05 December

The collector Axel Vervoordt unveils his new jewel


Belgian aesthete and collector Axel Vervoordt, owner of no less than 16,000 antiques, is inaugurating the latest addition to Kanaal, his extraordinary architectural complex in Antwerp.

By Oscar Duboÿ, Photos Mario Palmieri

At the end of November, Axel Vervoordt, renowned antiquary and aesthete, is unveiling the latest addition to Kanaal, a visionary architectural complex created in his own image. Flamboyancy has never been the house style, which adheres instead to the elegant and erudite sobriety for which Antwerp is famous. Don’t bother looking for signposts on the Albert Canal, because there aren’t any. Instead, keep your eyes peeled for the silos, which were exactly what caught Vervoordt’s attention in 1998, when was looking for a warehouse to stock the 16,000 antiques piled up at ’s-Gravenwezel, his 12th-century castle. Instead of a mere warehouse, the former 19th-century malt house turned into a much more ambitious project, christened Kanaal. One by one, every piece in the immense Vervoordt machine has arrived – retailers, architects, artisans, art historians –, all the departments needed to manage two galleries, art fairs, interior-design projects, furniture collections, the foundation, and now real estate, since the complex includes 100 or so apartments. Future inhabitants have the choice between contemporary bay windows by Bogdan & Van Broeck, circular rooms inserted in the silos by Stéphane Beel or new structures built over the old brick buildings by Cousée & Goris. Prissy flowerpots are forbidden on the balconies: the landscape architect Michel Desvigne has been given sole responsibility for greening Kanaal, so that everything appears studiedly natural, including the roof.



“Deep down I’m still the art dealer I was when I started out, a beachcomber who only wants to make people happy in their homes.”



It’s all about beauty and quality in this new neighbourhood, under the guiding sign of Wabi, the spiritual Zen concept that informs all of Vervoordt’s work and aesthetics. The imperfections of an Egyptian antique, the patina of an old shepherd’s chair, the quiet of a Fontana canvas or the luminous abstraction of a Jef Verheyens are all mixed up in the half shadow of Kanaal’s cavernous showroom. “I buy everything I like very quickly, around 200 pieces a month, explains Vervoordt. “You’ll find different civilizations, everything that embodies calm, silent intelligence, peace. I like the authentic, softened by time. I always prefer simple solid wood to veneers or marquetry; once a piece of furniture is polished, its form becomes too obvious, like ostentatious wealth. Contemporary art allowed me to understand the beauty of simple things and make room for them next to the most important ones.” A dome by Anish Kapoor, At the Edge of the World, looms over Kanaal. It’s the jewel in the crown of the Axel & May Vervoordt Foundation, launched in 2008 and present at Venice’s Palazzo Fortuny. While Vervoordt’s eldest son Boris heads the galleries, and his youngest, Dick, manages the real estate, Axel and May look after all the rest. But don’t mention “decoration”: “the word is too superficial, it’s not just about beauty,” Vervoordt insists. “Deep down I’m still the art dealer I was when I started out, a beachcomber who only wants to make people happy in their homes.”


•           Saburo Murakami : Rétrospective (1954-1996), until 17th march  – Terrace Gallery

•           Lucia Bru : Rien ne change de forme comme les nuages, si ce n’est les rochers (L’archipel de la Manche, Victor Hugo), until 13th  january 2018 – Escher Gallery

•           El Anatsui : until 13th january 2018 – Patio Gallery