Axel Vervoordt Opens up About His Beginnings, Personal Growth, New Exhibition and More

The following ‘enfant terrible’ of an entire generation is an artistic genius you need to know of and he goes by the name of Axel Vervoordt. Throughout his life, he’s been known as an eclectic collector, art dealer, tastemaker, antiquarian, architect and curator. And we had the chance to chat with him about his beginnings, his personal growth, his exhibition and more.

For over thirty years the Belgian artist has been developing an art of living in order to transform the common object into an objet d’art and the ordinary gesture into perfection. Internationally known for putting together remarkable combinations with timeless objects rather than following trends. As we speak Vervoordt’s exhibition dubbed ‘Room of Wonder I’, in Antwerp, is up and running until April. But where did it all start?

Vlaeykensgang is where it started…

In his book called Stories and Reflections, Axel tells the story of his life and more, giving us a glimpse of what it was like growing up and being the inspiring man he is today. However, it was Axel’s mother, who made a living out of buying, restoring and redecorating houses, that lead him to buy Vlaeykensgang in 1968. Vlaeykensgang is an alley in the historic center of Antwerp which dates from 1591. It used to be occupied by the poorest people. In times where old parts of the city were being destroyed because of modernization, Axel borrowed money from his father to purchase and restore sixteen Renaissance buildings in order to save the historic alley. Until this day, Vlaeykensgang is still property of the Vervoordt family.

As he grew as an artist and met his wife May, they started one of the greatest antique empires in Belgium. Later Axel would also focus on art and interior design. Which lead to him designing the homes of many famous celebrities like Kanye West, Robert De Niro and Kim Kardashian.

Axel & May Vervoordt Foundation

Since the early ’80s, Vervoordt has been combining objets d’art together in masterful ways at the Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris. In 2007 he also started curating exhibitions at Palazzo Fortuny as part of the Venice Biennale. And in 2008, the Axel & May Vervoordt Foundation became a reality. A non-profit organization that emerged out of the exhibitions Axel curated in the past. The foundation is a way to set up exhibitions and preserve the objects’ integrity for the coming generations.

The 'Vlaeykensgang' in Antwerp

‘Room of Wonder I’ by Axel Vervoordt

Vervoordt created a very personal chamber of wonder, in which he mixed rare and precious art collectibles from different civilizations throughout the ages. We were recently invited by Diva Antwerp to visit Vervoordt’s ‘Room of Wonder Iexhibition, where he included pieces from Diva’s collection and his own foundation. He also added loans from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels and the MAS in Antwerp. All of this, resulting in an exhibition, consisting of mid-century paintingssculptures, jewelry, ancient skulls with works of art by Anish Kapoor, Jan Fabre and many other artists.

Visit the Room of Wonder I exhibition at DIVA Antwerp until April 28, 2019.

Hi Axel, where does your love for art and design come from? Is it something you’ve inherited from home or did it develop itself?

It’s something very natural, but it came thanks to my quest for harmony. Even as a child, I had an appreciation for art and design, which with time developed itself.

You started your career at a very young age, did you have any clue that it was going to be a success story?

Of course, when you start something you want it to be a success. However, from the beginning, I always did my utmost best for everything. Step by step, I kept on going, but I wasn’t satisfied enough, which pushed me to set the bar higher and higher.

How has your passion enriched your personal growth?

My dialogue with art definitely determined my personal growth en helped me to get where I am every step of the way. Every exhibition that I realized was a new awakening process. Every exhibition had so much character that it gave my life an extra dimension, something that I’ll never forget.

What you do is a true source of inspiration to many, however, are there any other elements that inspire you? Like films, music or the small things?

My work is my passion, but I also cherish the simple things. Even if it’s a walk in the woods or a beautiful flower can be a source of inspiration for me.

You’ve worked with many celebrities like Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Robert De Niro and Calvin Klein. But also with artists like Anish Kapoor, Willem De Kooning, Renato Nicolodi (Belgian painter and sculptor) and Dominique Stroobants (Belgian sculptor). How did those interesting encounters occur?

To be honest, I never really forced these encounters. With time you naturally look for one another because you are connected in one way or the other. I couldn’t pick a project over another or state that one is more significant than the other. Because I have no hierarchy within my work. I work on many projects and I put my heart and soul in every work I embark on.

If you could travel in time, when and where would you travel to?

I’m always on a quest for something timeless in everything I do, but I also have a tremendous appreciation for the now. I’ve never had the urge to escape my own time. However, I also seek timelessness in my work to give the people who are experiencing the art a timeless feeling.

So far you realized impressive projects worldwide. Is there anything else on your bucket list?

That’s a hard one because I still have so much to achieve… euh, I can’t tell you all my future plans because I’m working on so many projects at the moment. So I can’t really tell you that. Maybe in a near future.

You’re known around the globe to mix antiques and modern art pieces, from different continents and eras. Which was also recognizable in your art exhibition Room of Wonder I, at DIVA in Antwerp. We witnessed multiple objects sourced in Congo and Japan for example. What is your link with these countries?

For me, paying special attention to African art has the utmost importance. When you look at all the Congolese collector’s pieces I have displayed in the Room of Wonder I, most of them have a peaceful expression.

For this exhibition, in particular, I went looking for very specific African pieces, to show that there is also something Buddhist, something very serene to African artworks. That’s the cross-fertilization I went for.

If you were able to talk to your younger self, what advice would you give him as well as young creatives starting a career in the art and design industry?

I would say, always stay true to yourself and make yourself useful to others.

Photo credits: Dennis Ravays, Diva Antwerp, Pinterest, Jonathan Zegbe for Enfnts Terribles

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