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The roamings of Jean-François Declercq – Design in crisis

Apr 14, 2018

Today, Jean-François Declercq offers exhibitions focused on art and design with a minimalist approach whose only – and practically non-existent – limits are those set by the master of the premises

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Text by Marie Honnay

Living in the house-workshop of sculptor Oscar Jespers – and finding particular inspiration in its modernist architecture by the renowned Victor Bourgeois –  Jean-François Declercq decided to give a new artistic life to this site.

TLmag: You became a gallery owner and curator almost by accident. Where did your passion for design come from?
Jean-François Declercq: When I was 9 years old, living in a little town in the north of France, I went into a bookshop to purchase a monograph by Jérôme Bosch. That was the first step in a grand passion. At around 16 years old, in the 1990s, I began to frequent design stores. I was crazy about Starck’s Ara lamps. From there, I began a collection that, over the years, became a more and more important facet in my life. It was a sort of escape. I collected 1970’s plastic furniture. Then, 15 years ago, well before it was trendy, I moved on to Scandinavian design. Right after that, Jean Prouvé entered my life…

TLmag: And eclipsed everything else?
JFD: My interior was centred on pieces by Prouvé, Perriand and Le Corbusier. And that was the furniture I brought with me to the house of Oscar Jespers, four years ago. I knew Victor Bourgeois the architect, but not the sculptor. After living in a Haussmanian apartment, I wanted the type of light that you find in an artist’s studio. The house was waiting for me. I signed the sale agreement in 10 minutes.

TLmag: Why did you decide to open your house to designers, artists and the public?
JFD : That same year, Fréderic Chambre (Piasa) suggested that I put my collection up for sale. I felt torn, but once I had made the decision, I had only one wish: that everything go. That was the first time the house served as an exhibition space. When the sale was over, the only thing I wanted was to live in an empty space.

TLmag: Where did this idea to combine a living space and exhibition space come from?
JFD : This solution – to live with the exhibition pieces for a month and a half then see them go – seemed ideal to me. Over three years, I have organised 13 exhibitions: 11 at the studio and three “beyond the walls”. Suddenly, I changed from a compulsive collector to a committed curator.

 

TLmag: Your first exhibition was dedicated to Ben Storms. A nice place to start…
JFD: In 2015, I went with my companion Elsa Sarfati to the Fiera Milano. When I visit a fair or gallery, I feel drawn to certain objects. There, it was a Ben Storms trestle table in mirror-finished stainless steel. It was the very first modern design item to impact me that way. At the time, I didn’t yet have the gallery project, but I asked Ben to lend me the table for a photoshoot for AD España magazine, scheduled for a few days later at the house. In the process, I offered to exhibit his work at the workshop for Design September.

 

TLmag: This exhibition coincided with a certain anniversary…
JFD: When I inaugurated the Atelier Jespers, the house had been closed to the public for 45 years. For forty decades, it had been a sculptor’s workshop. It then had a more industrial mission, before becoming, upon my arrival, a strictly private home.

 

TLmag: Organising exhibitions in your home is a big commitment. What has this experience brought you?
JFD: When you are a collector, you have blinders on. What resonates with me in my current activity is the need to always question everything. From the start, I never wanted to say ‘no’ to any opportunity; consequently, one thing led to another very quickly.

 

TLmag: Tell us about the Itinérance (Roaming) project: what is its context?
JFD: In parallel with the exhibitions I organise at the house, I quickly felt the need to move. Last year, I was invited by the organisers of Art Elysées in Paris to set up the first edition of the #Itinérance project, around the work of 13 Belgian designers. I am amazed by the creative energy of that young generation of talents I met in Brussels at that time.

TLmag: This month, after two other Itinérances, at Bozar and during the first edition of Collectible in Brussels, you proposed the fourth eiondit, baptized “New Archaïsme”
JFD: This will be part of the miart fair in Milan. I will offer pieces by five modern and Belgian designers who question the relationship with time: Room Design, a pair of Georgian designers, as well as sculptures/performances by Conrad Willems and tapestries by Studio Krjst. My interest in this type of piece comes from my personal evolution. Over time, I have developed a growing interest for functionality, at the expense of pure aesthetic. One day I said to my companion, as a joke, that I was going to end up buying medieval furniture. It’s almost to that point. What fascinates me in these pieces is the raw appearance of the pieces cut with a gauge, and the use of ancient techniques.

TLmag: 2018 seems to be “your year”…
JFD: It is certainly a pivotal year. One where I expect to take stock. I become bored very quickly. Everything I do is always done with urgency. What do I want? To feel alive.

In April, Jean-François Declercq is offering Twist in Time during Art Brussels: a parallel display of everyday objects and major art works by Koons, Basquiat, Bacon…as well as Itinérance#4 at miart in Milan, from 13-15 April. Throughout the year, exhibitions will also take place in the Atelier Jespers with, next September, an exhibition devoted to Eric Mestre during Design September and, in November, another dedicated to the work of modernist architect Le Corbusier.

Stairs of the first Floor
Stairs of the first Floor
Tables by Belgian designer Ben Storms, the first artist to be featured since the creation of the Atelier Jespers ©Filip Dujardin
Tables by Belgian designer Ben Storms, the first artist to be featured since the creation of the Atelier Jespers ©Filip Dujardin
The tapestries of Studio Krjst are among the selection for miart © KRJST Studio
The tapestries of Studio Krjst are among the selection for miart © KRJST Studio
The fourth edition of Itinérance will also be the opportunity to discover the strange constructions of Belgian Conrad Willems. © Cédric Verhelst
The fourth edition of Itinérance will also be the opportunity to discover the strange constructions of Belgian Conrad Willems. © Cédric Verhelst
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