Elucidation of Collection R.
Collecting art starts with an infinite respect for the courage and power an artist gives
by devoting their life to repeatedly interpret their view of the world.
A few years before his passing I asked Franz West why he used a particular shade of blue so often in his work. The hallucinating trail I was taken on was an over an hour long monologue that covered almost all the history of contemporary art.
From talking about intense relationships with numerous icons in the art scene to the influence that befriended collectors of his much younger wife had on his recent work,
he finally arrived to the explanation of the specific shade of blue.
For me it was one of the most mind blowing conversations I've ever had concerning art. I was flabbergasted with the insights West creates in his surroundings and the perseverance he strives to pass on his view of the world.
The icons of contemporary art, like Franz West, are those whose view of the world become icons or archetypes of the experience of a certain timeline in society. They are shaping our culture with capital C.
It's up to museums and its curators to exhibit a coherent image of these great ones to the public.
Despite the archetyped iconography of Franz West and my admiration for his work, his imagery did not move me as a person.
Since I am not a curator, I am not obliged to showcase any museum-like pretension, therefor
I do not have any Franz West in my collection.
The liberty of a private collector is after all to write his own iconography.
He does not have to search historical equality.
He does not have to enforce consensus about qualitative ranking.
At least this is the liberty I lay hold of, to collect my own individual iconography.
For example the statue of Ugo Rondinone, merely because of its pure limitless aesthetics.
The tribune of Kelly Schacht in my forrest with its integer, absurd and wonderful title 'Stay Focused', that adds an emotional embedding to our unique Flemish surrealism. The art of young Mathieu Ronsse, the astonishment over his virtuosity and the battle to steer his exceptional gift in the direction of meaning.
I want to share all these marvels.
Thanks to all artists and gallerists who've made a living out of their passion.
I also thank my children and wife who live with my passion, and with who'm I want to share this passion the most."
"The liberty of a private collector
is after all to write his own iconography.
He does not have to search historical equality. He does not have to enforce consensus about qualitative ranking.
At least this is the liberty I lay hold of,
to collect my own individual iconography."
Popsculpture Kati Heck
Painting Sanam Khatibi
Franz West & R.
Two years ago, R. chanced upon a factory in Merelbeke, not far from his home. On the façade, it still says ‘Sofacq’ in robust Art Deco lettering, short for Société de Fabrication de Chaussures de Qualité. ‘The factory, built between the First and the Second World War, started as a tannery, then became a shoe factory and later on a printer. We turned it into an art gallery and a cake bakery,’ R. says. Before he ended up in the food sector, he had made a career as a manager at photo group Spector and The Reference, Belgium’s first website builder.
‘We bought the premises as well as the shares from two elderly printers, who worked in the immense building all by themselves. They only used several square metres, fenced off from the rest of the dilapidated factory building by plastic sheets. The large locker room and bicycle parking downstairs are reminiscent of the two hundred cobblers who once plied their trade in this building.’
R. kept these industrial traces and renovated the property to retain its authentic character as well as he could. Downstairs, he installed the Barista cake bakery, the coffee bar chain run by his wife. He also accommodated De Wilde Brouwers, a small-scale organic brewery, partly owned by him.
The link is not hard to find. Denis De Wilde, the brewer, uses not only rain-water and waste water for the wild fermentation but also surplus bread from De Trog, the organic bakery of which R. is the co-owner. ‘Denis used to brew beer in the corridor of his home. Very tasty, but at too small a scale. When we started looking for a building to house his micro-brewery, we happened to find this place.
Now, there is a café downstairs where you can taste the beers. It is our dream to organise an artists’ café on Friday nights. Every time, we will invite one artist to run the bar.’
The brewery and bakery are currently newly housed in the renovated building, but actually it was primarily the first floor that had caught Rodrigues’ eye. In the empty production hall, with the magnificent light, he saw the perfect space for exhibiting his art.
