Born into a family of art collectors, it is no surprise Marc Bollansee developed a keen interest at a young age. From his successful corporate career with Adidas in Asia, to his continuous curiosity discovering new artists and sharing his passion and wisdom with the next generation. Today, he is an art collector and writer, successfully published five books with a focus on Southeast Asian contemporary art and continues to advocate the importance of living with art.
The youngest child, Mila Bollansee inherited her father’s curiosity in art, which prepared her to forge her own career path with great gusto and hard work in China. Today, she is an art consultant, specialising in advising private clients and institutions between the East and the West. Together with her father she continues to assist, expand and promote the family’s art collection.
Here, Marc Bollansee and his daughter Mila Bollansee share their memories, inspirations and what it means to live with art.
CHILDHOOD MEMORIES AND THE BEGINNINGS WITH ART
What are the earliest memories you had of art?
Marc Bollansee: I have always been surrounded by art because my parents were collectors. Since the age of four I took a keen interest in modern and post-war art and classical music.
Picasso, Rouault, Dufy, Vlaminck were in the family collection and as a very young child I was exposed to very different art styles. The difference between a radiant, colorful Dufy and a dark, strongly constructed and spiritual Rouault were eye-openers and taught me to be open-minded.
Later, my interest developed to explore the conceptual minds of artists like Yves Klein, Uecker, Fontana, Christo and others. I felt it was not only about the aesthetics but about the ideas of the artists, which I tried to understand by interviewing them at the age of twelve. They were so pleasantly surprised to get my questions and were very graceful in their answers.
My father would take me to visit museums and we saw the best ones in Paris, Brussels, London and Madrid. The Prado has always been my favourite museum.
There was one man, who was a friend of my father, a famous Belgium collector, Philippe Dotremont, he influenced my vision of art. Dotremont was one of the greatest art collectors of the 20th century and he exhibited part of his collection in my hometown, in Antwerp, which was one of the greatest experiences in my life! I could clearly see and understand that all his artists were top-class. The combination between aesthetics and content was astounding and still remains a favourite reference for me today. What I admired about him was that he fully understood the key elements of art and was willing to reveal them to me.
How old were you when you started collecting?
Marc Bollansee: I was ten years old, my first purchases included works from the COBRA group and the French new realists. I inherited some money from my grandfather and decided to invest it in art. My father took care of the transactions, even though my father loved art, he never encouraged me to invest in art.
What attracted you to the COBRA group and the French new realists?
Marc Bollansee: Intuition and gut feeling are fed by seeing a great number of great art pieces. COBRA was groundbreaking as a reaction to abstract art. The new realists like Yves Klein, Arman, César, Tinguely were obviously among the most innovative artists of the 20th century. I could feel that!
Collecting young seems to be a family tradition. What were your earliest memories with art and when did you start collecting?
Mila Bollansee: I spent a very happy childhood in Indonesia, where my parents collected local contemporary art. Radiant abstract and figurative artworks filled our house and aroused my interest at a very young age. The family returned to Europe when I was 14 years old and chose Toulouse as a base. My father taught me a lot about art of the 20th century and we visited many art museums, fairs, biennales and galleries together.
I was 19 years old when I bought my first artwork. I was visiting the Amsterdam Rai art fair on my own and there was one booth, which caught my eye. It was a Dutch gallery that was dealing with Chinese contemporary art. It was a painting by the artist Liu Hui and I immediately liked it for its expressive and emotional qualities. I started talking to the gallerist and he convinced me to acquire my first art piece. From that point, I established a very good relationship with the gallerist which led me to do an internship at his gallery.
EXPLORING NEW CULTURES AND INSPIRATIONS
You speak five languages! One of them Chinese. Tell me more about China?
Mila Bollansee: I speak English, Dutch, French, Spanish, Chinese and some Indonesian.
When I was doing my internship in Amsterdam, I would regularly visit Brussels on the weekend. During one visit at Art Brussels art fair, I wanted to make more contacts, especially with galleries who were showing Asian contemporary art. I met a gallerist who had a gallery in Beijing and New York, he offered me a job and it changed my plans completely. I ended up moving to Beijing that same year [I purchased my first artwork] and that was the beginning of a big challenge and new experiences, but it was the perfect decision of my career!
And of these languages and cultures, which one resonates with you more?
Mila Bollansee: For me Chinese has been the most important language I have learnt, it allowed me to build very good friendships with Chinese artists, collectors, gallerists and understand the Chinese culture. The friendships with the young Chinese artists were wonderful and remain until today. I was able to exchange these discoveries and inspirations with my family, which would sometimes lead to an acquisition to the family collection.
The family collection has evolved based on where you lived. Can you tell me more about your art collection?
- a childhood collection of European avant-garde art
- a first adult collection of European new expressionsim
- a collection of Indonesian modern and contemporary art
- a collection of Asian contemporary
I believe the collector is just the custodian of his artworks and he needs to de-access once in a while in order to be able to explore new or better things. Financial and space considerations are important factors as well. The present collection is mainly Asian contemporary with a particular focus on Southeast Asian and China. It is housed in homes in France, Germany and Belgium.
CULTIVATING A MEANINGFUL ART EXPERIENCE
Of all your artworks, what moves you more?
Marc Bollansee: Before collecting I do a lot of research about artists from all over the world as they inform me about global tendencies. Probably the greatest and most fun part of collecting and writing art books is the opportunity to have privileged access to artists.
An artwork can catch my eye because of its aesthetics, its energy, its emotional power or the virtuoso execution. Afterwards I might want to delve deeper into the content and explore the connection it has with the contemporary world. Understanding the content is not absolutely necessary but adds layers to appreciation. For example, in Picasso’s Guernica, you obviously miss something if you don’t understand the content. Personally, I have become quite fanatical over the years about understanding the content of artworks. I am lucky, I have met all the artists I have collected and they gave me some keys about the content of the works in my collection.
This content you mention, is this something you can only experience if you live with your art? Is it something that reveals itself over time? Like a secret?
Marc Bollansee: The content of an artwork is only partially known by the artist, because the subconscious and the external influences play a big role. Therefore it makes sense for a collector to talk to the artist, but also to explore and discover on his own.
My favorite piece of art is by my Dutch ancestor, Hieronymus Van Aken [the name of my grandmother], called Hieronymus Bosch, and it is called “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, a painting of extreme beauty and mysterious content.
I have read several books about this painting, which is still a riddle until today, because we know so little about life and religious practices in those days. It has influenced generations of artists and has even been recently converted into other media by Asian artists. Although I do not fully understand the work it does not affect my appreciation of it.
I believe this is the attitude every human being should have about art, whether it is centuries-old or brand-new.
After seven years in Beijing, you are now based in Berlin. What advice would you give to new collectors?
Mila Bollansee: In Berlin, I am living with the family art collection, which includes artworks by Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, Singaporean, Cambodian, Iranian and French artists. My father and I have chosen pieces from the family collection that fit in well with the contemporary apartment.
For new collectors, I would advise them to do some research, see a lot of contemporary art and exchange views with knowledgeable people in the field. Most advisors talk with their own interests in mind, so it is important to find good neutral advisors. It definitely makes sense to diversify art purchases and to acquire works from a substantial number of artists from different countries who have different themes and styles. However, a new collector cannot collect all and must determine specific categories and countries he or she may want to select from.
Once all this has been determined the new collector can start to build a network that will allow him or her to have access to good artworks at reasonable prices. The key is to follow the career of potential artists and to buy at the right moment when they mature and start to produce important works.
What are your plans for your collection? Are you able to show your complete collection?
Marc Bollansee: The beauty of our world is that it is in constant flux and that we need to adapt all the time. The same is true for an art collection and therefore our family will continue to try to find interesting new artists. Asia will remain our major centre of interests because the future of the world is happening there now.
My wife and my children guarantee the perennity of the collection. Although we are very private collectors we do lend pieces to museums and institutions and would like to show our unique Southeast Asian contemporary collection in a museum some day.
Meanwhile one will need to travel to three countries to see the collection in its entirety.
Credits and Copyrights: Artwork Images and Family Portraits (Bollansee), Profile and Interiors (Tout Près Art Studio).