BMW Art Guide by Independent Collectors

Generative Grammars

Servais Family Collection – Brussels, Belgium

(l–r) Josh Kline, ‘Sleep is for the Weak’, 2011; Li Jinghu, Waterfall, 2015; Bill Henson, ‘Untitled #52’, 2001; Julian Charriere, ‘Future Fossil Spaces’, 2015. Photo: © Hugard & Vanoverschelde
(l–r) Josh Kline, ‘Sleep is for the Weak’, 2011; Li Jinghu, Waterfall, 2015; Bill Henson, ‘Untitled #52’, 2001; Julian Charriere, ‘Future Fossil Spaces’, 2015. Photo: © Hugard & Vanoverschelde

The collector, Alain Servais, is noted for his willingness to actively engage in discussions about the philosophy of collecting and has spoken in interviews of collecting as an intrinsically creative act. Speaking to Agnese Civle of, Servais is quoted as saying “a collection is not about accumulation—it is about creation.” To understand what Servais may mean by this remark, it could be helpful to think of art not only as a form of expression, but as a kind of metaphoric language. Servais frequently cites the collector, Mera Rubell’s, famous quotation, “art is a language which opens your heart to the Other”, and he has often spoken of his own approach as being almost linguistic in nature. When asked by the BMW Art Guide by Independent Collectors as to why he collects, Servais replied: “To express myself. Adding my ‘sentence’ around the ‘words’ created by the artists.” Collecting, therefore, is a kind of syntax, a generative grammar that produces new meanings by virtue of its capacity to make its constituent parts legible to others. Such a dynamic understanding of the role of the collector means that the Servais Family Collection, which Servais administers is constantly evolving.

The expanding vocabulary of images that make up the sentences Servais constructs from his collection are powerfully expressive in their own right. Some artists in the Servais Family Collection are directly concerned with language, for example, Jenny Holtzer and Gilbert and George. In other cases, the collection explores the ways in which artists whose oeuvre is less concerned with language as such can be brought into dialogue with other works from the past and present. For example, the collection also includes pieces by canonical figures such as Frank Stella and Robert Rauschenberg, as well as photographs by artists like Nan Goldin and Andreas Serrano, who are as much interested in challenging understandings of what can be art and who it should represent as in image production itself. The intense explorations of mortality, sexuality and presence characteristic of the works of Goldin and Serrano are major undercurrents in the collection as a whole, which also features works by artists who are only recently receiving recognition by western cultural institutions. Work by contemporary Middle-Eastern artists like Ghada Amer and Iman Issa, for instance, also feature in the Servais Family Collection, and they, too, explore the contours and taboos of the nexus of sexuality and social convention. Unafraid of seeking out difficult works and producing challenging aesthetic confrontations, Servais cites Herman Daled as a key influence in understanding the way art and collecting relate. Servais has taken Daled’s injunction that “art should disturb” to heart, collecting, for example a selection of Cindy Sherman’s images of dolls, and, through those works, delving into the unsettling creations of the early 20th century Polish-German artist, Hans Bellmer.

(l–r) Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom, ‘P.Y.T’, 2009; Josep Grau-Garriga, ‘Nova Primavera’, 1975; ‘Piel Martir’, 1971; Thomson & Craighead, ‘Help Yourself’, 2016; Jenny Holzer, ‘Selections from Truisms’, 1983 Nan Golden, ‘Smoky Car, New Hampshire’, 1979; ‘David in Bed, Leipzig, Germany’, 1992; Irina Bujor, Round Round, Round We Go, 2016. Photo: Michel Loriaux
(l–r) Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom, ‘P.Y.T’, 2009; Josep Grau-Garriga, ‘Nova Primavera’, 1975; ‘Piel Martir’, 1971; Thomson & Craighead, ‘Help Yourself’, 2016; Jenny Holzer, ‘Selections from Truisms’, 1983 Nan Golden, ‘Smoky Car, New Hampshire’, 1979; ‘David in Bed, Leipzig, Germany’, 1992; Irina Bujor, Round Round, Round We Go, 2016. Photo: Michel Loriaux

In addition to the works that compose the Servais Family Collection, Servais has also initiated a residency programme at a warehouse space in north Brussels in the municipality of Shaerbeek. I spoke to a recent resident of the programme, the curator, Angels Diaz Miralda Tena. Tena praised Servais’ approach, noting that he brings a unique perspective to collecting and display, a perspective and that he is not afraid of expressing boldly. She also noted his openness in providing a space for art practitioners to develop their own ideas and to manifest them. “Art,” Servais said in an interview with Selina Ting of InitiArt magazine, “should teach me something that I don’t know about myself or my environment.” As the Servais Family Collection continues to grow—like language itself, constantly reinventing itself as it collides with cultural practices—it serves as a potent reminder that learning is an ever-unfolding process, never a destination.

William Kherbek is the writer of the novel "Ecology of Secrets" (2013, Arcadia Missa) and "UltraLife" (2016, Arcadia Missa). His art journalism has appeared in a number of publications in the UK, US, Germany, Switzerland and Romania.

All images courtesy Servais Family Collecton, Brussels

Collections (137)


In this exhibition, held back art, raises questions about the act of collecting, the history of the works and their relationship with the exhibition space.

Saloni Doshi Collection

The Right to Look- Photographs from the Saloni Doshi Collection.


Curated exhibitions of emerging and established artistic positions in the space of a former fittings factory.


One of the most relevant international contemporary art collections in Europe.

The Donum Collection

One of the world's largest accessible private sculpture collections


One of the many initiatives of the Basma Al Sulaiman collection.

Zuzāns Collection

The largest private collection of Latvian art

ARtBON Collection and Foundation

Contemporary art is presented in a surprising way – and enriched by a blue exhibition pavilion

Museum Insel Hombroich

A unique cultural space of international significance

The Ojikutu Collection

Exquisite showcase of treasures of African art, culture, and history

miramART Collection

A non profit association created by Grand Hotel Miramare in Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy


Collection relooked in 'Two Together'


A leading arts organization based in Whistler, British Columbia


A diverse collection of contemporary art

The Sotiris Felios Collection

A unique collection of contemporary art focused on the human figure.

Collezione De Iorio

Interview with Collector Mauro De Iorio

Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

KNMA is a non-commercial, not-for-profit organisation that aims to bridge the gap between art and the public


One of the world’s foremost privately-owned art collections encompassing Islamic, Middle Eastern and Western art.

Colección SOLO

A collection displayed through different temporary exhibitions


Unique Collection based in Naples, Italy


Frankfurt based Art Collector Tyrown Vincent on his 360° approach

The Bradshaw Collection

A collector couple that profits from the bundled synergy of their highly developed feel for art

Schlosspark Eybesfeld

Carefully executed art projects in a palace-garden setting

The Fernanda Feitosa & Heitor Martins Collection

A journey into the postwar Brazilian art scene

Takahashi Ryutaro Collection

One of the most important collections of contemporary Japanese art

Barjeel Art Foundation

Modern and contemporary art from four corners of the Arab world

The Perimeter

Famous contemporaries and Victorian industrial architecture in Bloomsbury

Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens

Re-opened and in the middle of Flanders, international art stars show in quick succession

West Collection

Key names in international art meet new voices

Rubell Museum

Curator Joey Lico teams up with artist Alexis Diaz to visit the mighty Rubell Museum in Miami

Vorres Museum

3 000 years of Greek history and postwar Greek art

Alexander Ramselaar Collection

A townhouse of young talent from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and around the world

Quetzal Art Centre

Contemporary art on a winery in the picturesque Alentejo region

Sammlung Wemhöner

A spontaneous exhibition set up in the now empty ballroom, before opening in 2023 as the collection's new home

Museum Liaunig

Nuriel Molcho and Francesca Gavin travel out of Vienna to hillside Carinthia, to meet with Peter Liaunig

Frissiras Museum

3 500 contemporary figurative paintings

Arario Museum in Space

Wide-ranging collection of Korean and Western art by the country’s leading collector and gallerist

Fondazione Brodbeck

Contemporary art in a post-industrial complex—in the shadow of a volcano

Peyrassol—Parc de Sculptures

A sculpture park on a centuries-old vineyard in Provence

Alexander Tutsek-Stiftung

A location for contemporary glass and photography

Colección de Arte Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat

Argentina's wealthiest woman presents six centuries of art-treasure collecting

Museum Brandhorst

Francesca Gavin and Benjamin Jaworskyj explore a dazzling new space in Munich

Rossini Art Site (RAS)

Large-scale sculpture in a landscape park

Castello di Ama per l’Arte Contemporanea

Site-specific installations for a dual passion: art and wine

Kasteel Wijlre Estate

Art from the 1960s to the present in a modern pavilion

Fundació Vila Casas

Three buildings, three points of focus: painting, sculpture and photography

Gibbs Farm

A sculpture park in XXL format with monumental art in the grandness of nature

Kloster Schoenthal

Nature-inspired sculptures in a pristine landscape

Pinchuk Art Centre

Blue-chip contemporary in the first private museum in the former USSR

Museo James Turrell — The Hess Art Collection, Colomé

Turrell’s largest Skyspace and additional light rooms in breathtaking surroundings


An extensive private collection of Swiss contemporary art of the last fifty years

Mathaf—Arab Museum of Modern Art

A Royal Collection Spanning 200 Years of Arab Art – Doha, Qatar


DJ Cassy and Francesca Gavin meet with collectors Venke and Rolf A. Hoff in Henningsvær, Norway

Stella Art Foundation

An exhibition space for contemporary Russian art

Sara Piccinini

Senior Coordinator, Collezione Maramotti - Reggio Emilia, Italy

Reflection and Speculation

Sammlung von Kelterborn – Frankfurt, Germany

Deichtorhallen Hamburg – Sammlung Falckenberg

Positions of social criticism in German and American contemporary art – Hamburg, Germany

The Walther Collection

Inside and Outside the Frame – Neu Ulm, Germany

Peter Ibsen Collection

Minimalist Works That Hone Your Sense for Detail – Copenhagen, Denmark

Initiating Dialogues

Sammlung Hoffmann – Berlin, Germany

The Mallin Collection & Buckhorn Sculpture Park

Andrea Denver and Francesca Gavin meet with collectors Sherry and Joel Mallin in Upstate New York

The Agah Uğur Collection

One of the Largest Video Art Collections in Istanbul, Turkey

KA Modern and Contemporary Art Space

900 Square Meters Dedicated to Lebanon’s Most Significant Artists – Beirut, Lebanon

Art About Beauty and Infirmity

Collezione De Iorio – Trento & Verona, Italy

Living Collection

Gary Yeh and Francesca Gavin meet with architect and collector William Lim in Hong Kong

Early Passions

Z Collection – Hong Kong, China

Infinite Interiors

Philara Collection – Dusseldorf, Germany

Papko Art Collection

Works of Turkish Modernism at the legendary Ralli Apartment in Istanbul

Risky Business

Astrup Fearnley Museet – Oslo, Norway

Something Special, Something Sacred

The Goss-Michael Foundation – Dallas, United States of America

JAHM – Justin Art House Museum

Digital and Abstract Art — Melbourne, Australia

A More Democratic Art

MACBA – Museum of Contemporary Art of Buenos Aires, Argentina

Embracing the Accidental

Trajković Collection – Belgrade, Serbia

Galila's P.O.C.

