. Do you feel the landscape has changed throughout your career in this field?

The world is becoming smaller. People are travelling a lot and the art world is also becoming more and more transparent. You can find many provenances and prices of art pieces on internet, so as dealers we need to be aware of this and respond to that. The dealer has become a trusted advisor and tastemaker who needs to be open about the evolving art market towards his clients.

A Lucio Fontana hanging in the library at Axel Vervoordt's estate, Kasteel van 's-Gravenwezel, Schilde, Belgium. © Laziz Hamani.

Is there a particular space that has personal resonance for you? Either a place you are proud to have created, a place where you feel at home or a place that you love to visit.

There are so many fantastic places that inspire me, it would be impossible to choose one!

You have forged an career as a tastemaker and curator of exceptional objects, all of which I’m sure you are deeply connected to. If you had to save one thing from a fire, what would it be?

If I had to choose a material object, then it would probably be the Japanese head of a Lohan in lacquered wood that holds a special place in my library. I acquired it a long time ago in England. It’s a portrait of a Japanese Buddhist monk. It dates to the 12th-13th century. It may be a portrait of Kukai — a scholar, poet, artist and founder of Shingon Buddhism. Kukai founded a retreat at Mount Koya in Japan. Legend says that Kukai never died — he’s in a state of permanent meditation. I think of that when I look at the head. It’s a master who offers me guidance. When I’m in doubt about something I look to him and he helps me find the way.

Axel Vervoordt will speak at Art Out Loud at Chatsworth on Saturday 22 September 2018. You can book tickets here.

Art Out Loud runs from 21—23 September 2018 at Chatsworth House, and is proudly sponsored by Sotheby's.

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