CHANGE UNIVERSE: Magazine Jewels
Brussels | Art & Culture | DesignNovember 29, 2009

Kanaal Complex

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Step through the door and you find yourself in a hushed, dimly lit circular room with low white walls and a burgundy-red dome that seems to weigh you down with the intensity of its color. We are symbolically this is the beating heart of Kanaal. Speak, and your voice slims to a whisper or suddenly raises, the volume out of control; walk, and you will be overcome by a disorientating sense of dizziness.

In circular room containing an enormous red dome , perhaps the most dramatic space in the Kanaal “At the edge of the world” a permanent installation by Anish Kapoor. It is a space for contemplation and peace of mind. This extraordinary installation  is tucked away in a purpose-built outhouse at a warehouse complex owned by Belgian 's most successful antiques dealer,  Axel Vervoordt. is this old circular brew house.

The influential tastemaker's latest project is Axel Vervoordt Kanaal a circa-1860 former granary and brewery that sells the castle's over- flow — Italian Renaissance bronzes, 18th-century English furniture, modern paintings — and doubles as a performance space for artists and musicians.

The ever-expanding activities, the increasing inventory, with more than 13.000 items in stock, and a lack of space at the castle for showing many over-sized objects, led Axel Vervoordt to look for an additional site. The old malting complex at Wijnegem was the ideal place to realize his ideas.

There he could use his expertise to recycle the past and re-evaluate the architectural significance of an old industrial site, while creating a stepping-stone to the 21st century. Kanaal houses showrooms, exhibition spaces, a museum and facilities for a range of other artistic activities.

Vervoordt's story is as remarkable as his collection. He has been rapaciously amassing art and artifacts since his schooldays, when, visiting England with his father during the holidays, he would hunt for collectibles and bring them back to the city of Antwerp.

Mere mortals, meanwhile, can get a glimpse of Vervoordt's collection year-round. It's an artfully designed, theatrical space - more gallery than showroom - where you can walk away with a vintage vase-cum-lamp for us $ 400. Amid the warren of corridors and halls, you'll spy a 13th-century Chinese statue of a priest meditating, a ritual axe from Ecuador or an abstract painting by one of Belgium's best 20th-century artists. Covered sofas and coffee tables, many designed by May, are everywhere.

As a connection between the warehouse and the workshop, there is an impressive corridor featuring bare brick walls and concrete floors. It used to contain all kind of machinery and continues straight to the waterline of the canal. Hidden in the heart of Kanaal two large storage rooms contain over a 1000 pieces ranging from mantelpieces to wooden paneling, an inexhaustible source of treasures awaiting their rightful destination. A was newly built in order to join the office building to the monumental "Karnak".

Column Hall or Karnak ( Office Building )

This vast hall of columns was named after the Karnak temple because of it’s remarkable resemblance and spiritual atmosphere. It houses a permanent exposition of the private collection, such as Thai sculptures and Buddha-torsos.  In the midst a forest of pillars in the building's cement grain dryer  he installed his collection of Mon Dvaravati statues made between the 6th and 8th centuries by Indian monks who brought Zen Buddhism to Thailand. "It's a challenging new context in which to reconsider these spare exercises in form from an earlier age and a different culture," he notes

Corridor

When entering the ‘Kanaal’ this corridor immediately sets the industrial atmosphere of bare walls and high ceilings. The reception, logistics department, conference room , Boris’ office and Karnak are directly accessible via the corridor.

Boris Verdvo0rdt Office

With its old brick walls, barrelled ceilings, concrete floor and arched windows; the office has an authentic industrial feel. Situated on the axis between the end of the entrance alley and the high silos towering over the Kanaal complex.

Main Building - Gound Floor Central

The few pieces presented here are highlighted by a rather dramatic lighting. The white walls and high ceilings create the perfect environment for exhibiting antique garden statuary, massive stone tables, or even a collection of French stone masterproofs…

Main Building and Photostudio

Apart from antique furniture and objects, they also have a wide selection of antique building materials, such as mantelpieces, wooden paneling, parquets etc. This room is often used to display antique panelings.

