Art fairs — the feeding frenzy of the art world. We go to stare and be stared at, but mostly to find out who is “stare-worthy”. Fairs remind us that we are in the business known as art and that the booths next to us are curiously keeping tabs on our traffic flow and sales (we know you’re peeking!).
For Art Brussels 2012, the Belgian fair is turning thirty and with this milestone comes a change in direction. Always a forward thinker — paying particularly close attention to emerging contemporary artists and their youthful gallery counterparts — this year Art Brussels will up their innovative profile that much more by putting the young galleries in the foreground as the initial welcome to visitors and as the official tone-setter of the fair. With more than 2,000 emerging and established artists gathering at the Place de Belgique to face an ever-expanding international market of collectors, critics and enthusiasts, there is no better place to do so. Amongst the craziness of the coat-drop, the catalog pick-up and the champagne-bar, I scope out the Brussels-bound Berlin gallery scene:
Aleksandra Domanović, Installation view, From yu to me, 2012, Kunsthalle Basel, Paper-stacks (2009 - present), Courtesy of Tanya Leighton.
Tanya Leighton and Soy Capitán are two of the curatorial-committee-selected “First Call” galleries that greet you on the way in. Established in 2008, Tanya Leighton is a gallery invested in double takes. With a program dedicated to the re-examination of historical frameworks and marginalized figures, Aleksandra Domanović is nestled perfectly into the repertoire and an impressive inclusion in the booth. Born in the former Yugoslavia (present-day Slovenia), Domanović’s works focus primarily on the re-contextualization of online content and images. In Paper-stacks (2009-present) the artist accrues images of scenes of war from the former autocratic nation on A3 and A4 paper that bleed into the margins comprising — only in their accumulation of stacks on the floor, with persistent repetition — a full picture of historic symbology that unveils the past and examines its place within the nation’s present. Tanya Leighton will also show works by Dan Rees and Oliver Laric.
Klara Hobza, Training Program, 2011, pencil on paper, 86 x 140 cm, Courtesy GfLK, Hamburg & Soy Capitán, Berlin.
Across from Plan B (Romania & Berlin) and only four booths down from Tanya Leighton in a cluster of Berlin first-callers like Chert, Exile, and Krome Gallery, at the Soy Capitán booth Klara Hobza is a stand out. More absurd than obsessive, the Czech-born artist’s work is often dream-based and goal-driven. Utilizing performance — with aid from various forms of documentation, historical research, instruction, photography, and (online) videos — Hobza builds up constructed narratives that result in self-appointed missions to accomplish near impossible feats. Her work questions the absurdity of our personal successes and failures with just the right tinge of a humorous elbow jab. At Soy Capitán’s booth, the Neukölln-based “new generation gallery” (NGG) will be focusing on the Czech Berlin-based artist’s latest project Diving Through Europe, a project that depicts her, well, diving through the rivers of Europe from the North Sea to the Black Sea. Hobza estimates that the endeavor will take her 25-30 years. She will upload clips of her journey regularly online as she migrates east. We will sit anxiously at our desks refreshing her homepage. Soy Capitán will also show works by Gotscha Gosalishvili and Benja Sachau.
Šejla Kamerić, Bosnian Girl, 2003, Fine inkjet print, 170 x 120 cm, Edition of 5 + 1 AP (1/5), Courtesy of Galerie Tanja Wagner.
Tanja Wagner is another noteworthy NGG, selected as “Young Talent” by the Art Brussels international committee for its strong international program. Accompanying other Berlin galleries, such as other "Young Talents" PSM, Galerie Koal, and Andrae Kaufmann, and one aisle over Peres Projects, this booth is a definite stop-by-and-stay-a-while. A veteran of Max Hetzler, Wagner opened her own gallery in 2010 with a discursive and international arsenal of artists, among them Šejla Kamerić. The artist’s works, presented at Art Brussels as a solo show, are unmistakably political but aesthetically irrefutable with an alluring personal and melancholic touch. In 1994, an unknown Dutch soldier graffitied the words seen above onto the walls of his army barracks in Potocari, Srebrenica while stationed as part of the UN Protection Force’s mission responsible for safeguarding the Srebrenica area. Nearly a decade later in 2003, with their own experiences and memories of the war, Bosnian artist Šejla Kamerić re-appropriated the gesture and together with photographer Tarik Samarah created the work Bosnian Girl (2003) — a multifunctional image that has surfaced as posters, billboards, magazine ads, postcards and now, for Art Brussels as a fine inkjet print. Recently, Tanja Wagner has been organizing talks with critics, curators and philosophers around the subject of the Metamodern, attempting to open up a forum to discuss and document current developments in politics and aesthetics that can no longer be explained under the rubric of the postmodern. This kind of multidisciplinary discourse makes Tanja Wagner a must-visit at Brussels and a must-watch on my personal list.
Definitely stare-worthy, I found my eye drawn mostly to this group of Eastern European artists and new generation galleries looking eastward; not only in their historiography and geography, but also a bit metaphorically with their searches for new horizons in both theoretical and aesthetic value. With many other strong exhibitors representing Berlin at Art Brussels 2012, the city is poised as a sturdy addition to the local galleries and locales migrating to Brussels this week.
(image top right: Aleksandra Domanovic, Untitled (30.III.2010) (Detail), 2010, 3 stacks of A4 paper, 75-85 (H) x 21 x 29.7 cm, Courtesy of Tanya Leighton.)