Was it going to be canceled? Will the galleries come? And what about the collectors? This year Art Brussels 2016 was surrounded by a lot of question marks. The recent terrorist attacks had changed a lot. However Brussel is resilient and the fair was one of the most interesting ones i’ve seen. Here is my review of Art Brussels with Belgian beer, cheerful art and vintage furniture (nothing beats that combination).
Brussels is a city of unity, of togetherness. As a capital of the european Union, it brings together 28 countries. The attacks shook the city on its foundations, but it won’t get the city and it’s inhabitants down. Art Brussels 2016 is a very clear statement: 140 galleries from all over the world come to Brussels to show their works, to celebrate art. The fair had a relaxed atmosphere and business was being done, although a bit less then expected, according to some dealers.
This pleasant atmosphere was stimulated by it’s surroundings. This year the fair moved to a new location: in the industrial factory halls of Tour&Taxis. The layout is very spacious and every booth has rather large dimensions, allowing the dealers to present their works in the best possible way. A huge difference in comparison with ART ROTTERDAM where the booths looked cramped, almost cluttered. The industrial atmosphere, with the concrete floors, metal beams and bright daylight gives the fair and the art on display, a casual look. The building has a natural charm and the art just added to the whole experience. This charm lacks a building like the MECC, home of TEFAF, and it has to make up for it by adding large quantities of flowers, carpets and lowered ceilings. Nothing like that in Brussel. Art Brussels gives you the idea it’s about enjoying the art, not about selling and making profit. The foodcourt, with trendy food-trucs selling Belgian Fries, Beer and hamburgers, has a stage for karaoke and local music were playing. It was almost an art-festival rather then an art-fair.
Vintage furniture and art
The contemporary loft-like style continues in the decoration of Art Brussels. No sleek furniture like in other fairs, but design classics. And it wasn’t your basic thrift-shop vintage, no, they are true iconic pieces of furniture, designed by Friso Kramer, Rietveld and many others. The Repose chair by Friso Kramer, pictured, is designed in 1960 and made by De Cirkel. It won the
prestigious Signe D’Or award in 1960. As you probably guessed, I’m a big fan of this chair, still on my wish list.. (they are for sale at 1stdibs)
So what was actually being shown at Art Brussels? To me the art was the biggest and very pleasant surprise. The fair is divided in 3 sections: DISCOVERY where the focus is on young, emerging and lesser-known artists with recent work, PRIME where the focus is on established artists from modern to contemporary, and REDISCOVERY, dedicated to art from 1917 to 1987, which presents living or deceased artists that are under-recognised, under-estimated or forgotten. And finally there is a section called SOLO dedicated to the work of one artist, a one man show in the entire stand or in extension of the main stand. Quite an interesting way of grouping the galleries, which worked well. In a separate building was a curated part, showing works from the collection of collector en-masse Jan Hoet.
After digesting all the things I saw, I feel like there are some ‘trends’ to be discovered. First the huge of colour was quite striking. Sounds like kicking in an open door, but a lot of artworks were just bursting with colour. A lot of pastel and neon colours: a combination of Miami Vice and mid-century modern. This is aesthetically related to the current trend in interior and furniture design were pastels are very en vogue as are references to the 1980’s Memphis style.
An other thing that caught my eye was the use of textile as a medium for art, and especially the wall rug. At TEFAF I noticed a interest in the work by Shiela Hicks. This grand Dame of textile art has currently a major retrospective in the TextielMuseum in Tilburg. Following her footsteps, a generation of young artists explores the possibilities of this interesting medium, on the edge of painting, installation and sculpture. Throughout the fair there were multiple examples of this rug-revival to be found. My personal favorite was the piece by Caroline Achaintre. This artist, Toulouse born but living and working in London, makes mesmerizing wall sculptures in hand tufted wool. (and beautiful ceramics!). She is represented by Arcade Gallery London.
Art Brussels 2016 was a pleasant surprise. A beautiful statement of positivity, resilience and togetherness. We need more of that. That is my only critique on the fair: 3 days is way too short!