The Belgian collector, antiques dealer and designer outlines what the art and objects in his library mean to him
‘This is the most used room in the house. It contains things that I have been collecting since my teens. When we have guests, everybody gathers in here and loves it. You can’t get people out of this room — even the ones who are used to living in minimal contemporary spaces. It is a room that makes conversation easy. One feels at ease in here.
‘We have other rooms that are architecturally very serene and plain, and perhaps the talk is more serious in those parts of the house. I, too, sometimes need something more monastic — especially in the daytime. But the library is a room that embraces you; it gives of a kind of warmth. And it is absolutely an expression of my aesthetic.
‘I choose to look at art like a small child who knows nothing. First comes the heart’
‘I am very yin-yang: I like emptiness and fullness, old and new. For me there is no difference between ancient things and modern things — art is art, whether it is tens of years old or thousands of years. I choose to look at art like a small child who knows nothing. First comes the heart, the question of whether I am attracted to it; the thinking only starts after that.
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‘Take the Buddha on the shelves. I inherited it from a friend of my parents — someone who inspired me greatly. That’s why I put it there. It is not a great quality piece, but I received it from the most amazing person. In my library, what matters is not only the piece itself, but how I came by it.
‘The pieces around the chimney breast have a particularly deep meaning for me, but there is a dialogue going on between every single object — and that makes all of them stronger. Nothing has a negative energy, or is wanting to be better than something else. Everything in my library is about peace, and about respect.
1. ‘The duck weight dates from about 1000 BC, but its shape is like modern art. Cy Twombly, a friend, was intending to buy it from me. But he died before I could take it to him. Since he hadn’t paid for it yet, I just kept it.’
2. ‘The console table with its strange merman is one of a pair: the other figure is female. They date from around 1640, but I cannot work out where exactly they came from. I only know that they remind me how life came out of the sea.’
‘Fontana understood before science did that we all emerged from emptiness at the Big Bang’
3. ‘I bought this statue when I first came to live here. I like the fact that the Archangel Michael is not killing the dragon, but subduing it. It expresses a balance between good and evil; in life, few things are entirely good or entirely evil.’
4. ‘My friend Ida Barbarigo died recently. She painted the energy she felt emanating from the chairs on the Zattere promenade in Venice, after people had left at night. It was genius to be doing this in 1960. I think she is much underappreciated.’
5. ‘These heads are from diverse cultures — Ashanti dolls, French caricatures, Indian, Chinese, Egyptian, Cycladic, and a video work by Kurt Ralske. They look to be in a universal conversation. The idea of the universal fascinates me.’
6. ‘I bought this early and beautiful Fontana for my 40th birthday. It is wonderfully silent, and all about giving birth to emptiness. Fontana understood before science did that we all emerged from emptiness at the Big Bang.’
7. ‘The very large Chinese ts’ung is made of red jade and, like all ts’ungs, it is the idea of earth given material form. The bi disc on the other side of the mantelpiece symbolises heaven. The Fontana in between is my human way to connect them.’