Newly purchased items are immediately sent to the photo studio. Each of the 250 pieces that arrive here monthly have at least 3 pictures taken from different angles, they are also weighed, measured and labeled.

Main Building- 1st Floor Central

The first floor central is a perfect example for our eclectic style, mixing very different pieces in perfect harmony. The extreme simplicity of the rough concrete floor and dark grey walls create a spacious “loft” environment.

Light is everywhere and the architect home collection of daybeds, slipcovers, chairs and upholstered sofas all in white is superb and very comfortable.

Main Building kitchen

Tripped bare brick walls, old and withered, some of the paint remains might even date from the construction of the building in 1860.

The furniture exhibited in the kitchen is mostly rather simple and quite rustic.

Main Building Brown Room

After passing the meditation room, containing mostly English mahogany furniture, we continuously try to recreate the atmosphere of a gentleman’s office in this exhibition room.

Main building Casebere

Together with the grey room,  and near the kitchen, this room is named after the New-York based photographer James Casebere, this room features one of the artist’s works entitled “Two Tunnels”.This sober room presents mainly architectural Italian walnut furniture.

Loft (Main building Second Floor)

With its original arched windows, concrete floors and iron columns, the room presents pieces from our home collection, which have been designed by Axel Vervoordt himself.

Studio (Main Building Second Floor )

The impressive iron roof construction is the first thing that meets the eye when you enter this enormous space. The original arched windows offer the most beautiful view on the Albert Canal.

Central (Main Building - Second Floor)

Set between the red room and the studio, this L-shaped room is usually used to present charming “mountain” furniture.

Main Building - Third Floor- Upholstery Studio

Our upholstering studio, offers a wide range of natural fabrics used for the upholstering of antique chairs or sofas as well as for models from our Home collection.

Main Building -Third Floor- Modern Selection -

Situated on the top floor, this spacious, sun-drenched room overlooks the canal. Here, surrounded by our most beautiful creations in home furnishings, our people give life to the home-collection every day. Many of which, brightly colored and Deco-styled, seem to come out from a Magritte painting.

The story begins with Vervoordt's family history, and how he started buying and selling antiques when he was a student. As a young adult, he bought and restored a 16th-century house in the center of Antwerp. When numerous admiring clients asked him to do the same, he fell into decorating. Now, with a staff of 100, he personally supervises between 12 and 20 interior design commissions a year for a variety of royalty, pop stars, museums, bankers, collectors and musicians.

Though the Vervoordt castle and Kanaal are two entirely different buildings, some of the spaces and the way they are arranged with furniture, art or objects look very similar at the hands of Vervoordt. When Vervoordt decided to buy the Kanaal, a complex of warehouses, grain silos and a large round building, he wanted a truly minimalist environment where he could exercise his vision of "limitless spatial purity." By stripping the buildings down to the bare wooden board or cement floors and exposed brick or whitewashed-cement block walls, Vervoordt hopes to show "how we might wish to live in the 21st century."

Not only is the variety of the antiques and art that he offers awe-inspiring but so too is his philosophy. "I consider myself a very eclectic collector and dealer. I treasure the timeless and disdain the trendy," states Vervoordt. "My taste spans centuries, continents and economic strata. I love the tension between different object and different cultures." Two elaborate silver candelabra "taken away from some princely 18th-century dining table become not table decoration, not emblems of wealth and power, but strange and beautiful abstract objects," he  writes in one of his  publications.

It embodies Vervoordt's raison d'etre: "My task .. has been to rediscover works of art, to save them for the future, to reveal them for what they are, to show them at their best, to give them a better place in the world—and, perhaps, by doing this, to create harmony and find new ways of expressing the inner life."

Joelle's Tips:

The antique dealer ans architect: Axel Vervoordt

The Complex:  Kanaal, Stokerijstraat 19, Wijnegem / Tel  00 32 3 355 3300, Thursday, Friday 2-6pm, Saturday 11am-6pm.

Sources: Antwerp: Great away days  By Julia Davis / the Indipendent

Photo credit of Antwerp house:  Hotel Belgium Photoguide Used with the permission of www.hotels-belgium , www.trabel.com & www.arakea.com’. Alle rights reserved

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