The French collectors couple Myriam & Amaury de Solages set up the art centre Maison Particulière in Brussels in 2010. As its name indicates, the elegant townhouse at Place du Châtelain offers a unique setting that calls to mind a private residence where privately owned art works are displayed, lived with and contemplated – all intimately. Now at their 7th presentation, Inner Journeys (till 30 June), the space proposes thematic exhibitions with works from private collections. In each exhibition, four collectors are invited to share part of their collection and a guest-artist presents his work which becomes a kind of guiding line throughout the exhibit – A novel and cozy approach to the showcasing of contemporary art.
So, who are Myriam & Amaury de Solages?
Now in his 50s, Amaury de Solages worked for 13 years for Lazard Frères before founding his own financial planning company. He now dedicates his time to managing his own holdings. Born to a family of avid art collectors – the David Weill family – Amaury’s passion for the arts began in childhood. Just as passionate about the arts, Myriam has haunted museums ever since she was a child – she enjoys roaming art venues on her own, intimately studying works of art. With shared passion and curiosity for art, Myriam and Amaury have gathered a collection that goes beyond the confines of time, period, discipline, or geography.
After three years of operation, is the private mansion becoming an art club for art lovers from Belgium and nearby countries? Are collectors getting used to the idea of showing their collection to the public? What are their visions of the project? How is their psychological state in face of such a demanding task that they set up for themselves? We have Myriam and Amaury sitting down with us for an intimate reflection…
Brussels, June 2013
MdS – Myriam de Solages
AdS – Amaury de Solages
ST – Selina Ting for InitiArt Magazine
ST: You moved to Brussels in 2008 and opened the Maison Particuliere in 2010. Did you come to Brussels with the idea of creating an art center or did the city inspire you to start the project? Why Brussels and not Paris?
AdS: We came to Brussels with the project in mind. Our idea is to show works from private collections and to highlight the confrontation not only between works but also between the collections. Why Brussels? I think that the idea fits well with the culture in Brussels. I believe that it would be something very different if we did it in Paris. It’s evident that the fiscal system in France discourages private collectors from showing their work, but still some French collectors are showing their collection. It’s in the soul of the collectors to share the joy and the discovery of art, and to lend their works. If a collector refuses to lend a piece of work, often, the main reason is that the work is too fragile to travel, to be shown. Let’s say a piece of artwork can be found in three types of space: artist’s studio, collector’s home and museums / institutions. The worst case is to be at the storage.
ST: A French couple landed in Brussels and proposed a project to the local collectors and sought their participation. How did the Belgian collectors react to your project?
MdS: Personally, I didn’t feel any pressure or doubt from the Belgian collectors on our French background. On the contrary, their openness and welcoming attitude encouraged us to concretize the project. It’s important to gain the trust and confidence from the others. It’s fundamental for us to try our best to do things in a serious and professional manner. At the same time, we know that we should not take ourselves too seriously. Art is above all a pleasure. Perhaps it would become too heavy if it’s taken too seriously. We do what we love to do. That’s all.
AdS: I think that for anyone who proposes a new project and solicits the other’s participation, it’s normal that he or she would experience a certain degree of prudence from the others. Perhaps the most difficult stage is the very beginning, the very first exhibition because the concept is new and the collectors don’t know you well enough. We are lucky to have met adventurous collectors and dealers who helped us to realize the first exhibition. Every project takes time. But gradually people would get to know better what you are doing and how you do it.
ST: Do you see any contradiction in the concept of an art centre and the intimate atmosphere that the building and the interior created?
AdS: The intimacy comes from our everyday contact with art, be it at our home or in other private collections. It’s always fascinating to see an in-situ work in the house, for example. Even when we go to a museum, we always find a piece that we like in particularly and we just want to sit down in front of the work, to contemplate and to appropriate the work. It’s more enjoyable because you take your time!
MdS: For the moment, our space is very cozy and calm which makes the visit an enjoyable experience. I hope that we would have more visitors in the future, but at the same time, we try to avoid blockbuster shows. We don’t want to have 300 people queuing in the street! That will be a catastrophe!
ST: Does the elegance, classy bourgeois style of the house pose a problem for some of the collectors in their choice of work to show?
MdS: This is a very good question! [Laughs] It’s true that there is an elegant style in the architectural design of the house. That’s also why we try to avoid the tendency of ultra-decorative and to have the flexibility of adapting to each exhibition. Every time when we change a show, we have the impression of moving to a new house. It’s really a fabulous feeling. For the moment, we tend to have a more minimalist hanging, to have more space for each work. But I would like to see one day an exhibition with a high accumulation of works because that’s also the way of installing works in some collectors’ house. I don’t think there would be a problem to house works that are more difficult, brut or violent. The house can easily adapt to different styles.
ST: Let’s talk about the operating model. It seems that you have established the format of having 4 collectors and 1 artist since the very first show. How would you describe the collaboration between you and the guest collectors? Are you the “curators”? How do you decide which collections and which artist to invite?
AdS: We are functioning on the formula of presenting works from four private collections and one guest artist under a theme proposed by us, but we don’t assume the role of the exhibition curators. We ask for 10 to 15 pieces from each collector but the collectors and the guest artist make their own choice of what to show. We do not interfere in this process. Some of the collectors prefer to stay anonymous, even for museum loans. But the public are not here to see which piece belongs to whom. They are here to see the work. At the very beginning, we were often one of the four collectors as we needed to take the initiative and to make the format work. Little by little, we try to be less present as collectors and give room for the invited collectors.
