30 March 2011

Interview with the Belgian Collector Alain Servais

我的網上藝術雜誌 -- InitiArt Magazine -- Online Art Magazine

訪問及整理︰丁燕燕 / Selina Ting

The young Belgian collector, Alain Servais, started collecting art in the late 1990s. In 2000, he moved into a 900-square meter old factory which he transformed into a three-storey loft, located in a working-class neighborhood of northern Brussels. This is where he lives and works, as well as showing his contemporary art collection. “There are two lighting systems, the artwork lighting system and the living lighting system. This is my way of living”, he said. The freedom he enjoys as an independent financial consultant allows him to travel at his own rhythm. Art is taking up most of his personal and leisure time. He visits more than 10 art fairs, festivals and biennales around the world every year. Other than collector and Financial Consultant, Alain is a happy father of two lovely daughters, Alexia (14) and Marie (12).

In the interview, we talked about how a collection betrays its master, the collector. Alain is very open and sincere in sharing his experiences and philosophy. I am very grateful for his generosity, and I really admire his courage to confront himself. “This is really the most revealing and personal interview I ever did and probably will ever do”, he wrote me a week after the interview.

AS - Alain Servais

ST – Selina Ting for InititArt Magazine

What is Collecting Art?

ST: You are young, and a very active and “hard-working” collector. What are your basic ideas about collecting art?

AS: There are different things about collecting. The very first aspect concerns what you think of art. It’s almost the first question I am asking to everyone I meet to know in which artworld category to find them. It’s a tough question to answer, “What is art for you?”, and I ask myself this question regularly.

ST: Throughout the years you must have very different answers to your own question.

AS: Yes, of course.

ST: Perhaps it’s interesting for us to start with the question.

AS: I don’t know but let me finish your question first. So, you have the art then you have the collecting. Why is it? You said earlier that I am fascinated by collectors, and it’s very true. I am very interested in them across history, not just today, but in general about the phenomenon of collecting. There are many different ways of collecting, but I like the following definition that I read somewhere: The difference between a museum and a private collection is that, a museum is trying to illustrate an evolution of time, while a collector is encapsulating a point in time. A collector is very often active in a certain time span, usually they are good for 10 to 12 years, then they often become bad or they stop. Why? It’s because things are changing so much that you can’t adapt many times in succession. That’s why it’s so amazing to see some collectors changing and re-focusing their collection. It’s an amazing personal effort to do that. That’s also why you would see so often the same artists in different collections active in the same period.

ST: How can you try not to become a victim of this?

AS: That’s the second level about collecting, which means you have to try to give a message through your collection. I tend to explain it in this way: an artist is creating a sign, and the collector at a certain point is taking these signs and putting them together to give another message. He’s making a sentence, if you will. He’s creating something new. He’s expressing himself also. I think it’s important. I am trying to express something. Sometimes I have the impression that I am not being listened to… [Smiles] I ask the work of art to speak for me, on my behalf. I am hiding behind what they are saying, or in fact, I am saying what they are saying.

ST: Because you are the one who’s organizing the sentence.

AS: Yes, or sometimes, I can go to another level than what the artist really intended to say. I like the idea an artist told me, that once you sent the work of art to the world, you are losing control of its meaning. Some artists want to fight against this; some are just fine with it. Also, with the passing of time, you can never really see the work with the same eye as at its time of creation. That’s why I like to visit museums. I try to put myself in the mindset of times during which the work was created to understand how people in that time looked at those pieces. I don’t want to see the works only with my eyes of today because when one makes the effort to imagining oneself back in the artist’s own time you realize how those works could be really revolutionary and radical, and it feels even better to understand that. [Smiles]

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