A Collection Made up of Thematic Collections – Brussels, Belgium

Establishing Roots and Creating Links

The Ovidiu Șandor Collection – Timișoara, Romania

Instituto Figueiredo Ferraz

Abstract painting and concept art in Brazil’s interior – São Paulo

Conversation Pieces

KUNSTSAELE Berlin – Berlin, Germany

Magazzino Italian Art

Contemporary Italian Art on the Hudson River – New York

Slow Learning

de la Cruz Collection – Miami, United States of America

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

A venue for contemporary African art – Cape Town

The Elliott Eyes Collection

Engaging With the Collectors – Sydney

Foundation Francès

A French roadtrip reaching the radical reflections of artist Kader Attia

The Sublime Hyacinth Collection

Czech Art Meets Czech Design – Prague, Czech Republic

Marciano Art Foundation

Contemporary art at the Masonic temple – Los Angeles

Time Stamps

Julia Stoschek Collection – Berlin, Germany

Chasing the Future

dslcollection – Paris, France

Charged Atmospheres

Transformer Station – Cleveland, United States of America

Places in, and out of, Time

Adrastus Collection – Arévalo, Spain

Eloquent Silences

The Givon Art Forum – Tel Aviv, Israel

Counting to Ten

Ten Cubed – Melbourne, Australia

Dispersing Narratives

The Wedge Collection – Toronto, Canada

Dialogues in Nature

Chatsworth – Bakewell, Great Britain

Present Pasts

The Feuerle Collection – Berlin, Germany

Space for the Future

The Vanhaerents Art Collection – Brussels, Belgium

Colección Contemporánea

A Global Collection from a Seasoned Art Collector In Mexico City

Adrastus Collection

A Collection That Shows the Diversity of Art in the Age of Globalization – Arevalo, Spain

Masters and Romantics

Collection Lambert – Avignon, France

Fondazione Rolla

A Collection of Modern and Contemporary Photography in Ticino

Finnish Rhapsody

Didrichsen Art Museum – Helsinki, Finland

Cranford Collection

One of Europe’s Most Important Collections with Renowned Contemporaries in Regent’s Park – London

Broad Minded

Artist Tomasz Kobialka on The Broad – Los Angeles, USA

Jean-Paul Najar Foundation

European-American Post-Minimalist Art in a Bauhaus-inspired building – Dubai

Treasure Hunt

The Wanås Foundation/Wanås Konst – Knislinge, Sweden

AMC Collezione Coppola

A Curious Collector Acquiring Art to Broaden his Understanding of the World

A Home for Light and Color

MALBA – Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires

Newport Street Gallery

Damien Hirst’s ‘Murderme’ Collection finds a permanent home – London

Franks Suss Collection

A Duo Investing in Artists and Not Cashing In – Hong Kong, London and Sydney

Mallin Collection & Buckhorn Sculpture Park

A Magic Sculpture Garden in Westchester County – Pound Ridge, New York

Shine On

Wurlitzer – Berlin-Pied-à-Terre Collection – Berlin, Germany

Houghton Hall – King's Lynn

Lavish 18th Century interiors juxtaposed with contemporary outdoor sculpture

Venet Foundation

An Artist’s Take on Collecting in the South of France

G2 Kunsthalle

Large-scale paintings of the New Leipzig School in dialogue

The Immaculate Collection

Igal Ahouvi Art Collection – Tel Aviv, Israel


The best of Chinese contemporary art, available 24/7/365

Thoma Foundation

Two intimate art spaces in Chicago and Santa Fe encourage dialogue between work and viewer

Lyon Housemuseum

Located near Melbourne, Australia, collector Corbett Lyon designed the Housemuseum to share it with the public

Follow The Yellow Brick Road

Inhotim – Instituto de Arte Contemporânea e Jardim Botânico

Portraiture Confronting a Land’s Traumatic Past

The Walther Collection – Project Space New York – New York City

Conceptual Authenticity

Sammlung Barbara und Axel Haubrok - haubrok projects - Berlin, Germany

A Self-taught Collector

Vass Collection - Veszprém, Hungary

Roots in Rotterdam

Concordia Collection - Rotterdam, Netherlands

Louvre goes Lens – and Pinault follows

How France’s most established museum and collector are redeveloping forgotten places

History Reinvented

Insights into the influential collection of Martin Parr

A Collection Which Never Sleeps

David Roberts Art Foundation – Great Britain, London

Get Lucky

David Walsh and his MONA

An Eye into a Secret World

SIP Shpilman Institute for Photography – Tel Aviv, Israel

Gifts for Philadelphia

Private collectors with a generous heart

A New Home for Miami’s Art Scene

On the opening of the Jorge M. Pérez Museum

Prima Materia at Punta Della Dogana

François Pinault Foundation - Venice, Italy

Eric and Jean Cass Collection

A private collection goes public

Bernardo Paz’s Transformative Museum

A closer look at Inhotim in Brazil

The Open Road to Jupiter

Robert & Nicky Wilson - Jupiter Artland

Collecting with an Impact

Dakis Joannou - Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art

Menil Collection Makeover

Starting with the parking lot

White Rabbit Collection

Chinese Contemporary Art – Australia, Sydney


One of the most important venues for contemporary art in Austria