Alain Servais: Not Easy To Shock

Brussels-based collector Alain Servais keeps a focus on new media--and his opinions public on social media

Belgian art collector Alain Servais likes difficult, often shocking art, and he puts it everywhere in his three-level, 10,000-square-foot loft in a formerly industrial section of Brussels. Would he display a gory sculpture of a woman by Melissa Ichiuji in the kitchen? “Sure,” says Servais, a tall, boyish 50-year-old. “But my daughters won’t let me put art in their rooms anymore.”

Servais first became interested in art during a trip to New York and a visit to MoMA when he was 16. Then, after college he moved to the city for a job in finance and started out by buying posters at the Whitney. But he made his first real art purchases in 1996—two photographs from Nan Goldin’s “James King: Supermodel” series and another from Andres Serrano’s “A History of Sex.” Although he has sold very few pieces from his collection, he is now thinking of parting with a Gerhard Richter and a Frank Stella. “They are not the core of my collection,” he says. “The core is something like a $3,000 video,” such as one he recently purchased by Mexican artist Arturo Hernández Alcázar. Servais is a big supporter of video and Web-based artists, having bought his first video in 2001.

Servais backed by the Gilbert & George photo work Tree Naked, 1991.    PATRICK MESSINA

Servais backed by the Gilbert & George photo work Tree Naked, 1991.

“In the beginning I thought I would spend $25,000 a year on art, but that didn’t last long,” says Servais. “Whatever I spend now, it’s as safe as money in the bank.”

Servais, formerly an investment banker with Drexel Burnham Lambert and then with a small Belgian bank, struck out on his own in 2001, which gives him freedom to pick up his daughters, Alexia, 18, and Marie, 16, from school and devote time to art, film, and music. He participates in public forums on the art business and sends out emails sharing his thoughts and links to articles. He also tweets regularly (@aservais1). He serves on the Armory Centennial Committee and is a member of the Art Basel Global Patrons Council.

At fairs, galleries, and artists’ studios, Servais takes photos and notes. Then, every three months, he goes through it all. “I ask, which ones am I missing?” he says. “Then I decide to buy. I’m never into speculation, or buying impulsively because I’m in love, it’s a good day, or I’m in a good mood. I prefer to miss it than to make those mistakes.”

Servais, who is divorced, says his daughters find his collection weird and embarrassing. “This is their conformist time,” he says. “I tell them, ‘In five years you’re going to love it.’ Alexia says, ‘When you die, we’re going to sell everything.’”

A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 74 under the title “Alain Servais.”

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