Art Brussels is holding its 50th edition from 19 to 22 April! Set up in 1968, this most contemporary of Belgian fairs is celebrating half a century of success at the heart of Brussels. 30,000 visitors are expected to pass through the warehouses of Tour & Taxis to discover the 147 selected galleries.
We’re almost inclined to forget it – and yet: Art Brussels is one of Europe’s oldest art fairs. The event, created in 1968, was born two years before Art Basel (1970) and long before the FIAC (1974) or London’s Frieze (2003). In 2018, Art Brussels is celebrating 50 years of success, and over a few days in April, it will become Europe’s artistic capital.
It was in 1968 that a few dealers belonging to the Association des Galeries d’Art Actuel de Belgique teamed up to launch the first edition of “Art Actuel”. In the interests of renewing the artistic offer extended to the public, they invited overseas peers to come and show work in the Belgian capital. Quickly, the fair’s reputation spread and grew from year to year, until it became a key rendezvous for the art market. A decidedly modern initiative for the era, the event launched a new approach to fairs in Belgium. Half a century later, in 2018, the event preserves the pioneering spirit that has characterised it since its debut. A number of evolutions have punctuated its path: Art Actuel would become Art Brussels, and over the years, the fair has moved to different sites. There was the Casino in Knokke, the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, or more recently, the Heysel… Since 2016, Art Brussels has spread out its booths in the warehouses of Tour & Taxis, one of the most striking examples of the city’s industrial heritage.
This year, the fair directed by Anne Vierstraete is gathering 147 galleries from 32 countries. 68 % of the participants come from outside Belgium, whereas the proportion of Belgian professionals comes to 32 %, a clear jump upwards compared to 2017 (18 %). The fair is divided into four key sections: Prime, Rediscovery, Discovery and Solo. Prime and Rediscovery, making up the main components, will be presenting 114 galleries. Discovery, a section for emerging artists, counts 33 participants, while the Solo section features 21 individual shows. Overall, this 50th edition boasts 36 new arrivals (which can translate as a renewal rate of 24 %).
The selection of galleries was undertaken by two committees. Applications for the Prime, Rediscovery and Solo sections were studied by the international selection committee, made up of eight Belgian and overseas gallerists: Albert Baronian (Galerie Albert Baronian, Brussels), Michael Callies (Galerie Dépendance, Brussels), Simon Devolder (Galerie Xavier Hufkens, Brussels), Rodolphe Janssen (Galerie Rodolphe Janssen, Brussels), Thomas Krinzinger (Galerie Thomas Krinzinger, Vienna), Loïc Bénétière (Galerie Ceysson & Bénétière, Luxembourg, Paris, Saint-Étienne and New York), Benedicte Goesaert (Galerie Zeno X, Antwerp) and Polina Stroganova (Galerie Proyectos Monclova, Mexico City). Meanwhile, the galleries in the Discovery section were picked by a committee consisting of five specialists from the world of art: Michael Callies (Dépendance, Brussels), Adam Carr (curator and art critic, Liverpool), Martha Kirszenbaum (curator and art critic, Los Angeles), Barbara Seiler (Galerie Barbara Seiler, Zurich) and Sofie Van de Velde (Galerie Sofie Van de Velde, Antwerp).
“Art Brussel is an unmissable gathering for the art market,” notes Loïc Bénétière who joined the selection committee this year. “More than ever, the organisers are keen to take advantage of the fair’s 50th year to confirm the event’s innovative role as a talent revealer. The presence of major international galleries also enables a panorama of top artistic creation to be presented.”
Back to the basics
To celebrate the fair’s fiftieth properly, the organisers have focused on the two characteristics that have always forged the Art Brussels identity: a rooting in its territory and an openness to new horizons. “This year, we’re going back to our roots by offering strong support to the main Belgian galleries,” remarks the fair’s managing director Anne Vierstraete. “Art Brussels will continue to be an exciting platform for discovery, and an indispensable rendezvous for internationally renowned galleries.”
This approach is confirmed by the fair’s main section, Prime, featuring a selection of works by eminent modern and contemporary artists. Visitors will find major galleries on the Belgian market, such as Albert Baronian, Meessen De Clercq, Dépendance, Xavier Hufkens, Rodolphe Janssen, Harlan Levey Projects, Greta Meert, Maruani Mercier, Almine Rech, Michel Rein, Sorry We’re Closed, Sofie Van de Velde, Axel Vervoordt and Nadja Vilenne. These local brands are joined by new international galleries, taking part in the fair for the first time or else returning after several years of absence. Let’s note the presence of AYE (Beijing), Blain-Southern (London, Berlin), Thomas Fischer (Berlin), Gana Art (Seoul, Pusan), Kalfayan (Athens, Thessalonica), Martos (New York), Anne-Mosseri-Marlio (Basel), Tatjana Pieters (Ghent), Pop/Off/Art (Moscow), Sage (Paris) and 10 Chancery Lane (Hong Kong).
The same spirit of local anchorage and international openness is visible in the Rediscovery section which takes the original approach of showing forgotten or underestimated artists, with the aim of giving these neglected creators their dues. This year, Rediscovery offers a focus on works produced between 1917 and 1987. Two years set down like milestones, singling out a period that begins with the debut of conceptual art and ends with the neo-conceptualism of the late 20th century. This year, four galleries are playing the game of rediscovery: Luis Adelantado (Valencia) is retracing the work of painter-photographer Dario Villalba, a major figure in Spanish art from the 1960s. Henrique Faria (New York) is honouring conceptual artists Jaime Davidovich, Carlos Ginzburg and Osvaldo Romberg. Antoine Laurentin (Paris, Brussels) is focusing on Evelyne Axell, Jacques Verduyn and Pol Mara. Finally, Axel Vervoordt (Wijnegem, Hong Kong) is reviewing the career of modern artist Ida Barbarigo, known for her series on chairs.
Spirit of discovery
This year, like every year, Art Brussels is exploring new horizons in the Discovery section. In 2018, 33 galleries representing the emerging contemporary scene are presenting works by young artists, produced no earlier than in 2015. The galleries in the section are vying for the Discovery Prize, to be awarded during the fair by a special jury composed of Aaron Cezar (director of the Delfina Foundation, London), Joseph Kouli (collector), Suzanne Swarts (director of the Voorlinden Museum, Wassenaar), Anne-Mie Van Kerchkoven (artist) and Tanguy Van Quickenborne (collector).
This year, the gallery Francisco Fino (Lisbon) is presenting the artist Karlos Gil. Placing an emphasis on the symbolic dimension of objects, the Spanish creator explores the notions of temporality and spatiality, at the borderline between condition and conditioning. Perception of a work will depend on the environment in which it crops up, for the latter will define the characteristics of a necessarily outward gaze. Recent work by Karlos Gil notably deals with the relationship between technology and nature, the organic and the artificial, the natural and the industrial. Meanwhile, the gallery Parisian Laundry (Montréal) is showing work by David Armstrong Six: an artist whose creative processes also centre around spatiality and temporality, even if the outcome is something else altogether. Free spontaneous intuition presides in the elaboration of his sculptures – of which he becomes the first viewer. Otherwise, the Israeli gallery Braverman (Tel Aviv) is presenting a focus on the artist Oren Eliav, whose paintings explore the question of the gaze from a religious angle. Between seeing and believing, what is a work’s meaning? Is it a revelation or a mirage? A concrete fragment or an artistic chimera? An invitation to spiritual evasion, between illusion and reality. The Discovery section is also an opportunity to see works by Alfredo Aceto, Martin Belou and Mohamed Namou (Galerie Levy Delval, Brussels), Dorian Gaudin and Manuel Scano Larrazàbal (Galerie Pact, Paris), Bob Eikelboom (Galerie Barbara Seiler, Zurich), Megan Christiansen and Virgil Abloh (Galerie Stems, Brussels) or David Polzin (Galerie Waldburger Wouters, Brussels).
