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Art Brussels 2016. Photo: Lizete Riņķe

Art Brussels 2016 – Discovering and Rediscovering 0

Lizete Riņķe

Photo: Lizete Riņķe

In the wake of the Brussels terrorist attacks, the 34th edition of Art Brussels officially opened its doors to a hungry art crowd of art lovers on April 22 – exactly a month after this horrendous event.  Fortunately, it does not seem to have affected the desire for art. The visitors were already pouring in right from the first hour of the Preview and Vernissage Day on Thursday, 21 April, reserved for VIPs, as if affirming that life has to go on in defiance of terrorism and that the need for art is greater than ever. For some art might serve as a space for escapism; but most importantly, today it is also a place for encounter, dialogue and exchange across nationalities, religions and ideology. 

Founded in 1968, Art Brussels is one of the oldest art fairs in Europe. The current edition is special for Art Brussels in a couple of ways. The fair has moved to a new location from the former EXPO ‘58 premises on the outskirts of Brussels, where it resided since 1989, to the former Custom House Tour & Taxes in the inner city. In terms of architecture and atmosphere, this magnificent industrial ground from 1904 is without a doubt a much more suitable setting for art. The relocation is also a strategic step intended to bring the fair closer to the rest of the city’s vibrant and evolving art scene and to provide an easier access for visitors. The number of exhibitors has been reduced by 50 this year and thus feature 141 galleries from 28 countries, which makes the fair a bit more manageable. Furthermore, the reduction in size also reflects the organizers’ aim to improve the quality of the fair by making the selection process more stringent. Art Brussels consistently endeavours to avoid positioning itself as a continually evolving type of fair where you can expect to encounter more or less the same well-known galleries and the same artists year after year, as is the case for many art fairs. 

Art Brussels 2016

Only 96 of the galleries that participated in the fair in 2015 were selected for this year’s fair; 11 galleries from the year before were making a comeback, and 34 galleries were participating for the first time at Art Brussels. However, Art Brussels lost some of its participants this year to Independent – an invitational art fair founded in New York in 2010. Its first European edition took place simultaneously with Art Brussels in the heart of the city, thus managing to beat Art Brussels in terms of location by being even more central. Among the galleries that abandoned Art Brussels were CLEARING (New York/Brussels) and Gladstone Gallery (New York/Brussels), Office Baroque (Brussels) and Mulier Mulier (Knokke).     

Art Brussels continues to uphold its image as a place for discovery, thus reinforcing the image that the fair has already been nurturing for several years by presenting 30 young and internationally as-yet-unknown galleries that work with emerging artists in the DISCOVERY section. This year, the number of galleries in the DISCOVERY section was increased and it was placed right at the entrance of the fair, a position usually reserved for the established galleries – thus giving it an even more central place; meanwhile, some of the established galleries this time were moved farther away to the back end of the building. Galleries in the section are specially selected by a jury, and the best presentation is awarded the DISCOVERY Prize. This year’s winner was BWA Warszawa.

Ewa Axelrad and Karol Radziszewski at this year’s winner of the DISCOVERY Prize BWA Warszawa

Ewa Axelrad, BWA Warszawa (Warsaw)

Krišs Salmanis at ALMA in the DISCOVERY section (Riga). Photo: Krišs Salmanis

Krišs Salmanis, Mea Culpa 2, ALMA (Riga)

Other galleries in the section hail from major art centres like Milano, Berlin, Dublin, Los Angeles, New York and Moscow, as well as from Buenos Aires and Picton; the Baltic region was represented by two galleries – Temnikova & Kasela from Tallinn and ALMA from Riga. Both Baltic galleries experienced considerable interest from the public and also moderate sales. For ALMA it was the fourth year at Art Brussels and début for Temnikova & Kasela. It is often said that it takes approximately three years for a gallery to conquer a new market. During these four years ALMA has succeeded in attaining recognition and contacts and built a solid base on the thriving Belgian art scene. This is a slow and complicated process that takes time and investment, particularly for galleries from smaller countries or yet undiscovered art scenes. Therefore, participation of Baltic galleries in international art fairs is not entirely about sales, but also contributes to establishment of Baltic art internationally.              

A total of 28 nationalities were featured at Art Brussels. However, Art Brussels also emphases its particular European profile.

Flo Kasearu and Visible Solutions, Temnikova & Kasela (Tallinn)

24 galleries, scattered throughout the fair, participated in the SOLO section, showing a project by a single artist. In this category too, a prize is awarded; this year it was shared between two artists: Noémie Goudal, represented by the Gallerie Les filles du calvaire (Paris), and Ester Fleckner at Avlskarl Gallery (Copenhagen).

The winner of the SOLO Prize Noémie Goudal at Gallerie Les filles du calvaire (Paris)

The winner of the SOLO Prize Ester Fleckner at Avlskarl Gallery (Copenhagen)

This category is also central for Art Brussels and is intended to present a showdown with the so-called “art fair art”, which often offers the same kind of art and practices, neglecting everything else. Diversity is at the core of this section, which means diversity in practices, thematic range and also genres. It strives to provide the visitors with an opportunity to encounter art which can usually only be found in museums, such as conceptual, political, postcolonial, archival and research based art – which means types of art that share a lack of commercial potential. There is generally a particular focus on non-commercial art at Art Brussels, reflected in its not-for-profit section which has existed for four years. However, one cannot help but notice that in terms of media, there seems to be a special focus on craft in many of the works on show, with tapestry and ceramics as particularly predominant.


Thematically, many of the works at the fair also seemed to have a lot in common. They shared the same subject, namely, a criticism of the prevailing materialism, consumer culture and the power of money – which for many might ring rather hollow in the context of an art fair where art is a commodity and large sums of money habitually exchange hands.      

Yann Gerstberger at SOLO section, Sorry We ‘re Closed (Brussels)

Maria Nepumeceno, Baró (Sao Paulo)

In spite of its identity as a place to explore yet-unexplored art markets and discover new talents, this year’s Art Brussels also took a look back. A new section, REDISCOVERY, had been added, which was dedicated to art from 1917 to 1987, aiming to count on the cult of youth and newness in the art world. It presents artists that have been forgotten or in some other way marginalized, and who deserve revaluation.

The 34th edition of Art Brussels is also the last year with Katerina Gregos at its helm as the Artistic Director. After four years spent with Art Brussels, Gregos has decided to move on to pursue her curatorial career full-time. There is no doubt that she has played a crucial part in the development of the profile and the identity of the fair, as well as its reputation. The different changes that Art Brussels is subject to this year could mean a new era for the fair. To see which turn it might take, we’ll have to go back next year.

Here are some images that capture some of the highlights of Art Brussels 2016.

Marinella Senatore, MOT International (Brussels/London)

Michael L. Smith, KOW (Berlin)

Anu Vahtra 17.9°, Site-specific installation at the non-profit space, EKKM – Contemporary Arts Museum of Estonia (Tallinn)

Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles at the non-profit space

Eric Croes, Rossicontemporary (Brussels)

Axel Vervoordt Gallery (Antwerp)

Hopstreet (Brussels)

Heinrich Ehrhardt Gallery (Madrid)

Yuko Nasaka at the REDISCOVERY Section, Axel Vervoordt Gallery (Antwerp)

SARIEV Contemporary (Plovdiv)

Michael Müller, Galerie Thomas Schulte (Berlin)

D+T Project Gallery (Brussels)

Douglas Henderson, Galerie Mario Mazzoli (Berlin)

Document Art Gallery (Buenos Aires)

Digital installation by Rafaël Rozendaal at the entrance to Art Brussels 

Luis Gispert, Zidoun-Bossuyt Gallery (Luxembourg)

ING Lounge by Peter Kogler 

Leo Fitzmaurice, The Sunday Painter (London)

General Store (Picton)

Renate Bertlmann, Gallerie Steinek (Wien)

Peter Kogler, Galerie Mitterrand (Paris)

Jousse Entreprise (Paris)

Émilie Brout & Maxime Marion, 22,48 m2

Émilie Brout & Maxime Marion, 22,48 m2