Brussels in profile

Olivier Vrankenne, o v projects

In a quiet side street of Brussels, in the elegant neighbourhood of Ixelles, amongst many of the grand and stately galleries of Brussels’ contemporary art scene, is a small, jewel-like shop front. Home to o v projects, the eponymous gallery space of Olivier Vrankenne for the last two years, the project was founded in order to host exhibitions that deviate from the normative objectives traditionally expected of the contemporary gallery environment. According to Vrankenne, the ambition was to create “projects in a room” derived from “previously unseen connections”, but describing the undertaking thus seems unduly unassuming and modest when considering the range and scope of some of the exhibitions to date. The space is predicated upon a desire to display the results of various creative disciplines alongside each other. The ethos is one of curiosity, seeking to elicit a spirit of discovery and new aesthetic revelations.

project 05, Gerrit Rietveld & Ted Stamm

Designed by the Brussels based architectural practice Lhoas and Lhoas, the gallery premises is itself an interesting space in which to host the project(s). Compact in size but elegant in execution, the facade speaks of a refined gallery/shop of the kind typical of affluent neighbourhoods the world over. Inside, the gallery is sorted into three volumes, two rooms for exhibiting and an office space at rear. It is here that the theme of intersection is further embodied – the spaces flow together beautifully and seamlessly through slickly executed radius corners, as if the architect of Kubrick’s Space Odyssey interiors visited their practice on an ancien regime boutique.

The program is an intensive and rigorous one and has already encompassed a dizzying array of art and objects. Called simply ‘Projects’ and numbered sequentially, Vrankenne’s exhibitions have included: Thomas Schütte and Tribal Art; Richard Nonas and Native North American Art; Andy Warhol and Irving Penn; Gerrit Rietveld and Ted Stamm; Cindy Sherman and Urs Fischer; Boris Beaucarne and Raymond Pettibon; Ralph Gibson and Erik Olovsson, Etienne Courtois, Paul Lee and Richard Nonas; and currently a stunning exhibition of works by Paul Mogensen and Steven Parrino. These divergent artworks, objects and artefacts certainly confront the viewer’s expectations and elicit a kind of critical thinking not usually prompted by the standard-fare gallery group exhibition. Eschewing the linear narrative so often propagated and perpetuated by gallery practice, o v is a veritable fine art cabinet-of-curiosities, a modern day kunstkammer channelling the spirit of Alfred Barr’s famous diagram for ‘Cubism and Abstract Art’ from 1936.

But then that should come as no surprise. After all, what is a gallery if not a reflection of the tastes, ideas and aesthetic sensibilities of the principal? Insofar as the door bears his name, then it follows that the walls should bear the imprints of his ideas and experiences, and all the places where they intersect. Some of the exhibition combinations are off-beat, often subtle and always inspired. Sometimes they are even obvious – but in the way such things appear obvious only after they have been revealed, redolent of a “but of course” eureka moment precipitated in the viewer as if the knowledge-connection was somehow latent the whole time.

Encyclopaedic and insistent, but with an easy charm and self-deprecating humour, Vrankenne can lay claim to his insights because he has lived them and wears them wholeheartedly. Formerly the head of Contemporary Art in Europe for Phillips, and also the director of the program of the de Pury Luxembourg Gallery in Zurich, he has seen more things come and go than most. Conversation with him prompts a litany of tangential references, most of which occur with alacrity, come full circle and reveal their relevance to the point at hand. People, places, artists and exhibitions, dates and happenings, Vrankenne has an immediate and vivid recall for all – what happened when and with whom, and the various protagonists that were there to witness, shape, and form their own complexion of influences from it. Seminal moments in redux, like the answers to an art-history-in-action general knowledge quiz.

project 11, works by Paul Lee and Richard Nonas

Vrankenne’s avidly employed and eclectic instagram feed illustrates perfectly the myriad creative influences that occur to him at any time of day (or night). It reads like a lexicon of cool; a visual pin board of inspiration, of art and music, album covers, heroes and legends, and clearly informs and mirrors the same syncopated rhythm of his exhibition choices. Like diaphanous veils of intuition and erudition harvested over time and through experience, and then overlapped to form substance, o v projects (one through twelve and those yet to come), are each emblematic of their conceiver and curator. Part curatorial project, part visual repartee they are never less than staunch advocates for the fully lived and immersive aesthetic experience. Go and visit the artistic intersections he conjures and makes manifest – you will see things you haven’t before.

Visit o v project 12, Paul Mogensen & Steven Parrino in 3D here: