In the heart of Brussels, a novel yet self-evident approach to art appreciation is taking place at Maison Particulière. The Maison is not a museum – there is no collection; it is not a gallery – nothing is for sale. Rather, Maison Particulière is a private residence that houses temporary exhibits. It is a home for art, where art lovers can feel at home.
In the heart of Brussels, a novel yet self-evident approach to art appreciation is taking place at Maison Particulière. The Maison is not a museum – there is no collection; it is not a gallery – nothing is for sale. Rather, Maison Particulière is a private residence that houses temporary exhibits. It is a home for art, where art lovers can feel at home. The three-times-yearly exhibits are organized around a theme, and the pieces within each exhibition are temporarily donated by private collectors.
The experience of art within the space of a home is vastly different from the experience of art in a museum, or a gallery. In the home there is an individual relation to the art – not only due to the ownership implied, but also from the fact that in the home a piece of art forms part of your daily life, and you experience it under different conditions than you would in other places.
Traditionally, the places where art is exhibited have a certain purpose. A museum exhibit has the aim to educate, a gallery has the aim to encourage a sale – such spaces come weighed with intentions that subtly interfere with what we may argue is ultimately the goal of art appreciation: to engage with a work of art, to absorb its aesthetic effects.
What are the ideal conditions to engage with works of art? A comfortable place to sit, interesting literature nearby, perhaps some piano music in the background. Conditions that allow for admiration and contemplation; that invite you to take the time to create an opinion, to discover new angles, visually and mentally. These are the conditions that are found at Maison Particulière, a house compiled of living rooms, sitting rooms, and parlors – settings of leisure containing the most eclectic and yet coherent collection of pieces.
The house itself is pristine – bright, airy, smooth. The building was designed by architect Léon Janlet in 1880, and was renovated in 2010 to fit the purposes of an art-house. The Maison was founded by Amaury and Myriam de Solages, whose role resembles that of a conductor, guiding a symphony of the senses, shaping the ambience through art and design, sounds and fragrances. The result of such an approach – to combine elements from so many different sources, and so varied in style and form – is that every room is unpredictable, and distinct. The latest exhibition, “Icons”, sees Christian and Buddhist figures adorn the rooms where Pierre et Gilles meet Gilbert and George.
Given the chance to speak with Mr. and Mrs. de Solages, the first questions that come to mind have to do with the dynamics of collaboration – putting together an exhibition in which collectors and artists play the role of curators; and how the work is accommodated within the spaces of the Maison.
Each space, and certainly each house, has its own particular character. The character of Maison Particulière exudes both ease and adaptability. The Maison’s one invariable aim: to provide the necessary conditions for visitors to engage; physically, mentally, maybe even spiritually. In order to achieve this, Mr. and Mrs. de Solages create a harmonious combination of stimuli, in which the addition of fragrance is an especially delicate and thoughtful touch - impalpable yet completely discernible.
Maison Particulière includes among its various partners The Different Company, a contemporary French parfumerie whose CEO and President Luc Gabriel acts as an advisor, or curator, of scent for each exhibition. This partnership extends the concept of exhibition, or presentation, beyond the setting and towards the aura – that which is palpable though it is intangible. The question arises: how do art and scent collaborate? Below Mr. and Mrs. de Solages explain the significance of smell for the Maison, and their partnership with The Different Company.
Sound also plays into the atmosphere of Maison Particulière. Downstairs, in a room overlooking the spacious and abundantly green back garden, is a piano with a little sign inviting visitors to play, should the urge to make music arise. For Mr. and Mrs. de Solages, the role of music within the Maison should not stray from the role of music within a home: “it has to be natural…as if you have a piano in your home and you invite your guests to play.” Mr. de Solages further explains that the piano “is the only fixed furniture, piece of art, of Maison Particulière – so the music is always, potentially, present.”
Given that the spirit of collaboration is so integral to the concept of Maison Particulière, their exhibitions illustrate with great clarity the powerful effect that occurs when a work of art complements another. The curated display of art being so defined by complimentary coordination, we addressed Mr. and Mrs. de Solages with the question: whether they believe that works of art are always meant to act in combination.
At Maison Particulière there is a sense that visitors are encouraged – to take a seat, to play some music, to flip through the books on the coffee table. It is encouraging in itself how much faith is put on the visitor’s ability to shape his or her own experience of the artwork. The Maison’s lack of information-tags next to the artworks marks yet another difference from other art institutions. Tags are never present next to artwork in a home and, in any case, the Maison seeks to eschew standardized experiences. Instead, each room has its own ‘black book’, whose content provides information on each piece that forms part of that room. Additionally, every exhibition has its own ‘literary guest’ who is in charge of editing and contributing to the collection’s series of black books. These books are inconspicuous, unlike tags they do not distract from the artwork, and reading them is optional.
Another option that is also available to the visitor experience of the Maison are the ‘commented visits’, available upon request. Fitting to the style of Maison Particulière, these are not your usual guided tours. Mr. and Mrs. de Solages elaborate on the Maison’s black books and the commented visits, below.
Given their efforts to build an environment that allows everyone to ‘feel at home’, with a particular focus on nurturing the individual experience, we questioned Mr. and Mrs. de Solages on the difficulties of maintaining a sense of intimacy and familiarity, whilst also extending the accessibility of Maison Particulière by partnering with visit.brussels, the communications agency for tourism in the Brussels Region. Rather than focusing on the promotional aspects of this partnership, the Maison’s founding duo instead refer to the significance of forming a part of the city’s collective cultural landscape – one which is currently enjoying a new wave of inspiration and influence.
Many thanks to Mr. and Mrs. de Solages and the team of Maison Particulière for welcoming us into their home!
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