A process of aestheticisation
Another highlight at this 50th edition is the Solo section, presenting individual projects supported by galleries from the Prime or Discovery sections. Propositions are either deployed throughout the main stand or constitute a 25 m² extension of the latter. We particularly appreciate the work of Alice Anderson (La Patinoire Royale-Galerie Valérie Bach, Brussels) – an artist known for her arachnid-like choreographies by which she weaves opaque copper-thread webs around everyday objects such as a car, a ladder, a guitar or a television. In terms of performance, gestures are fixed materially and trace the recollection of an ephemeral work, a memory circuit. With underlying and continual querying about the evolutions in our relationship to the world… Parisian gallery Ceysson & Bénétière is presenting the artistic duo Florian Pugnaire and David Raffini. Choosing a deconstructivist approach to sculpture, Pugnaire and Raffini inflict a type of premature material petrification on industrial objects. In this way, they hijack the usual rules of use in favour of a process of aestheticisation – which is no more or less subject to speculation. When an object takes on a life, a role outside of its original usage, does it remain the same? “The work presented at the fair is called L’Onde,” says Loïc Bénétière. “It sets out to materialise the progression of a shockwave over several stainless-steel plates. This is a formalised movement whose lightness contrasts with the material’s heaviness.” Swiss artist Beat Zoderer (Galerie Semiose, Paris) also catches our attention in the Solo section. Today, Zoderer is one of the most talented heirs of Zurich constructivism, to which he confers new modernity by opening structure up to movement. Beat Zoderer distorts everyday materials by wrenching them away from their original functions. In this way, he reveals the artistic potential of stationery articles, drawing inspiration from the flashy colours of folders, labels and plastic files. A means like any other to reflect on the hobbyhorse of concrete artists: the Materialgerechtigkeit or “truth of materials”. Poetic souls can keep on dreaming by visiting the Xavier Hufkens (Brussels) stand. Here, we discover the unique charm of Nicolas Party’s works: whether murals or paintings, the Swiss artist’s creations present a dreamlike world that brings to mind the naïveté of Douanier Rousseau or Magritte, or the metaphysical surrealism of Giorgio de Chirico… Whether we’re plunged into the strange atmosphere of a forest, or the plasticity of a soft orange, Nicolas Party demonstrates his masterly style and revisits the codes of classic figuration. Still lifes, portraits and landscapes seem, all of a sudden, reinvented. An artist to watch, without a doubt.
The Solo Prize, awarded by a committee of collectors and curators, is supported by the gallery Van Den Weghe. Distinguishing the section’s best artist, the title is accompanied by a 10000-euro prize. In 2018, the jury members are Suzanne Cotter (director of the MUDAM, Luxembourg), Abaseh Mirvali (curator), Beatrix Ruf (curator), Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo (Fondation Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin) and Bruno & Gael van Lierde (collectors).
Four major artistic projects
Beyond the programmes offered by the four sections, the fair’s organisers have also set up four ambitious artistic projects, which the public can discover at the fair itself or in partner venues. Among them is the not-to-be-missed “Mystic Properties” (Hôtel de la Poste) exhibition. Organised in collaboration with the High Institute for Fine Arts (HISK) of Ghent, curator Elena Sokorina is presenting contemporary works inspired by the Ghent Altarpiece. This work, painted by the Van Eyck brothers in 1432, counts as one of the major pieces in art history, and has brought renown to the city for centuries. Indeed, since the 15th century, Ghent has become an artistic pilgrimage site in Northern Europe, in the same way that Rome has held this role in Italy. Following looting, certain panels of the altarpiece were sold, then repurchased to enrich foreign royal collections, considered as true artistic relics. The work is thus deemed to be a piece of divine creation, dissected in the name of terrestrial desires. Nearly six centuries after it was produced, what can we find beyond the subsisting legend? The exhibition tackles the two major dimensions of the work: local identity and universal discourse. “The exhibition is designed as a conversation between several generations of HISK pupils,” explains Elena Sorokina. “The institute operates as a place of free and experimental artistic exchange, stripped of all hierarchical organisation.” At the crossroads of passion and possession, “Mystic properties” thus offers a dialogue between two modernities. An eloquent mirror of our way of presenting, buying and appreciating art today. And a chance to discover works by Michiel Alberts, Kasper Bosmans, Raffaella Crispino, Hedwig Houben, Ola Lanko, Ella Littwitz, Almudena Lobera, Philip Metten and Wesley Meuris.
