Art Brussels was founded by 11 contemporary art dealers in 1968 as 'Foire d’Art Actuel' (Contemporary Art Market) in the basements under a commercial shopping gallery. Among the founding dealers was Stéphane Janssen whose two sons participate in Art Brussels today: Rodolphe Janssen, a member of the fair’s international selection committee, has an eponymous gallery and his younger brother Sébastien owns Sorry We’re Closed.
After initially being held every two years, the fair was held annually from 1997, when it was renamed Art Brussels following its acquisition by Easyfairs. This makes Art Brussels the second oldest fair in Europe after Art Cologne (with which its dates clashed this year), but its golden anniversary was only its 36th edition.
Asked about the longevity of the fair, its managing director Anne Vierstraete says, “Belgium’s rich and vibrant contemporary art scene has built on a tradition of collecting that distinguishes Belgium as a country. It is said to have one of the highest number of collectors per capita in the world. Belgian collectors are known for their engaged approach and penchant for risk-taking in their collecting."
To pay tribute to this, nearly a third of galleries in this edition were Belgian, up from 18% of exhibitors last year. Strong features of the fair were the 22 solo presentations and the Discovery section.
Nicolas Party, presented by Xavier Hufkens – who has been exhibiting at Art Brussels since 1989, won the Solo prize for his chapel-like installation. An exterior painted in brown and white scallop shapes, representing architectural tiles, leads into a deep blue interior adorned with three of Party's brightly coloured landscape paintings. It was a taster of the 38-year-old Swiss artist's oeuvre, ahead of his current exhibition at the Musée Magritte in Brussels, from 23 May – 18 November 2018.
Another strong Solo presentation was Alice Anderson's performance project, 'Nuhé', where several young performers endlessly wove copper-coloured steel threads round poles, creating totemistic sculptures in the space. The piece was inspired by how John Cage worked with objects and by the structural elements of a mountainous Kogi temple in Colombia. The Anglo-French artist had her first exhibition in Brussels earlier this year at La Patinoire Royale – Galerie Valérie Bach, which showed her work at the fair.
Choi & Lager (Cologne/Seoul) showcased the French artist Daniel Firman. The three painted bronze figurative sculptures on plinths, titled ‘Saisir l’impossible (cutting)’, each represents the body of a dancer which was scanned twice. Firman composed his sculptures from combining parts derived from the two scans, like a figurative positive-negative capturing the dancer's movements frozen at two separate moments.
At Shulamit Nazarian (Los Angeles), Summer Wheat's mesmerising paintings, created by allowing acrylic paint to ooze through a fine wire mesh, made a buzz, with many visitors wondering if the works were tapestries. The American artist's approach to rendering a procession of people carrying their belongings against a starry night sky, as if they have emerged through the surface, somehow loosely resonates with Belgium's history in tapestry-making.
The next edition of Art Brussels is 25-28 April 2019.