Few private residences in Brussels can be considered as beautiful as the Villa Empain—perhaps the Secession masterpiece, the Stoclet Palace, but unfortunately the latter is closed to the public. The Villa Empain, seat of the Boghossian Foundation for art and dialogue between the cultures of the East and the West, is taste and luxury made brick and mortar. It is, like the Théàtre des Champs Elysées in Paris, pure Art Deco, with no decorative excess and an extensive use of grey marble, fabulous material in abundance in Belgium. From inside, the house opens up to the swimming pool in the back which you would locate more realistically in Hollywood rather than in rainy Brussels. From outside, the main entrance is the axis of this magnificent mansion-size Art Deco jewellery box.
The history of the house is as fascinating as the architecture itself. Baron Louis Empain had it built by the Swiss architect Michel Polak as a private mansion in 1930 but soon its splendour would make him consider donating it to the state with the intention of creating a museum of contemporary art. The project had to wait for seventy years to be carried out. In the meanwhile, it served first to Nazi Germany, then to the USSR as its embassy in Brussels, and later to the TV channel RTL.
Many interesting exhibitions take place in the villa. The current one (from September 24th 2015 to January 24th 2016), in commemoration of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, will make you discover two major references of the Armenian contemporary culture: the plastic artist Sarkis (Istanbul, 1938) and the film director Sergueï Parajanov (Tbilisi, 1924-Yerevan, 1990). The installation of tv sets with hypnotic scenes of his extremely personal version of the life of the Armenian poet Sayat Nova (“The colour of Pomegranates”, 1968) in the entrance hall sets the tone for the rest of the visit.
Image credits © Ruskin in Brussels.