Brussels. Sounds like mussels. And maybe a comparison between the two isn't completely out of this world. An oddly shaped, introverted entity, which has no particularly distinct features; looks pale, grey, and weirdly aggressive from the outside but provides a lot of protein to those who persist and dig in. In a recent article in The New York Times (Art Market | Big in Belgium, 3/20/13), Jim Lewis interviewed Art Brussels' new artistic director Katerina Gregos. She described Brussels as a city in a perpetual state of becoming, kind of identity-less, but gaining cultural power in spite of it. Over the last few years international galleries like MOTinternational, C L E A R I N G, and Almine Rech have opened satellite spaces in Brussels and a wealth of new galleries has emerged. Low rent, a large number of wealthy collectors (the city is riddled with lawyers, bankers, and parliamentarians) and its central position in Europe (which provides easy access to the rest of the continent) are all perceived as deciding factors in Brussels' move up the popularity charts.
The Brussels art scene may be ambiguous and according to some even non-existing, but it is distinct enough to see it is quite different from the more celebrity focused London, New York and Paris, or the more sceney, artist driven Berlin. When I was forced to spend a night in Brussels after missing my Eurostar connection to London a few months ago, I was overwhelmed by the friendliness of the people. I ended up in a gallery/theatre/bar chatting to a couple of local artists and within a mere hour I was offered Belgian beers and homemade meatballs, as well as a place to stay whenever I visited next. Conviviality seems to be the name of the game in this town and the few gallerists I spoke to this week in preparation for the 31st edition of Art Brussels, all confirmed this feeling.
Adam Henry, Untitled (2spt1), 2012, 48,3 x 40,6 cm, Synthetic polymers on linen; Courtesy of the artist and Meessen De Clercq. At Art Brussels, booth 1B-01.
To my question what distinguishes Brussels from other international art centres, Barthélémy Schöller from C L E A R I N G (Brussels and Brooklyn, NY) said that for him it is a combination of factors including the collectors, the energy and freshness of the place, the fact that people are laid-back and not too full of themselves, and the good Belgian spirit. He also mentioned that the city has evolved immensely over the last few years with new spaces opening – like Sorry We're Closed and the (until recently Amsterdam based) Motive Gallery – and that new contemporary art centres like Wiels or La Loge add a vibrant new energy to the city. A laid-back attitude also seems to be a trademark of the street art-loving Alice Gallery. Its owner Raphael Cruyt emphasized that it's the sense of humor and good atmosphere that make Brussels unique. Cruyt is embracing the flow of new galleries and artists that's been sweeping through the city streets, although with all these new kids in town it does get harder, he says, to find weed. Enough said here, methinks.
So back to the point. Art Brussels. I'd say let's briefly pop into the fair this year and mainly stroll through the city. Drink Belgian beers and feel the good vibes. And if we get peckish let's check out Mer du Nord on the Place St Catherine. It comes highly recommended, and – as if by some sort of miracle – they do serve mussels there, too.
Clare Rojas, Untitled (red, white, yel- low), 2012, Acrylic on linen (framed), 162x122 cm; Courtesy of the artist and Alice Gallery, Brussels.
During Art Brussels, C L E A R I N G will be showing works by Canadian born, New York based Aaron Aujla. The Alice Gallery will be showing works by Clare Rojas (US), Olivier Kosta-Théfaine (FR), Nicolas Karakatsanis (BE) and Atelier Pica Pica (BE).
(Image on top: Charles Avery, Untitled (Tree No. 4 for Jadindagadendar), 2013, 310 x 360 x 360, Steel, brass, magnets, Perspex, paint; Courtesy of the artist and Grimm, Amsterdam. At Art Brussels, booth 3C-22.)