Art Brussels: From Discovery to Rediscovery

Interview with Managing Director Anne Vierstraete

Though it retains its youthful profile as a discovery fair, Art Brussels is one of Europe’s oldest and most established fairs, celebrating this year its 35th edition. By presenting the three main sections PRIME, DISCOVERY, and REDISCOVERY, Art Brussels provides an inspiring mix between the young and upcoming and the renowned and recognised. Managing Director of Art Brussels, Anne Vierstraete, gives a first-hand account of what to expect, when Brussels turns into a focal point for art lovers in the days between April 20 – April 23, 2017. 

Anne Vierstraete, Managing Director of Art Brussels. Copyright: David Plas.

What can we expect to see at this year’s Art Brussels?
Since the beginning of Art Brussels in 1968, artists have been central to our program and this year’s edition of the fair brings work by a variety of 657 upcoming and established artists from all over the world, of which 64% are from Europe. They are represented by 145 art galleries, from 28 countries, divided into three sections: DISCOVERY features 30 galleries showing recently created work (2014-2017) from artists that are not yet known to a wider public; the 9 galleries in REDISCOVERY are dedicated to art created between 1917 and 1987 and present important artists that have been under-estimated, overlooked, or unduly forgotten; the PRIME section comprises 109 established galleries representing internationally known artists.

In your opinion, what is it that draws audiences to the art fair?
The distinctiveness of Art Brussels comes from the state of mind of the Belgian contemporary art scene, the specific Brussels vibe, and the way we, at Art Brussels, engage with art. Art Brussels has always been tightly interwoven with the Belgian collectors’ scene. The fair’s DNA is aligned with the spirit of discovery, which has always been a strong motivation for Belgian art collectors, who are often known to support artists by buying early on in their careers. Our mission at Art Brussels is to initiate encounters between art produced by serious artists, whether they be upcoming or established, and a broad public, which comprises those starting to engage with contemporary art, as well as an extensive group of international collectors. Art Brussels is organized by an engaged team that is motivated in bringing additional value to what the selected galleries offer.  We have incorporated within the fair a parallel artistic program for which we partner with renowned curators and international speakers. We also have excellent and diversified catering. Our approach to display is distinctive and respectful to the quality of the work, and unique in our inclusion of new and unexpected artists. We invest a lot of energy and means to bring artistic initiatives, which are content-rich and non-commercial. All over the city, we propose a diversified and highly acclaimed OFF program based on our long-established relationships and offer exclusive wayfinding in the private and public art scene in Brussels.

Name: Marina Abramović Title: Portrait with Lamb (Black) Year: 2010 Measures: 160 x 160 cm Technic: black and white fine art pigment print Copyright: Galleri Brandstrup

Art Brussels provides an excellent platform for the buying and selling of contemporary art. How does the fair seek to inspire art collectors?
We believe that the conditions in which art is shown are of utmost importance; this is one of the main reasons why the fair moved in 2016, to a beautiful landmark 1904 building in the center of Brussels; a decision which has been unanimously acclaimed. The venue is bathed with natural light and offers ideal conditions to view art. On top of this, Art Brussels has, over the past few years, restricted the number of artists shown in each booth, thus allowing a more enjoyable and inspiring presentation throughout the fair. Art Brussels also places emphasis on the individual presentation of artists, with 18 galleries each presenting a single artist in the SOLO section, thus fostering deeper insight into their practice. This year, we are delighted to have SOLO shows by Diana Al Hadid, David Altmejd, Omar Ba, Friedrich Kunath, Benoît Maire, Théo Mercier, Mohau Modisakeng, Laure Prouvost, Josh Sperling, Guy Yanai, Rose Wylie, among others.

I believe in the essential role that international art fairs like Art Brussels play in order to diversify the offer on the global art market, allowing galleries to address specific collectors’ communities with whom they can build long-term relationships, through a distinctive profile, a dedicated approach towards the richness of art historical content, and a close attention to quality.