The fair is also catering to film lovers who can watch the film Crossed Wires, directed by Philippine Hoegen. The artist has compiled a series of interviews carried out with numerous players in the Belgian artistic scene in the last 50 years. We see how trajectories cross, diverge, come together and fall apart as a result of trends and encounters, gradually weaving the fabric of a local and national artistic system. The film also acts as a reminder of the climate in which Art Actuel was born in 1968. The social conflicts that flared up in France that year also reared their head in Belgium, with many artists protesting alongside students against the cultural establishment in place at the time. Their names were Marcel Broodthaers, Roger Somville, Guy Vandeloise, Jacques-Louis Nyst… Among the interviewees, we also note the appearances of Albert Baronian and Amaryllis Jacobs (gallerists), Sonia Dermience (director of the collective Komplot), Eva Wittockx (curator at the M Museum) and artist Sophie Nys.
Otherwise, the fair’s Sculpture project is a way for it to get artists involved in an original manner. In 2018, nine monumental sculptures are being presented at the Tour & Taxis site, on a vast 3000 m² esplanade outside the building. These include Ali Cherri’s Flying Machine (2017), Caroline Coolen’s Sculptuur (2010), Bernd Lohaus’ Eupen and Stefan Nikolaev’s Candélabres (2010).
Finally, a rich programme of talks and conversations is also being organised throughout the three days of the fair. Numerous professionals will be exchanging their viewpoints on subjects relating to contemporary creation and the art market, and the talks will also be broadcast via live streaming on the event’s Facebook page.
Art Brussels in Brussels
Finally, this year, as in years past, Art Brussels will be accompanied by a large off programme of events taking place in other cultural institutions and venues in the Belgian capital. On Wednesday 18 April, gallerists are inviting the public to stroll through the city during the traditional Gallery Night – an opportunity to discover many exhibitions being held a little all over Brussels. There’s Olaf Holzapfel at Albert Baronian, Thilo Heinzmann at Dépendance, Sherrie Levine at Xavier Hufkens, Jan Fabre at Daniel Templon, Albert Pepermans at Zwart Huis… Dozens of exhibitions on all aspects of modern and contemporary production await art lovers of all inclinations.
Nor are the museums of Brussels being left out of the flurry of activity, for they too are putting on a dense programme. The Palais des Beaux-Arts is paying homage to Fernand Léger, while the Brussels Design Museum is offering an original dive into Soviet design. At the Villa Empain, the Boghossian Foundation is presenting the group show “Melancholia”. Meanwhile, the Fondation Cab is staging the exhibition “Brutal Play”. Pierre Bonnefille is holding a solo show at the Horta Museum whereas the Fondation Hermès is welcoming Mario Cool and Fabio Balducci. Film buffs can indulge even further by seeing the tetralogy Invisible Cities, presented by Grégory Lang in collaboration with the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. More than ever, in this birthday year, art is invading the city of Brussels. And proving to be a source of eternal youth…
Art Brussels, from Friday 20 to Sunday 22 April (opening on Thursday 19 April, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.). Tour & Taxis, avenue du Port 86c, Brussels. www.artbrussels.com
Women under the spotlight at the Belfius Lounge
Belfius Wealth Management, the major partner of Art Brussels for the second year in a row, is presenting, in 2018, an exclusive selection of major works from its corporate collection. The exhibition, titled “Inspiring / Inspired: Women in the Belfius Art Collection”, can be viewed at the Belfius Lounge throughout the fair’s duration. By bringing together several generations of Belgian artists, the exhibition tackles the role that women have always played in art, both on canvases and behind paintbrushes. By turns muses and artists, models and creators, women occupy a core spot in the history of representation. The show’s aim is to deepen understanding on how artists have opposed or influenced, inspired or complemented one another throughout the centuries. Featuring works by Lili Dujourie, Marthe Wéry, Berlinde De Bruyckere, Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven, Michaël Borremans, Paul Delvaux, Rik Wouters, Luc Tuymans…