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Exhibitions

La Bocca della Verità

The latest gallery project by the passionate collector and pioneer, Jean-François Declercq, boosting the Belgian design scene.

By Anna Sansom / 15th March 2022
Facade and atrium of La Bocca della Verità COURTESY: La Bocca della Verità / PHOTOGRAPH: © Jeroen Verrecht

Facade and atrium of La Bocca della Verità
COURTESY: La Bocca della Verità / PHOTOGRAPH: © Jeroen Verrecht

JEAN-FRANÇOIS DECLERCQ is a multivalent advocate of young design talents and a key player in the Brussels scene. Having established the Atelier Jespers exhibition space in his house a few years ago, Declercq inaugurated a gallery, La Bocca della Verità, behind the facade of an Art Nouveau building, last September. For the second exhibition opening on 19th March, he has invited the Milan-born, Paris-based Margherita Ratti to curate a group show bringing together art, design and architecture.

What sparked Declercq’s decision to found a gallery was the opportunity to rent a space behind Maison Van Dijck, designed by architect Gustave Strauven on Boulevard Clovis. Past the intricate metalwork of the elegant Art Nouveau facade lies the atrium and 1980s house by architect Michel Poulain where Declercq’s gallery is located. “I’ve known this Art Nouveau building since I was a teenager and I’d walk past it on my way to school,” says Declercq excitedly.

Facade behind La Bocca della Verità COURTESY: La Bocca della Verità / PHOTOGRAPH: © Jeroen Verrecht

Facade behind La Bocca della Verità
COURTESY: La Bocca della Verità / PHOTOGRAPH: © Jeroen Verrecht

Declercq was keen to establish a structure for commercial exhibitions that would differ from the non-commercial vocation of Atelier Jespers. He had set up the latter to offer a platform for young designers by showcasing their works throughout his home – a curvilinear, modernist villa designed for the sculptor Oscar Jespers.

“People would visit the exhibitions at Atelier Jespers and enquire how much the pieces cost, but they weren’t for sale,” says Declercq, who previously had a communications agency and recently became a consultant to the Belgian auction house Cornette de Saint Cyr. “Opening a gallery in a separate space makes things clearer.”

Servomuto, ‘Guinea’ floor lamp, 2015 COURTESY: Servomuto & La Bocca della Verità

Servomuto, ‘Guinea’ floor lamp, 2015
COURTESY: Servomuto & La Bocca della Verità

Tracing his passion for design back to his teenage years growing up in the 1980s, Declercq was a collector prior to entering the domain professionally. After purchasing Philippe Starck’s ‘Ara’ lamp, edited by Flos, he began collecting European twentieth-century works. His divorce led him to sell the majority of his furniture collection at Piasa in 2014 – including work by Charlotte Perriand, Jean Prouvé and Pierre Jeanneret – and start afresh.

It was during a trip to Milan furniture week that Declercq became more interested in contemporary design. “On my last day, I met [Belgian designer] Ben Storms and we started talking; I had to go all the way to Milan to discover someone who was practically my neighbour,” he recounts, chuckling at the irony of the chance encounter. Having just moved into his new house, he invited Storms to present a coffee table for a magazine photo shoot. Then in September 2015, he held his first exhibition with works by Storms and sculptor Gerard Kuijpers.

Jean-François Declercq COURTESY: Jean-François Declercq

Jean-François Declercq
COURTESY: Jean-François Declercq

“I thought that Atelier Jespers would be nice without a lot of furniture, just works by Jean Prouvé, Gino Sarfatti and Donald Judd, and to add in other pieces during the exhibitions,” Declercq says. Atelier Jespers subsequently became a platform for showcasing designers such as Michael Anastassiades, Domeau & Pérès and Bela Silva. “But over the last few years, the living space has diminished due to my accumulation of pieces,” Declercq adds, referring to his growing contemporary design collection.

