Art Brussels, the dashing fifty-year-old

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...

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Rendezvous at the Patinoire Royale!

It’s a majestic space stretching over nearly 3,000 m2, which once delighted roller skaters. Today it’s an exhibition space with a difference, in the middle of Brussels. We spend an hour with Valérie Bach and find out about her commitment to contemporary art… at the heart of a historic monument. Valérie Bach moved to Brussels in 2005. At that time, she opened her first art gallery in the Sablon district. It was in 2007 that she and her husband discovered La Patinoire Royale, a neo-classical building constructed in 1877 right in the centre of the Belgian capital. Semi-circular arch windows, a magnificent Polonceau structure, period glasswork… They fell in love with it immediately, and very soon after, the couple bought the site. As of 2012, the Galerie Valérie Bach began presenting its programme on this site in the wing looking out onto Rue Faider, while restoration of the building’s nave continued, overseen by the Jean-Paul Hermant and Pierre Yovanovitch architecture firms. It was thus in April 2015 that Valérie Bach, along with her director Constantin Chariot and his team, inaugurated this new hybrid venue which has preserved its historic name. Already, three exhibitions have taken place here: “La Résistance des images”, showing nearly 170 works representing major figures in narrative figuration, curated by Jean-Jacques Aillagon; “Let’s Move!”, a vast retrospective of kinetic art organised by Arnauld Pierre; and “Prouvé / Takis” organised in collaboration with the gallery Downtown. And now, until 25 March, and for the first time since the opening of La Patinoire, all of the venue’s spaces are being handed over to one artist: Joana Vasconcelos from Portugal, whose show includes a few monumental works. You are the manager of the Patinoire, as well as of the gallery bearing your name. What is the relationship between these two spaces? Despite...

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In Gent, the invisible made visible

Until 5 March, the Design Museum in Gent is celebrating the savoir of hands in its exhibition “Hands on Design”. A happy modern-day marriage of craftsmanship, design and industry. Marking the eighth Triennial for Design… Since 1994, the city of Gent has honoured Belgian creation through its Triennial for Design. Johan Valcke, director of Design Vlaanderen, a company which promotes Flemish design and curator of the event at the Design Museum, has steered the triennial from the outset, starting up this project which stems from a policy implemented by the Belgian Ministry for the Economy in 2014. After visiting, over a two-year period, some thirty SMEs, Johan Valcke developed the idea to reveal those “helpers” who work in the shadows, those hands which confer high quality to objects through partially hand-made fabrication, while profitability is assured by industrial production. This theme offers an opportunity to discover that craftsmanship, the very essence of creation, is very much present in the 21st century, while also becoming hybrid and hi-tech, used to develop a resolutely humanist and ecological form of design. Johan Valcke, why did you choose the “handmade” theme in relation to design for this eighth edition of the Triennial for Design in Gent? “Hands on Design” proves to be the logical follow-up to the topics tackled in the previous editions. Between 1994 and 2000, the first three events unveiled the relationship between artistic professions and design creation, as well as industrial design, graphic design and communication. Over that time, Belgium discovered that it held many real talents in all these domains. The following events featured themes such as the notion of beauty in design, social and service design. Finally, this year, we are paying homage to the often invisible work of hands in design production. All these themes dialogue with...

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The search for the Belgian collector

They’re said to be demanding, eclectic, international… and above all, very numerous. Who are the Belgian collectors? A foretaste and a scan before meeting them face to face in the alleys of the BRAFA. As a small bilingual country at the heart of Europe, Belgium is often presented as “the country with the highest number of collectors per square metre”. In the absence of any global study on the matter, it’s impossible to confirm this, but what is certain is that Belgium is well and truly a “land of collectors,” declares Axel Gryspeerdt, president of Collectiana, a foundation aimed at studying and developing art and culture collections. But things get trickier when it’s a matter of defining “the” Belgian collector. “There’s no typical profile for the Belgian collector, and if ever Belgians present specific features, they result from a blend of factors such as internationalisation, networking, the multitude of exhibitions being held,” adds Axel Gryspeerdt. No identikit emerges, therefore, but we can single out the characteristics of these key players in the art world. Collectors that weren’t born yesterday “The collecting tradition dates back to Flanders in the 15th century when many orders of portraits and triptychs were placed,” comments Tanguy Eeckhout, curator at the Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens in Laethem-Saint-Martin. “The 16th and 17th centuries carried on this enthusiasm with the creation of curiosity cabinets, before a slowdown in the economy – and collections – until the end of the 19th century. Following World War II, there emerged a new generation of collectors who turned towards American art and conceptual art,” he adds. When the Sixties and Seventies shook things up, collectors showed support for Daniel Buren, Marcel Broodthaers, Niele Toroni and many others, years before these artists gained institutional recognition. This no doubt sparked the reputation of boldness among...

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BRAFA, at the heart of the art market

In Brussels this January, over four thousand years of art will be making their way to BRAFA. From archaeology to contemporary creation, this is not only a major European event, but a place to sound out the art market as a new year begins. In January, after getting back from New Year’s Eve at Saint-Barthélemy, when nothing else seems to quite make the grade, not even a little omelette dotted with Alba white truffles, a quick dash to Brussels is just the thing! Why favour a Flemish destination, you might well ask? A yearning for the Belgian touch in the heart of winter? The timeless charm of the Place de Brouckère? Let’s put it this way: at the start of the year, the chicest rendezvous — one month after Art Basel on the coast of Florida in December, and shortly before the Armory Show in New York in March — is obviously BRAFA. Also known as the Brussels Art Fair, one of the oldest art and antiques fairs in the world. So much to say, the most stunning Brussels invention… just after the Délirium Café and its 3,000 beers. So let’s sum up: after its fine fare and brilliant beer, Brussels, from Saturday 21 to Sunday 29 January, can also offer you what is undoubtedly the very best in terms of antiques. Of course, some may well be inclined to say that nothing beats the Biennale des Antiquaires, that going shopping in Paris in September is the height of sophistication. Or that for fine-arts lovers, Frieze Masters in October in London is a genuine revelation, an aesthetic shock that will keep you hyped up and buzzing until Christmas… In short, for too long people have looked down at BRAFA — take the blasé collector who describes the Belgian fair...

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