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Walter Vanhaerents follows his dreams
walter-vanhaerents-va-au-bout-de-ses-reves - ARTACTIF
March 2024 | Reading time: 23 Min | 0 Comment(s)

About the exhibition “At the end of my dreams – Vanhaerents Art Collection”, which is on until January 14 at the Tripostal in Lille.

Too bad, this spectacular exhibition is almost over, and perhaps you haven't had the opportunity to pass through Lille since October 6, 2023? Never mind, I'm going to tell you a little about it, and above all tell you the story of the fabulous collection of Walter Vanhaerents, this Flemish entrepreneur who would have become a sophrologist if the death of his father and his brother had not not required to take over the family business specializing in construction and real estate. Sophrologist: you see? That mental health professional specializing in relaxation and stress management techniques? Well, Walter Vanhaerents, he managed the stress of not choosing his professional life and the mental load of having to manage one of the biggest companies in Belgium... starting by collecting all the works of art to sell by Belgian artists who he liked on the contemporary art scene. But apparently that wasn't enough. So he also developed a passion for architecture. And as he loved art very much, he took almost a world tour of the greatest museums, these modern cathedrals of art. It was at that moment that, inevitably, Belgian artists alone were no longer enough for Walter Vanhaerents. He found himself fascinated by the radical proposals of Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter… We had entered a new dimension.

“I was lucky enough that a collector took back from me the forty pieces that I had already acquired and I had to pay €25,000 more to buy a cubist sculpture by Jacques Lipchitz,” recalls Walter Vanhaerents, to whom the Tripostal, a place dedicated to contemporary art exhibitions in Lille since “Lille 2004, European Capital of Culture”, opened its doors in 2023 for him to show there, as François Pinault did in 2007 and the Saatchi Gallery in 2011, part of its prestigious collection. I did say part of it. Because it is impossible to know precisely how many works of art the entrepreneur owns today. Not to mention that his two children followed their father’s example! “We each have our own collection but, since 2020, I have asked them to join the Vanhaerents Art Collection,” he explains. Without, however, answering the question of the precise number of works of art in this collection... We can bet on several hundred. And, as surprising as it may seem, these are in no way works of art for sale! Sir don't speculate. He buys because he likes. And never resell.

“Many collectors buy to speculate, some to infiltrate the upper echelons of society, others to establish their power,” notes Natacha Wolinski in her article for the issue of Beaux Arts Magazine published at the beginning of January. “Walter Vanhaerents has always been a free electron. Beneath a discreet and good-natured air, he displays a proven taste for risk and the avant-garde, even if his early intuitions led him to collect artists before the others that everyone is chasing today. » We are talking here about Ugo Rondinone for example, whose Belgian collector owns the largest number of works of art in the world! The contemporary Swiss artist who lives and works in New York, who has been developing polymorphous work since the mid-1980s – sculpture, painting, photography, video, poems – says of his greatest admirer that he is “a visionary who journey into the wilds of contemporary art, far from artistic advisors, comfort and norms, and which embraces the new.” At the same time, I imagine that an artist can hardly say bad things about someone who buys the majority of his works of art for sale…

However, Walter never waits for artists to rise in price before buying their works. He reads a lot, learns about them, and makes his purchases himself. Mostly in art galleries. Or by discovering their work in an exhibition, like that of David Altmejd in the one that the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, Colorado, dedicated to his “colossi” in 2007. The year when the artist represented Canada at the Venice Biennale. It still helps to get noticed. “I bought the whole exhibition,” says Walter Vanhaerents. We can imagine the leap the artist must have made upon hearing the news! “At the time, the six giants did not have names. I told David it would be nice to give them some. I offered six, he kept four and found two. » It was surely the least he could do... Because certainly, he doesn't wait for the ratings to go up. But by buying, he makes them go up a lot! Vanhaerents has become one of the 200 most influential collectors in the world...

“In the 1990s-2000s, Walter Vanhaerents bought into the Japanese scene, collected kawaii sculptures by Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara and Chiho Aoshima,” the journalist from Beaux Arts Magazine tells us. Hence a spectacular ensemble of these artists occupying the first floor of the Tripostal in Lille. Elsewhere, Ugo Rondinone rubs shoulders with Bill Viola and Jeppe Hein. For ten years, the collector has been passionate about the American scene. He even remembers perfectly his frustration when the New York gallery owner refused to sell him a painting by Kehinde Wiley that he found extraordinary… and that he was finally able to acquire five years later when the painting reappeared in a sale at the auction. We don't do it to him!

On the “Vanhaerents Art Collection” website, we can read that “Walter Vanhaerents likes to say that he buys with his eyes and his heart, not with his ears. On the other hand, he doesn't like the term collector which, for him, evokes old trinkets and coin collections. (Oops, sorry Walter, I still have to use this word from time to time so as not to repeat too much.) “He approaches his collection without any nostalgia, with his gaze turned towards the future, towards everything that the passion of art can bring him. » This is also noted by the journalist from Beaux Arts Magazine, noting in the beautiful work published in 2023, the first monograph produced around this collection under the authority of the “boss” and which looks back on fifty years of acquisitions: “I have a principle, I always look to the future – that’s why I recently acquired works by Dominic Chambers, Alexandre Diop, Kennedy Yanko or Joy Labinjo – and I never go back,” writes Vanhaerents . “I would never buy a historical piece by Bruce Nauman today, even though he is my favorite artist. I'm not interested in going back and buying works that I missed. »

In 2007, he entrusted the architect duo Robbrecht & Daem with the task of transforming a former sanitary warehouse in a working-class district of Brussels, formerly nicknamed the Devil's Corner, into a showcase for his collection. And he decides to live upstairs, to be able to come down as often as possible to admire works that he often buys in monumental size, so as not to be tempted to keep them in his living room. “Sometimes I go down to the main nave at night, sit in an armchair and look at my works. » Class.

Yes, Walter Vanhaerents is an atypical collector. So if you missed the Lille exhibition and its 75 works by 40 artists from all over the world, don't panic: go to Dansaert, the district of Brussels that has become trendy and where the Kanal-Centre Pompidou. Not only has he decided to open (by reservation) to the public the pieces of his collection gathered since the beginning of the 1970s, but he also sometimes welcomes and guides visitors who come to admire his collection... When I tell you it's class.


Valibri en RoulotteArticle written by Valibri in Roulotte

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