Studio Intervallo, 'Bodgan' coffee table, 2021 COURTESY: Studio Intervallo & La Bocca della Verità / PHOTOGRAPH: © Giulio Boem

Studio Intervallo, ‘Bodgan’ coffee table, 2021
COURTESY: Studio Intervallo & La Bocca della Verità / PHOTOGRAPH: © Giulio Boem

Opening La Bocca della Verità seemed like the natural next step to bring more exposure to young talents. For the inaugural exhibition, he presented works by Thibault Huguet, Hélène del Marmol, Arnaud Eubelen and Theo De Meyer together with Doorzon interior architecture studio. His aim is to have three exhibitions annually with works at “democratic prices”, in the range of €500-€15,000.

For the next show, he has given carte blanche to Ratti, who works with designers through her curatorial and production structure, It’s Great Design. “Margherita Ratti is a talent-spotter with a real eye and collaborating is essential to me as I want to learn and discover,” Declercq explains.

Servomuto, ‘Chez Joséphine’ wall lamp, 2016
COURTESY: Servomuto & La Bocca della Verità / PHOTOGRAPH: Op-Fot studio

Servomuto, ‘Chez Joséphine’ wall lamp, 2016
COURTESY: Servomuto & La Bocca della Verità / PHOTOGRAPH: Op-Fot studio

“La Bocca della Verità is a singular and very inspiring place [in which] I’m not seeking to recreate an interior …”

Margherita Ratti
Servomuto, ‘Chez Joséphine’ wall lamp, 2016
COURTESY: Servomuto & La Bocca della Verità / PHOTOGRAPH: Op-Fot studio

Servomuto, ‘Chez Joséphine’ wall lamp, 2016
COURTESY: Servomuto & La Bocca della Verità / PHOTOGRAPH: Op-Fot studio

” … but draw the viewer’s interest towards a less formal and more emotional way of experiencing a domestic space”

Margherita Ratti

Ratti’s multidisciplinary show, ‘Intérieur Contemporain’, will be spread across all three floors. She has proceeded by reflecting on the gallery’s “unconventional” nature. “La Bocca della Verità is a singular and very inspiring place [in which] I’m not seeking to recreate an interior but draw the viewer’s interest towards a less formal and more emotional way of experiencing a domestic space,” Ratti remarks.

On view will be a diversity of works by nine studios – from furniture to tapestries, ceramics and architecture maquettes. Among the highlights are Italian studio Servomuto’s ‘Guinea’ floor lamp (2015) with brightly coloured organza shapes on oak stems inserted into marble bases; Studio Intervallo’s ‘Bodgan’ coffee tables (2021) with numerous cones of linden wood supporting the circular table tops, and Célia Picard and Hannes Schreckenberger’s ‘Lignes’ (2018) graphic shelf in black lacquered steel supported by brown leather straps. Ratti is also showing the graduate project, ’Vingt-quatre’ (2022), of heat-retaining enamel stoneware objects by young French design duo Marie Piplard and Kelly Eng.

Célia Picard, 'Ligne I', 2018 COURTESY: Célia Picard & La Bocca della Verità / PHOTOGRAPH: Hannes Schreckensberger

Célia Picard, ‘Ligne I’, 2018
COURTESY: Célia Picard & La Bocca della Verità / PHOTOGRAPH: Hannes Schreckensberger

Through this kind of international offering, Declercq is hoping to boost the Belgian design scene. “Belgium has become a creative hub but, unfortunately, contemporary designers don’t have much representation,’ he says. “I wanted to open a space where young people could express themselves and encounter the public. Some of these talents will be big stars in 15-20 years and my aim is to share and support them.”

Intérieur Contemporain is at La Bocca della Verità from 19th March – 25th June 2022.

85 Boulevard Clovis, Brussels. 

@laboccadellaveritagallery

@jeanfrancoisd 

@so_great_so_design

Article by Anna Sansom
Article by Anna Sansom
Anna Sansom is a British journalist, based in Paris, who writes about contemporary art, design and architecture. View all articles by Anna Sansom