The Axel Vervoordt Gallery opens its new flagship space in a 19th-century distillery on the outskirts of Antwerp today, 8 March. The Kanaal gallery is in a mixed-use cultural and residential complex—a “city in the country” as it is described on its website—that the Axel Vervoordt Company has spent the past five years renovating.
A desire for more space was one motive for the expansion out of central Antwerp, says Boris Vervoordt, who oversees the arts and antiques division of his father Axel’s company, which also operates in the realms of interior design and real estate. Access to different kinds of natural light was another reason. Vervoordt says the gallery was “conceived around indirect northern light, perfect for abstract art”—an area in which the gallery specialises.
The company acquired the 1870s industrial complex on the Albert Canal in 1998 with the idea of creating “an authentic cultural and residential island amidst a wealth of art and nature”, according to a press release. “We fell in love with [the site] in the late 90s, and choose the sculpture At the Edge of the World (2000) by Anish Kapoor to be the central heart [of] it,” Vervoordt says. He adds that the site is gradually evolving into an “art village”.
In addition to 98 flats and lofts, a restaurant, a grocery store, a chapel and a medical practice, the Kanaal site also houses the Axel and May Vervoordt Foundation, a non-profit founded in 2008 by Axel and his wife to oversee the couple’s eclectic art collection of antiquities, paintings by Zero Group artists Heinz Mack and Otto Piene, Gutai canvases and works by contemporary artists such as Kapoor and Cai Guo Qiang. As well as loaning works to other institutions, the foundation mounts its own shows both on-site and at other museums. Its next major offsite exhibition is being held at the Palazzo Fortuny during the Venice Biennale, but details have yet to be announced.
The new gallery opens with a major retrospective of work by the Gutai artist Kazuo Shiraga (until 13 May). “Shiraga has been a constant source of inspiration for our work, and we are both delighted and privileged to open our new gallery with such an important retrospective of his oeuvre,” Vervoordt says.
Meanwhile, at The European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht (10-19 March), the gallery is showing a mix of Egyptian and Classical antiquities and Modern and contemporary works, including El Anatsui’s Hesitant Rivers (2012), a piece about pollution and climate change, which will be placed at the entrance of the booth. “We feel the world is changing, and we need a positive response to all the negative thinking,” Vervoordt says.