Axel Vervoordt has earned renown as a collector, antiquaire, interior designer and, most recently, curator. He counts among his clientele royalty, rock stars, financiers, tech tycoons and artists. Tall and elegant, with a serene smile, this 62-year-old may be one of the world’s foremost tastemakers. Yet he has little interest in “style,” at least as it is currently defined, because essentially, Vervoordt is a metaphysician. Inquiries into the nature of being and concepts of time and space are what most compel him; he conveys his views through his inspired arrangements of objects and interiors. To some, expressing the lofty in the material might seem contradictory, but Vervoordt believes that, as in a Zen koan, truth can be contained in paradox and ambiguity. Clients may go to him in search of a splendid antique armoire or for help renovating and furnishing an 18th-century villa, but the most valuable service they receive is instruction in his highly evolved yet quite fundamental philosophy of living.
The young Vervoordt got swept up in all his parents’ activities, even their socializing. Their sophisticated friends became his. One taught him to appreciate the different characteristics of various woods; others educated him about antique books and silver — instructing him not only in recognizing the rare and the good but also in distinguishing the fake from the authentic. As a teenager he haunted salesrooms in search of curiosities like treen (small woodenware pieces), turned-ivory objects and memento mori; early on, he demonstrated a knack for spotting overlooked gems. At 14 he traveled to England for the first time to bid directly on pieces with a loan from his father — who demanded interest! Some of what he bought he resold to his parents’ friends to repay that debt, but he managed to hang on to some marvelous works, such as the portrait of a Hanoverian princess attributed to Gainsborough that hangs above the tub in his master bath.
During this period he developed what would become his trademark practice of purchasing against the prevailing fashion. “The taste then [the 1960s] was classical, so there were many pieces for me, and they later became quite valuable,” Vervoordt says. “There was no better time for buying antique English and European furniture and domestic art, because England’s inheritance taxes forced so many families to strip their country houses of the troves they had accumulated over centuries.” He acquired objects “that I loved with my heart. Only after their purchase would I do research on them, buy books and consult experts. I still work in a similar fashion.”
During the early 1970s, Vervoordt began making buying trips to Thailand, Cambodia and Japan. The stillness of the Buddhist art and the serene architectural spaces of the temples resonated deeply with him. He had already been playing with aesthetic polarities in his design dialogues between rustic and Baroque furnishings and between ancient statuary and modern paintings. Now he recognized the potential for creating analogous conversations with Eastern objects. In fact, he found he had a strong affinity for wabi, the Zen notion that true beauty is imperfect, incomplete and impermanent — in other words, as evanescent as life. This view is reflected in his love of poor, “ugly” objects, like a shepherd’s rough-hewn table or a raku tea bowl.
In 2007, after nearly 40 years of dispensing his aesthetic views to private clients, Vervoordt decided to share his ideas with a wider public through a trilogy of exhibitions exploring the universality of art. For each show, he gathered a salon of scholars in the fields of art, philosophy and science to brainstorm. The fruit of their wide-ranging discussions, distilled to one written page, served as the show’s mission statement, and participants contributed essays to the catalogue.
The Most Iconic Projects:
Under the Vervoordts’ tenure the castle has once again taken on a sense of magic and wonder, with a new energy provided by its owners’ ever-evolving collection of art and furniture, as well as their individual approach to interior design. Artworks range from archaeological Egyptian stone vessels and Chinese Sung dynasty Buddhas to Renaissance bronzes and contemporary paintings by the world’s most sought-after artists.
The Greenwich Hotel Penthouse
The Greenwich Hotel – TriBeCa Penthouse was created by Belgian designer Axel Vervoordt and Japanese architect Tatsuro Miki, in close collaboration with the hotel’s partners Ira Drukier and Robert De Niro.The 6,800 sq ft suite was inspired by the TriBeCa neighborhood’s industrial past fused with the ancient Japanese aesthetic of Wabi.The Greenwich Hotel – TriBeCa Penthouse design incorporates the philosophical beliefs of Wabi: beauty found in imperfection and authenticity; Artempo – where time becomes art; and poor materials that are rich in spirit.Sustainable design is echoed throughout the interior and exterior space. Materials like stone, steel and reclaimed wood were carefully selected and thoughtfully utilized in every area of the penthouse.“We want to express a tribeca character in the most humble way. because the architecture is so simple, it belongs as much to the past as to the future,” says designer Axel Vervoordt.
An early inspiration of Axel Vervoordt
Axel Vervoordt started as a very young collector when he was 14. He was at an exhibition, which has these machines and mobiles by Tinguely. He couldn’t afford it. The same day he found a 16th century iron chest where one lock moved 8 other locks and this was one tenth of the price. From then, he really felt some old things were as contemporary as contemporary art. For him it’s important that an artist opens his eyes in a new way. He like things that have this eternal message, this essence of being. This dialogue is very important.
Axel Vervoordt Gallery Hong Kong
The Axel Vervoordt Gallery Hong Kong is an extension of the existing gallery in Antwerp. It offers a complementary programme of specially commissioned works, and will be an important platform for internationally renowned artists to participate in the radically-changing art scene in Asia.
Since the 1970s, Axel Vervoordt has developed a strong interest in Eastern philosophy, directly feeding into the spirit of the company, which has the ambition to create a dialogue between East and West. As a result, the gallery has naturally worked with a broad range of artists who tend to explore concepts of void, universality or infinity.
Axel Vervoordt Gallery Hong Kong opened with an exhibition of the African artist El Anatsui entitled Theory of Se. It consisted of three specially-commissioned works, Affirmation, Intimation and Revelation Image, which all contemplate the role the hand plays in forecasting the fate, destiny and fortune of individuals.
Inspirational quotes by Axel Vervoordt
“There’s an art to occupying a house. Practical concerns matter above all else. Aesthetic questions enter the picture only at a later stage. The emotional aspect is important. A house should reflect its occupants’ lifestyles and personalities.”
“There are no rules to what we do—it comes from the heart.”
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