The idea of having a guest artist is to have a guiding principle that can be traced throughout the exhibition – the house. Otherwise, there is no curator in the classical sense. We choose the theme which would then be discussed and shared amongst the collectors. There are some collectors who need more discussions to clarify their mind. But we are careful enough to let our guests know that our way of understanding the theme can be very different from theirs, and their interpretation can just be excellent. For example, the theme of the first exhibition, Origin, is vast enough for the collectors to interpret in their unique way. The confrontations as well the intersections are very interesting.
MdS: To “interpret” is the right word for us. We believe that the richness of an artwork is its multitude of possible interpretations according to how it is being looked at, in what condition it is shown, with whom it lives, etc. A piece of artwork imposes its own aura in the space, but at the same time, it can be the magic that at a certain moment, an artwork can integrate itself into the space in one way or another. The only curatorial role we have is in the installation plan. A collector always has a certain preference or manner of showing an artwork. But here, they are generous enough to give us the freedom to decide how to show their pieces.
ST: Is such format common? Is there any other foundation or art centre operating in the same manner as yours?
MdS: To my knowledge, no. As you said, there are private foundations which invite from time to time friends, artists, collectors to show their collections. But taking it systematically as an operating format, I think we are the only one.
AdS: Not every collector has a foundation, so some of them are very pleased to lend a little part of their collection for a show. Even some who have a foundation, they do not mind to participate. There is no rule to the game. We are very free and flexible.
MdS: For the first years, we want to keep this format because we need to pass a coherent message to other collectors of what we want to do. Maybe one day they would be convinced and would like to participate. After that, we would have the liberty to change the format and to experiment different things.
ST: Does the geographical distance of the collections play a role in diversifying the exhibition?
AdS: Yes! It’s obvious that we still have a lot of work to do. We need to get collectors from other regions involved. However, for the moment, we are a small structure with limited manpower and resources, so it’s too complicated for us to have works coming from far away.
ST: The name Maison Particuliere (Private House) indicates privacy. Do visitors feel comfortable to pick up the stairs and open the 5-meter high door? Or it is your idea to preserve a certain degree of intimacy as an art world insider project?
AdS: Obviously we still have a lot of work to do! We asked ourselves if we should put a sign – Art Centre: Open to the Public – outside at the door. We hesitated because it seemed to be contradictory to the idea of a private house. We are trying to keep the balance between the soul of a private house and an art centre that has a social role. It’s important to keep the feeling that when a visitor comes in, s/he should come in as guest – welcomed and greeted in a private house. Maybe it’s the name and the classy setting that people are not fully aware that we are open to the public, or they just don’t feel comfortable to visit us.
MdS: It’s important for us that the space is open for everyone. Moreover, it’s free for students and young people under 18. So, we are working on this to draw more people, family, younger generations to come.
ST: How is the project financed? Are you looking for financial partnership?
AdS: Fortunately we have some art patrons who are very supportive but discreet. We are always looking for different ways to finance the project, which can be the patronage of an exhibition, be a member of the Maison Particuliere, etc. Perhaps we are not in immediate financial difficulties that we have to sell part of our collection to support the project. We started with a budget that will keep it alive for a few years, after that, we would need to look for different patronage.
MdS: When a project develops and have more visitors, we will be obliged to enlarge the manpower. These are the questions that we will have to face one day. Certainly, we will have to look for outside support for the project to continue to develop. For the moment, we try to be reasonable with our operational cost.
AdS: A gallery owner had a funny comment on our project. He said, “it’s very cool what you want to do, but it’s not nice for us because you would have a smaller budget to buy work!” This is a reality!
ST: It’s another role that you wanted to take! After two years of operation, how do you feel about the different roles?
MdS: It’s important to be able to continue to buy works. But buying work for the sake of having more works… I think the project gives us more personal satisfaction because there is a sense. It’s not such a bad thing if we slow down our acquisition. After all, that kind of compulsive collecting is not something that we want to be identified with.
ST: One last question, as collectors, how do you collect? What does it mean to be a collector for you?
AdS: I think that all collectors started as passionate amateurs. Art has the power to touch them, to appeal to them. All started from the first purchase, then the number keeps rising. At which moment does one become a collector? To be a collector, for me, is to be specialized on a certain domain. However, someone like Antoine de Galbert is not a collector but a multi-collector, which means he has different types of collections. Personally, I prefer the term “amateur” in the 18th century sense. A “collector” has the obsession to build a collection as comprehensive as possible, he would be haunted by the missing piece and he would be in the constant hunt of that particular piece to complete his collection. We are not functioning in that manner. We don’t have a “wanted” list. When we find something that we love, that corresponds to our collection, sometimes we manage to buy it, sometimes not. And I can tell you that, most of the time, we can’t! [Laughs] And it’s just fine like that!
MdS: I am always fascinated by the collectors who, with time, developed an acute sense and a distinguishing eye for the good work. They have a very strong intuition which helps them to discern the good one from the rest. This is marvelous for me!
ST: Thank you very much!