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Axel Vervoordt

The art world extraordinaire reveals all in a rare interview about his eclectic curations

Axel Vervoordt holds a very unusual place in the art world. Part curator, part collector, part designer – his approach is completely unique. The infectiously enthusiastic sixtysomething has an instinctive approach to time, texture, space and medium. Found paintings, high art masterpieces and odd objects all come together in his unique labyrinthine shows. He took a break for a rare conversation about his work on the eve of his fourth exhibition at the Palazzo Fortuny.

Dazed & Confused: You have a very particular take on contrast – whether mediums or periods in history. What do you like about curating like that?
Axel Vervoordt: For me curating is like bringing friends together. Every painting has its own personality, which I really try to discover. All my life I’ve been searching for the timeless in art - the contemporary spirit in very old things, the connection between old and new. I’m not too interested in evolution. I like new art, new ways of looking at things, new details.

D&C: How did you begin collecting and curating?
Axel Vervoordt: I started as a very young collector when I was 14. I was at an exhibition, which has these machines and mobiles by Tinguely. I couldn't afford it. The same day I found a 16th century iron chest where one lock moved 8 other locks and this was one tenth of the price. From then, I really felt some old things were as contemporary as contemporary art. For me it's important that an artist opens your eyes in a new way. I like things that have this eternal message, this essence of being. This dialogue is very important.

D&C: Why did you choose to curate an exhibition about Tàpies this year?
Axel Vervoordt: I wanted to do an exhibition about how important artists are influenced by other art. Even Picasso said ‘I steal and I make it better’. This always existed. The Romans copied the Greeks. The Renaissance copied the Romans. There’s always been a connection.  I had a book on Tàpies’ collection – this great collection of geometric things, African things, Asian art, meditative art, PicassoRothkoPollock, minimalist things, found objects. It was so fascinating – it was so familiar to my own collection. It's so rare to see a collection where I loved everything. We are focussing on one artist and his collection and the tension between that. I’m sure everyone will rediscover Tàpies as I did.

D&C: You have a very instinctive approach rather than one that is overly conceptual?
Axel Vervoordt: All my life I’ve been searching. I love being with artists and organising think tanks - but this is something I want to share. Every exhibition I organise I want to explain to children. If even 1 in 10 are inspired, it’s absolutely worth doing. The great artworks – you can put in so many different themes and they work. For me it's the most amazing pleasure. It’s hard work but it gives such a lot of happiness.

Tàpies, Lo sguardo dell’ artista (The Eye of the Artist) runs June 1 to November 24 at the Palazzo Fortuny