Valerie Traan Gallery
Collecting subjects and objects
The first time I visited Valerie Traan Gallery was on a Thursday evening when new exhibitions have their opening night there. Together with a group of people, I stepped through the huge sliding door that takes you from a narrow Antwerp sidewalk into an all white, well-lit space with a beautiful original brick floor from where staircases & terraces further open up the amazing volumes. On that night, Muller Van Severen’s Fireworks work is being showcased for the first time in Belgium after a successful passage in Milano, Italy. The new collection of brightly coloured ‘paravents’ in bold geometrical shapes reinterprets the dimensions of their surrounding and has a specific architectural quality to it.
On a cold winter Saturday afternoon – when people in Antwrep prefer to snuggle at home – I returned to the gallery to meet with owner & gallerist Veerle Wenes. The Belgian city of Antwrep is a cobble-stoned maze of small streets with ancient medieval houses breathing history. The renovated dwelling of what is now the Valerie Traan gallery dates back to 1979 while the private quarters are originally from the late XIXth century and used to be a workplace for nuns & the local monastic community – there’s still a listed chapel that can be visited through another part of the building.
Valerie Traan gallery’s philosophy is written on the entrance door: “objects & subjects”. For Veerle, “the strength of good design, architecture or art lies in the people & their underlying stories”. While we talk, she attends a young couple who is strolling the gallery and is interested in buying a hand cut mirror by Belgian designer Diane Steverlynck. “You only really feel the object’s value when you give it a context”, she says moving around the space and holding one of the designer’s mirrors against a concrete pillar located in the centre of the room.
We saunter from the main gallery space flooded with natural light into the adjoining house by a large double door: the private area has the same high ceilings & brick floor but offers a very different atmosphere. Darker, this is where art truly finds its way into normality, into everyday life. Veerle’s home reveals a combination of contemporary art pieces, elements from her father’s private objects collection mixed with furniture designed by people she loves or works with. “The essence of design should not just be to showcase it in a white box art gallery, it should express a warmth that comes from the way you are using the object. You don’t necessarily have to live in a designer home to have a Muller Van Severen’s chair around your dinning table. My house would look exactly the same even if it wasn’t an art gallery. I choose objects I love and want to be surrounded by. That’s the core philosophy of Valerie Traan’s, linking objects to their subjects”.
Veerle’s interior is an ever-changing set up, an organic process, never static, changing constantly. “The gallery sits on the edge of architecture, design & art and wants to address people who think about objects in between these lines. This interdisciplinary exchange is what we built the concept of the gallery around. When the gallery is open, I become public domain myself” says Veerle, passionate. Passion is indeed one of the main reasons Veerle changed carrer in 2010 when she decided to start living & working within the space.
“I wanted to meet interesting people and this job allows me to meet them. It’s also about radically committing to one’s choices & vision, avoiding commercial concessions where you pick someone to work with only because you know his/her work would sell well. Making money is a relative concept, even thought you obviously need to be self-supporting”, she adds. “My objective here is to exhibit the work of talented artists who are people I believe in – whether they’re well-known or not is a detail to me”. Valerie Traan’s latest exhibition called From Walter to Valerie is a collaboration between the St Lucas School of Arts Antwerp’s Jewellery Design department, the industrial chain manufacturer Walter Fisher and Valerie Traan Gallery itself. Having this kind of exhibition where renowned established names co-exist with students’ work displays shows to what extend the gallery stands on open & broad-minded values.
The sun is now trying to rip open the grey sky while people get into the gallery escaping from the cold weather, looking for something here to surprise them. In the gorgeous courtyard of the gallery, birds search for food in between stones of the terraces or pecking the leaves of a climbing ivy covering the old convent walls. Inside, the chapel-like acoustics of this open house-gallery accentuates the murmurs & presence of visitors. Coming through the window, a thin ray of light pierces through the clouds and falls onto one of Muller Van Severen’s paravents settled in the middle of the room. Its reflection has a beautiful golden hue which makes it look as a source of light itself. It hasn’t escaped Veele’s notice who takes a quick snap before that moment of grace is gone.