Maurice and Caroline Verbaet have been collecting art for many years. We had already gotten a taste of their collection during an exhibition at the Musée d’Ixelles/Museum van Elsene in 2012. They are now opening the Maurice Verbaet Art Center (mvAc), a dedicated space covering 1,500 m² on the ground floor of an iconic building in Antwerp, the former headquarters of the Antwerpse Water Werken (WAW) water company, inaugurated in 1965. It is complemented by a gallery for temporary exhibitions.
Already an art collector in his youth, in the 1970s, Maurice Verbaet then became a compulsive buyer whenever he would fall in love with a piece. In 1989, he found in his wife Caroline the perfect companion to share this artistic journey. Together, they decided to focus primarily on 20th-century Belgian art, selecting the works that were affordable. Indeed, modern Belgian artists were undervalued on the domestic market, while many of them had had a remarkable international career. Once again, this seems to reflect the reserve apparently inherent to the Belgian mind-set, the reluctance of Belgian artists to put themselves forward, perhaps because there is little or no national pride unlike in France.
A fluctuating project
Originally, the extensive Verbaet collection included 20th-century artists, from the 1920s to the 1970s. But the collector then chose to sell off the pre World War II works to finance the projects aimed at raising the value of Belgian artists from the 1950s to the 1970s. Passionate about his collection and a true collector, Verbaet spent his time visiting auction houses and galleries specialised in modern art. From his travels, he brought back works of works of unknown, forgotten artists, or scorned today.
Which artists of this period feature in the collection and how were they chosen? Maurice Verbaet explains: “In the words of Michel Guy, French Minister of Culture about the Maeght Foundation: “A private, non-subsidized, Foundation, has every right to be temperamental, that is to say, to reflect the tastes of the founders. […] I wish there were in France not one but thirty Maeght Foundations. Each with its idiosyncracy would provide a comprehensive overview of art.” This is where we are currently setting our goal: we seek to provide an overview of postwar Belgian art, by highlighting some of the milestones or by focusing on a few selected individuals. This orientation allows us to offer a taste of the fertile and diverse artistic production that is characteristic of our small country. Our fragmented approach rejects a classification based on movement. However, the deployment of isolated pieces of the same puzzle allows us to gradually compose an overall picture and shows how, once juxtaposed, all the above-mentioned elements prove to be the intertwined weft of the same cloth.” Passion, again and again, is the driver in this selection.
Connexions One. Belgian Art 1945-1975, the inaugural exhibition, is a must-see. Works by Bury, Delahaut, Mortier, Tapta, Axelle, Vandercam, Willequet and many others offer a profusion of styles and colours. So many Belgian talents who all made a name for themselves internationally. This is a delight and a chance to rediscover them. Indeed, more opportunities to view the collection are on the cards, with an exhibition planned in Saint-Rémy-of-Provence, at the Musée Cocteau in Menton in June, and the Musée Pissarro in Pontoise next September, among other dates and venues.
Drawings by Van Hoeydonck
In the gallery space, an exhibition of drawings by Paul Van Hoeydonck has just opened. Now aged over 90 years and still going strong, the artist worked in the US where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Warhol. He began his career in the 1950s, producing geometric abstract paintings. For a long time, the almost monochrome paintings of his lightworks brought him sustained recognition. In the 1950s, with Fontana, Klein and Tinguely, he was among the trailblazers, a member of the G58 group, a kind of OFF exhibition in reaction to the ultra-traditional selection of artworks exhibited at Expo 58… Why are those artists still recognised internationally and not him? This is resolved through the commitment made by Caroline and Maurice Verbaet.
We discover here more than 90 drawings, spanning two periods, from 1955 to 1962 and from 1979 to 1981. Van Hoeydonck explains that his drawings have rarely been shown, for the simple reason that a drawing should be protected by a glass pane, unlike a painting, which is much more expensive to implement. Even though not all exceptional, all do convey the artist’s personal quest, as is very often the case with works on paper.
Works on paper by Paul Van Hoeydonck
Maurice Verbaet Art Center
Until 16 July
Thursdays – Saturdays and the 1st Sunday of the month
From 13:00h to 18:00h