Art Brussels, Bustling Brussels

Issue no3
June - July 2018

In Belgium, it was a week of oppositions in art. In her speech during the Flemish Cultuurforum on Wednesday April 24, Ghent Fine Arts Museum director Catherine De Zegher pleaded for art as an exchange of values between an artist and his/her public instead of art as a form of stock exchange. Only one day later, Brussels already kicked off the commercial art event par excellence: the annual Art Brussels fair.

For several years already, the presence and timing of the fair triggers a lot of artists, curators, galleries and collectors to plan events or exhibitions to open in the third week of April, the so-called Brussels Art Week. This was not any different this year. On Tuesday evening April 23, the private contemporary art centre CAB inaugurated Out of Character. Artists <> Collectors, a peculiar and hybrid exhibition format composed by only new works specifically produced for the show. CAB asked eight Belgian and French collectors to each choose an artist not represented by a gallery in Belgium. These artists, among whom Paul Casaer, Filip Gilissen and Meggy Rustamova, were then invited to create a new work for the show at CAB, financially supported by their commissioners/collectors.

Other collectors in Brussels focused on their own collection by opening their private space to the public: Alain Servais (The Loft), Frédéric de Goldschmidt or Walter Vanhaerents (Vanhaerents Art Collection) to name only a few.

On Wednesday evening April 24, Brussels based French collector Nathalie Guiot, founder of Thalie Art Project, inaugurated the exhibition Textile Languages at her home in Uccle. Like the title suggests, it is a show around the medium of textile with works by Charlotte Beaudry, Alighiero Boetti, Anita Dube and Erwan Mahéo among others.

During the opening night, French artist Jimmy Robert performed The Elegant Woman from Antwerp, a new performance in which he investigates the role of clothing as a social indicator, an omnipresent theme in the context of Brussels’ art exhibition openings.

Le Sceptre
That same Wednesday evening, a totally different initiative, the artist-run space Le Sceptre located in Ixelles’s rue du Sceptre, opened its second show in a series of three entitled C’est une exposition donc c’est un atelier. More than an exhibition space, Le Sceptre is rather a building, housing the studios of artists welcoming other artists, among whom Haseeb Ahmed, Julien Auregan, Émilie Beffara, Camille Besson and Sébastien Capouet. In this second exhibition the collective experience as a working and exhibition method took form in several large-scale installations.

Art Brussels
Thursday evening was the opening night of Art Brussels. This year the participating galleries were divided into five sections: First (what’s in a name?) for new galleries, Young for younger galleries, Prime for established galleries, Curator’s view for which the fair selected six galleries presenting a thematic group exhibition and finally Solo for which participating galleries proposed a solo show of one of their artists. This year’s Pirelli Prize for the best solo booth at Art Brussels went to Brussels-based Office Baroque’s solo of the young South-African artist Catharine Ahearn.

Another solo presentation that struck the attention was the one by Dutch artist Marc Nagtzaam (ProjecteSD) who drew an exhibition space inside the booth on top of which he hung his drawings.

For this second edition of Art Brussels under the artistic direction of curator Katerina Gregos, some formats of the previous edition were continued, while also new initiatives were created like Portrait of the Collector as a Work of Art, an exhibition of art works from several Belgian art collectors such as Wilfried Cooreman, Filiep Libeert or Benedikt van der Vorst. Another initiative was a contest for young curators in collaboration with the National Lottery, won by Laura Herman and Louise Osieka with a drawing project by Belgian artist Gerard Herman.

As in 2013, Art Brussels presented on The Stage a discursive program with debates on, for example, collecting or changing city dynamics regarding visual arts with interesting speakers such as Benjamin Cook (LUX London), Ann Demeester (Frans Hals Museum/De Hallen Haarlem), Brigitte Franzen (Ludwig Forum Aachen) or Beatrix Ruf (Kunsthalle Zurich and soon Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam). For Art Brussels Katerina Gregos also composed a film screening program based on the proposals of the participating galleries in The Cinema. Compared to the excellent screening conditions this year at Art Rotterdam for example, those at Art Brussels are more intimate and a lot smaller, which is mainly linked to the architecture of The Cinema.

Since last year Art Brussels invites several Belgian non-for-profit spaces to occupy a booth which adds a cool breeze to the otherwise homogeneous aspect of the gallery booths. This year’s invitees were NICC from Brussels, Hotel Charleroi, CIAP located in Hasselt, Ghent’s KIOSK as well as Antwerp-based Objectif Exhibitions. Another original contribution was Austrian artist Mima Schwan’s intervention in the booth of the Antwerp not-for-profit exhibition space LLS 387. Every visitor with a half hour and 15 euros to spend, could have his own portrait drawn on the spot by Schwan. On the opening night already, it was a huge success with the artist drawing non-stop until 10 pm.

Downtown Brussels Poppositions offered for the third time already an alternative to the established art market during Art Brussels by hosting very young galleries or artist-run organisations. Important is the fact that Brussels’ off-fair Poppositions remains free to the public and accessible for its participants thanks to a succesfull crowdfunding campaign that gathered about 5000 euros. This year’s edition of Poppositions took place in the Dexia Art Center, rumoured to be hosting the modern art collection of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Brussels in the future.

Amongst this year’s contributors we particularly appreciated Abilene with an installation by Leo Hoffsaes & Louis Clais, photographs by Sébastien Bonin, Raphaël Lecoquierre and Benjamin Hugard. Interesting as well was the ‘booth’ by Still gallery that presented work by Hana Miletic, Dominique Somers and Egon Van Herreweghe. By their constant presence, Somers and Van Herreweghe transformed the space into a studio in which they were reprocessing their recently published artist book Best Available Copy.

Gallery Night
Friday evening April 25, the weekend was set in with the Gallery Night: galleries were open until 10 pm. After all the fragmentary impressions at the fairs and group exhibitions, it was nice to be immersed by the work of a single artist in solo shows at Dépendance and Barbara Gladstone (both showing Richard Aldrich), Office Baroque (Matthew Cerletty), Almine Rech (Brent Wadden), Clearing (Spencer Sweeney) and Xavier Hufkens (Saâdane Afif) to mention only a few. The unusually warm weather in Brussels contributed to the success of the evening that ended with a drink at Poppositions, exceptionally open until midnight. The perfect ending of a busy Brussels Art Week…

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 3 — 2018