Three questions to
Today, we are delighted to talk to with Jean-François Declercq, a collector, expert in design and curator of the DIALOGUE Section 2024. The article delves into his journey through collecting, curating, and the evolution of design from the 1980s to contemporary times. Declercq’s insights provide a bridge between historical and contemporary design, emphasizing the pivotal nature of the 1980s in the design landscape. His experiences in curating exhibitions and establishing various platforms reflect his passion and commitment to this field.
COLLECTIBLE: You are a collector, curator, and expert in both 20th and 21st-century design. Can you tell us a bit more about what came first and how one activity influenced the other?
Jean-François Declercq: It was indeed the design of the 1980s that ignited in me this consuming passion and curiosity, which has since become my profession. In 1988, while living in a small provincial town, I was captivated by a Philippe Starck lamp showcased in a boutique specializing in designer objects. Subsequently, I began collecting and then selling 20th-century designs, from Jules Wabbes to Scandinavian, Italian, and American designs. Eventually, I delved into a fervor lasting more than a decade for the works of Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand.
It was in 2014, having sold my collection in a prominent Parisian auction house, that I encountered contemporary design. In 2015, curating an exhibition showcasing the works of Ben Storms and Gerard Kuijpers, I discovered a new facet of my profession - curation. Since then, I have established a publishing house, an art center named ‘Atelier Jespers,’ a gallery by the name of ‘La Bocca Della Verità,’ and have organized over 80 events, 22 exhibitions across Belgium, France, Italy & Lebanon, notably hosting a festival during Paris Design Week (‘Expressive Itinerant Design’). We serve as design experts for several prestigious Belgian and international auction houses and have founded a consultancy agency, ‘Co-Pilote,’ guiding the development of numerous emerging studios.
C: What prompts you to start a dialogue between historical and contemporary? You focus on the 80s and 90s. What is special about this time?
JFD: It is intriguing for me to observe the evolution and juxtaposition of contemporary creations with ‘historical pieces.’ This notion germinated during the 2022 edition of COLLECTIBLE, where we orchestrated a ‘dialogue’ between Gerard Kuijpers’ contemporary creations and the historical pieces from the Gruppe Pentagon. Starting in 1984, this collective began creating pieces that would now be categorized as ‘functional art.’ It was during this era that the concept of a ‘cross-over’ between the realms of art and design emerged, envisioning pieces more as ‘practical sculptures’ rather than formal furniture.
The 1980s marked a paradigm shift in the evolution of design, succeeding preceding eras such as the 1850s with Thonet, the 1930s with the emergence of metal tubes, and the 1960s with the escalating use of plastics. These periods were predominantly associated with technological strides and a design evolution, adopting a less rigid and more playful ethos, particularly during the cultural zenith of the 1960s. Conversely, the 1980s introduced an even more playful aesthetic before transmuting into darker and more disquieting trends following the Gulf War.
C: How do you go about selecting the pieces or artists to showcase in your collections or exhibitions? What are the criteria or factors that guide you in this selection process?
JFD: Beyond the quality of the work itself, the principal criterion lies in the personality of the designer. I relish the opportunity to engage with the designer over a convivial evening, akin to spending time with a friend, which is as important to me as the quality of their work. Style isn’t a decisive factor; I am intrigued by all forms and material applications. I require authenticity and precision in the concept and execution.
In terms of the work itself, precision in intention, design, forms, execution, and the creator’s overarching vision is imperative. Most significantly, there exists a certain detachment and cognizance that, fundamentally… Our sector fabricates furniture and objects primarily to meet the needs of a specific clientele and, at best, to offer comfort; we are far removed from being the saviors of the world.