Art Brussels opens today for its 50th consecutive year—the most institutionalized gathering of contemporary art available in the Belgian capital.
Since the city has no native contemporary or modern art museums, Art Brussels tends to fill the void, even if only for a few days, by inviting international and local galleries to display their best work a la Art Basel. This fair, however, is much smaller and while it lacks the star power of bold-faced names like Jeff Koons, it leaves room for newcomers and diverse young talent. Out of the 759 artists on view, 93 percent are living, and 30 percent are under 40 years old. The space is divided into galleries displaying a presentation of mixed artists, a solo show or installation for one established artist, or a discovery booth that supports emerging international artists relatively unknown to Europe.
For the 50th anniversary, Elena Sorokina also curated an artistic project examining the concept of possession in art: does translated text belong to the writer or the translator, at what point does a historically important work of art become public cultural property? It’s a meta question to be posed at a fair, where the bottomline goal means facilitating the transfer of ownership between artist, gallery, and buyer, and not one that’s easy to answer when considered in the context of intellectual property—something to see certainly if you’re heading to Art Brussels, and so are these 10 things!
Frog King (above)
The most bumpin’ solo booth at Art Brussels has to be that of conceptual artist Kwok Mang Ho, better known by the moniker “Frog King.” One side of the installation is a wild ride of calligraphic graffiti, written in both Cantonese and English, covered in his signature cartoon frog logo, frog-eyed bras hanging from a ribbon. The other side of 10 Chancery Lane gallery’s presentation is a rather calming contrast of the King’s ink-on-paper pieces that are far less extra.
Seventy-nine-year-old painter and photographer Darío Villalba is celebrated in a “Rediscovery” booth that spans over decades of his career. The retrospective features one of Villalba’s Encapsolados—a photograph encapsulated in a clear, sculptural form—as well as his meditative photos as paintings, and a 1993 photo on canvas, The Kiss.
The ceramic vases of Johannes Nagel are beautiful, but the sand-bathed porcelain pieces are otherworldly. These untitled vessels are meant to explore projected functionality, as in can an object find purpose outside of what it was built to do? Through the lens of this German artist’s work, presented by NewArtCentre, it certainly can.
A gem among the Discoveries is Nandita Kumar, displayed by Felix Frachon gallery. Her works are always an interesting combination of science, art, and technology and here, Kumar uses PCB boards, raspberry pis and various sensors to create interactive biospheres aimed at raising awareness about sustainability and the natural world. The visual component is not sacrificed however—her PCB board printing and painting techniques turn these research-facilitated inventions into intricate sculptures.
This solo installation stood out for its performative aspect, wherein sculptor/performer Alice Anderson and her assistants were continuing to build wire sculptures live at the fair. Using Anderson’s own wire weaving techniques, the moving bodies also work toward a thematic exploration of how flesh-and-bone humans relate to an increasingly digital world.
Ieri Ikebana by Alessandro Piangiamore
Flowers die quickly, but not at the hands of Italian artist Alessandro Piangiamore, who is known to utilize natural elements—seashells, coral, a puddle of rainwater—in his sculptural work. For Ieri Ikebana, Piangiamore poured concrete over a flower bouquet to create this meditative piece. The result is an archaeological trace of nature’s fleeting wonders. It’s nearly impossible to stop staring. Find it at the Irène Laub booth.
E-Witness by El Anatsui
The 74-year-old Ghanaian sculptor is renowned for creating powerful visuals out of ordinary objects. One of his drape sculptures, E- Witness, hangs at the Axel Vervoordt gallery’s mixed display. The conglomerate of aluminum, roofing sheets, bottle tops, and wires draws awe when seen in full, massive context.
My Secret Rose Garden by Arne Quinze
Stationed toward the entrance of the fair, this mixed media piece is a standout at Maruani Mercier’s booth, commanding attention any time you’re within eyeshot. The vibrant acrylics draw a viewer in to be further hypnotized by a seemingly endless vortex of roses. It’s the most recent work in a series of garden paintings by 46-year-old Belgian artist Arne Quinze, whose large-scale architectural installations have graced public spaces across the world.
Yesmine Ben Khelil
Born in Tunisia, Yesmine Ben Khelil often uses her native country as a reference point for her drawings and collages. In Portraits Meteoriques, the young artist explores how the internet facilitates a flow of information, as well as the role of oppressive governments in hindering that flow, or changing the narrative. Another incredible Discovery artist, Khelil’s work is presented by AGorgi gallery.
Painted Ladies by Valérie Belin
Portraits from French photographer Valérie Belin’s Painted Ladies series are featured in Nathalie Obadia gallery’s booth. Makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench actually decorated the face of each agency model with painting-like features, Belin photographed the women in this liminal state, always looking away from the camera, blurring the boundary between what is digital and what is real.
ART BRUSSELS RUNS TODAY THROUGH SUNDAY, APRIL 22.