What does the list of galleries participating and the works that they will be presenting reveal about the character and status of the international art scene?
In 2016, following our move into a smaller space, we reduced the number of galleries by 50, allowing Art Brussels to sharpen its quality and emphasize what makes the fair distinctive. Our human scale is something that attracts top galleries who have a long track record with important artists and like to be in close contact with thoughtful collectors, those that are not buying art with their ears, but with their eyes and are driven by their passion for art. For the 2017 edition, we remarked new interest in our PRIME section at Art Brussels by a number of historical galleries, who have been operating in the art market for many years, for example Jahn und Jahn (formerly Fred Jahn, Münich), Wetterling Gallery (Stockholm), Karl Pfefferle (Munich), Chelouche (Tel Aviv), Art Bärtschi (Geneva), Monica De Cardenas (Milan). Other established newcomers to this year’s edition are Robilant & Voena (London), Skopia, P.-H. Jaccaud (Geneva), Pearl Lam (Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore), Baton Gallery (Seoul), Proyectosmonclova (Mexico City). Well established gallery Anne de Villepoix, participates in the DISCOVERY section showing work by Jean Denant. Our DISCOVERY section will once again be surprising through the program brought by galleries such as Harlan Levey (Brussels), Galerie Allen (Paris), Gowen Contemporary (Geneva), Mier (Los Angeles), Barbara Seiler (Zurich), The Hole (New York City), Marso (Mexico City), among others. Galleries and collectors also look back on avant-garde work, which has remained under-estimated over the years, which is exactly what our REDISCOVERY section, launched in 2016 and featuring nine galleries, is about. With the offers of the art market being unlimitedly broad, quality has never been as important as today. Art Brussels is definitely not interested in showing work in a supermarket-like style, we believe in galleries that support their artists throughout their evolution, invest in their relationship with their artists, and have a good knowledge of their collector base.

Name: Linus Bill + Adrien Horni Title: NY p.1TL and NY p.5 BR Year: 2014 Measures: 150 x 200 cm each Technic: acrylic, microfiber fabric, paper and glue on linen Copyright: courtesy the artists and Galerie Allen, Paris.

What are some of the events and program highlights of 2017 that you are most excited about?
Inside Art Brussels, I am very excited, I must say, by this year’s flagship artistic project which focuses on objects collected by artists and invites us to lift a corner of the veil of the personal sphere within which their artistic practice emerges. As it explores the intimate side of the art economy, it is somewhat an atypical exhibition project for an art fair and offers an alternative view to the investment in art objects. The exhibition, which takes place within the fair in a specially designed display imagined by the Belgian architecture firm Lhoas Lhoas, is titled Mementos: Artists’ Souvenirs, Artefacts and Other Curiosities; it is curated by internationally renowned exhibition maker Jens Hoffmann and curator and critic Piper Marshall. It will feature personal objects and artefacts from the private collections of around 73 artists, all of whom are represented by galleries that are participating in Art Brussels 2017, among which: Jill Baroff, Robert Barry, Dirk Braeckman, Shezad Dawood, Wim Delvoye, Kendell Geers, Erika Hock, Jenny Holzer, Joseph Kosuth, Josephine Meckseper, Jonathan Monk, Hermann Nitsch, Laure Prouvost, Gert & Uwe Tobias, among many others. An accompanying talks and conference program, titled The Politics of Things, will feature conversations between artists and the curators (Kris Martin, Sophie Nys and Laure Prouvost), cross-disciplinary discussions and readings performed by artists (Kendell Geers and Germaine Kruip).