Apart from replacing the windows and whitewashing the walls, he did not make any changes to the industrial vibe. ‘Some of the works here I had not seen since the day of purchase. Of some I didn’t even know I had them. All those years, they had been locked up in boxes in a deport. When I opened them, I felt the same sensation as I did back then when I bought them,’ he says.
R. has been collecting art for 25 years, purely on emotion.
He is very knowledgeable, but he makes quick decisions and loves to buy what other collectors do not consider an option, for sheer lack of space: monumental sculptures and room-filling installations.
For example the dead bonsais in formaldehyde by Various Artists, a still life about transitoriness, which assumes a museological style here. Just like Robert Kusmirowski’s mock replica of Jackson Pollock’s studio: a work covering at least ten square metres in Merelbeke.
Rinus Van de Velde
The same applies to the huge installation by Jos De Gruyter and Harald Thys from 1993, with the ‘remnants’ of the fictitious coup by ‘Emperor Ro’ in Belgium. With a tape recorder, audio fragments, furniture, documents and other fake news the duo provides an impression of the non-existent emperor and his policy. ‘Not the type of work to have in your home,’ Rodrigues says. ‘I have been told, by the way, that I am the biggest private collector of Jos and Harald, who will exhibit in the Belgian pavilion at the Venice Biennale as from this weekend.’
R. is also one of the few collectors who is willing and able to buy large sculptures by Rinus Van de Velde. ‘I bought the cardboard aircraft crash installation at Rinus’ third solo exhibition at Tim Van Laere Gallery in 2015. It had remained there ever since, for lack of space. I also have a large charcoal drawing by Rinus, but it is too recognisable to me. I don’t want to put it up yet.’ It has to be admitted: in the museological context in Merelbeke, Van de Velde’s installation stands out much better than at Van Laere at the time. R. can give the works the space they sorely need.
Although the entrepreneur initially wanted to accommodate his gallery into one huge open space, he later added some partitioning walls, ‘for the sake of readability’. ‘Visitors complained of not having the opportunity to take it all in quietly. Sometimes they left after only ten minutes. With some additional partitions we have divided the space. This has the advantage that smaller works can now be exhibited at a more intimate spot.’
He refers to his sensual photo wall by Ed Templeton, or his wall with paintings by Jan Van Imschoot, one of which R. gave on loan to the Prada Foundation for Luc Tuymans’ Baroque exhibition. The colourful, naive works by young Belgian talents Nel Aerts, Pieter Jennes and Ben Sledsens benefit from neutral surroundings between the sculptural profusion.
2000 was a turning point. In that year, it was the first time that R. bought a work of art that would not fit through the doors of his home: a huge table by former Yugoslav artist Bojan Fajfric. Next, he bought a life-size stand by Kelly Schacht, which eventually found its way to the garden. A solution for his compulsive purchasing became more and more pressing.
First, he and his wife Sabine Vandorpe (an interior designer) were considering the idea of building several garden pavilions, where the large pieces could be placed. One pavilion by Matthieu Ronsse had already been completed, when Rodrigues found this property in Merelbeke.
LTR: Pieter Jennes, Nel Aerts, Ed Templeton. Bottom: Atelier Van Lieshout
Has his collector’s mania cooled, like that of Anton and Annick Herbert, who moved their completed collection to a private museum in Ghent?
‘I’m afraid not. The fact that I have more space now doesn’t mean that I buy larger pieces than I did in the old days. I never think in terms of available space but in terms of gut feeling and budget.
I would rather buy four pieces by young artists than one expensive work from an established artist. In this way, I get the emotion four times instead of only once. Sometimes, I also think: I spend so much time and money on the collection, how can I possibly cash in on those efforts? I’m gradually evolving towards a commercial gallery concept.
In the future, I want to sell several works and reinvest the proceeds in good, young artists and put them into the market via my network. This building is ideal for the purpose: I can present my collection and exhibit a solo or group show with new work simultaneously – not by established names or deceased artists but young artists you can have a pint of beer with. Beer and art go well together, if you ask me.’