Leen Gysen (49) and David Lainé (49) have made art their life, both privately and professionally. They were co-founders of the restoration and conservation company IPARC, she as manager, he as restorer of paintings and head of the research lab. They also surround themselves with art at home. Nowadays we have to have a think: is there space? There’s not much room left, and we don’t want to throw anything away.’’
Leen: My husband and I are living proof that art education works. As children, we both often visited museums with our parents. That has stuck.
Didn’t you sometimes get the feeling: no, not another museum?
Leen: I was communication and marketing director at Bozar, and we saw very clearly that children and young people are definitely interested in art, as long as you provide the right framework. Going to the museum with the class sometimes has negative connotations: boring, pedantic... But if they go with parents and friends who encourage them, it becomes a completely different experience. Context is everything’’.
‘‘Of course, this takes place in stages. We see that in our daughters. They are now in their teens, and what do you do then? You distance yourself from your parents. What we find fascinating, they find boring by definition. But that will pass. I firmly believe that it is valuable and necessary to guide children towards art. You plant seeds, which you can harvest afterwards.’’
You are M-art patrons, which means that you support M financially. Why did you choose to do this?
Leen: David and I met while studying art history and archaeology in Leuven. The predecessor of M, Vander Kelen-Mertens, was the only fine arts museum in the area. It played an important role during our studies and certainly in the run-up to the founding of IPARC. Later, of course, we were very happy with its transformation into M: a city museum with international ambitions. Leuven really needed that. You can also see this in the success of the M-art patron and M-bassador formulas. Many people are very fond of M.’’
About your own collection then. How did you start collecting?
Leen: We took our first steps through ‘Art at Home’. You can borrow works of art there for a small amount. We even bought a work there, through their hire-purchase formula. I still think it’s a fantastic organisation.
Perhaps good to know: the Flemish government gives interest-free loans for art purchases – ‘Time for art’ is the name of that project. If you buy a work from a recognised gallery, you can get very inexpensive financing of up to 5,000 euros. A very valuable initiative, because it makes the step to the commercial circuit smaller. That is certainly important now, because the corona crisis is a disaster for emerging artists.
I firmly believe that it is valuable and necessary to guide children towards art. You plant seeds, which you can harvest afterwards.
Do you have a preference for genres or periods?
Leen: David is mainly concerned with older art. He specialises in the 15th to the 17th century. I am more in the contemporary sphere. The result is that we have a bit of everything. There is one period in which we find each other: art deco, and very specifically female nudes.
How large is your collection?
Leen: We have something like thirty pieces. That also includes editions – limited editions of works of art. These days, you can often buy them in the museum shop at exhibitions of contemporary artists.’’
What contemporary works do you have?
Leen: We have pieces by Sarah De Vos and Studio Borgerstein, among others. In our living room, there is a large canvas by Wouter Steel, a Leuven artist. It is a photo-realistic work that depicts a man being smeared with peanut butter by two beautiful girls (laughs). It has the enigmatic title ‘Eventually, he always knew this day would come’. Sounds weird, but it’s a very beautiful, very present work.’’
‘‘My husband was very impressed at a vernissage of Wouter. So I went to visit his studio myself, together with the children. There were over a hundred works, but I only had eyes for this one. Very intuitive. The children wondered what it was, but they found it interesting.
‘‘We have one rule when we buy something: David and I both have to find it beautiful or interesting. So David went and had a look – without me telling him which work appealed to me. It turned out to be love at first sight for him too. The canvas now hangs very prominently in our living room.
Wouter turned out to be the son of an enthusiastic art history teacher with whom I had done my work placement during my teacher training. David has also had lessons from her. Strange how such things sometimes come together.
What do you think about older art?
Leen: The work we love the most is a very small 17th-century painting. There are three figures in it, full-length. There are a lot of gaps, where you can only see the wood of the panel. In the past, such damage was repainted by another artist. In the current restoration practice, we no longer do that. David could, of course, restore the work, but we have left it like that. We find it very poetic; you can see the ravages of time.
What do you look for when you buy a work?
Leen: There is no clear line, we buy very much on feeling. You might think that we pay attention to technical aspects – my husband restores, so he knows how materials and works can evolve and degrade over the years. But we’re not into that at all.’’
‘‘We do hope that the children will have a connection with the art they see at home. We would hate it if they sold the works when we were gone. But: they have to develop their own visual literacy, of course.’’
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