Outside Art Brussels and part of our OFF program, one of the highlights in Brussels will undoubtedly be WIELS’ commemoration of its 10th anniversary with a large-scale exhibition opening the week of the fair titled THE ABSENT MUSEUM, Blueprint for a museum of contemporary art for the capital of Europe. Existing works and new productions by around 45 contemporary and historical artists will translate and interpret the challenges that museums encounter today, and the communities they inspire. The exhibition will present works of artists including Francis Alÿs, Sammy Baloji, Guillaume Bijl, Marcel Broodthaers, stanley brouwn, Marlene Dumas, Jimmie Durham, Jana Euler, Ellen Gallagher, Jef Geys, Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, Thomas Hirschhorn, Lucy McKenzie, Wesley Meuris, Oscar Murillo, Otobong Nkanga, Willem Oorebeek, Gerhard Richter, Walter Swennen, Wolfgang Tillmans, Rosemarie Trockel, Luc Tuymans, Nil Yalter, among many others.

But the whole of Brussels’ institutions will bring amazing shows like Yves Klein and Pol Bury at Bozar, the exhibition Mondialité at Villa Empain/Boghossian Foundation curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Asad Raza featuring Etel Adnan, Kader Attia, Alighiero Boetti, Dan Boyd, Edith Dekyndt, Wifredo Lam, Ranjana Leyendecker, Robert Matta, Steve McQueen, Otolith Group, Walter Price, Adrián Villar Rojas and Antonio Segui, among others.

Name: Antony Gormley Title: FORM IV Year: 2014 Measures: 73 x 55,5 x 65,5 cm Technic: cast iron Copyright: the artist, courtesy: the artist and GALLERIA CONTINUA, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins / Habana_Photo by: Stephen White, London

What is your opinion of the current state of the art fair system and its future?
Art fairs are unique in that that they offer the ideal platform for physically addressing a large number of works of art in one place, engender encounters, contribute to networking and strengthen the relationships between all the players in the art market on an international level. I believe in the essential role that international art fairs like Art Brussels play in order to diversify the offer on the global art market, allowing galleries to address specific collectors’ communities with whom they can build long-term relationships, through a distinctive profile, a dedicated approach towards the richness of art historical content, and a close attention to quality. Competition in the art fair world is of course acute, but interesting and positive in the way that it obliges you to stay very alert to what is going on. It demands you to identify the exact components of your DNA and its correspondence with the kind of market you address. It fosters you to question your model in comparison to others operating in the same market. It also drives you to search for permanent excellence in the way you profile your event in the market, identifying the partners that best fit your needs and attracting the visitors that will understand the specificities of your offer.

How has Art Brussels responded and adapted to changes in the market over recent years, and how does it plan to continue remaining relevant?
Art Brussels is lucky to take place in Brussels, a world-class artistic hub. Being the capital city of Europe, it is only 2 hours away on average by train from Paris, London, Amsterdam and Cologne, and by plane from Madrid, Rome, Vienna, Geneva, Copenhagen, etc. We are always actively evaluating our model and we are careful to stick to our distinctive personality, this being one of the main reasons attracting galleries to participate, knowing that they will reach out to groups of confirmed collectors who deeply appreciate our approach. Art Brussels is a platform for the galleries which you will not encounter in fairs that address mass collectors, Art Brussels is more personal, proposing the latest finds in between the ideal mix of young emerging artists and those which are more established and, by this, also offering a wide range of prices from one thousand euros to more than one million euros.

In short, where art is concerned, Art Brussels altogether integrates the fresh look of a three year old child curious to discover new things, the rebellious and daring attitude of an adolescent, the expert and mature look of an adult and the critical eye of an expert and passionate seasoned collector looking for the opportunity to explore in greater depth the work of some of the world’s greatest artists.

Name: Bo Xiao Title: Grass Year: 2016 Measures: 60 x 50 cm Technic: acrylic on canvas Copyright: the artist

Tour & Taxis
Avenue du Port 86c
1000 Brussels, Belgium

Opening hours
Thursday 20 April: 5 pm – 10 pm (Vernissage*)
Friday 21 April 11 am – 7 pm
Saturday 22 April 11 am – 7 pm
Sunday 23 April 11 am – 7 pm

For the second time, Art Brussels will take place in the beautiful Tour & Taxis landmark building, situated in Brussels’ vibrant inner-city.