This town ain’t big enough for both of us: some notes on Art Brussels and Independent Brussels

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So: 25.628 visitors for Art Brussels 2016 – previous editions: 30.836 (2015) and 28.829 (2014) – and 9.000 visitors for that first edition of Independent Brussels (they had hoped for 10.000). But it’s not about those numbers, isn’t it? Other numbers are of a greater importance: did the participating galleries sell enough works of art? While the big question remains  – Is Brussels big enough for two art fairs? – one thing is certain: it’s just too much art to take in, in just a couple of days. I visited both fairs (plus that much smaller Poppositions) and read all the press. Here are a few notes, quotes, pics and conclusions, just as the art world is heading for New York, for Frieze.

+ Most enjoyable art fair experience? Although Art Brussels moved to a much better venue (Tour & Taxis), that prize has to go to Independent Brussels. Beautiful location, nice atmosphere, and just enough booths as to not make you leave with a headache. Art Brussels might have scaled down (141 galleries instead of 191), it’s still too big. But I guess that’s the way it has to be…

+ On the other hand: the variety of works presented at Art Brussels makes for a more enjoyable walk. Independent might be more “edgy”, seeing edgy stuff everywhere tends to make it all a bit dull in the end as well.

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+ Great added bonus for Art Brussels: Cabinet d’Amis, the exhibition with works from the late Jan Hoet’s art collection, in a circular space designed by Richard Venlet. Hoet’s collection really deserves to be shown elsewhere.

+ Winner of the Discovery Prize at Art Brussels was BWA Warszawa. Winners of the Solo Prize were Ester Fleckner (Avlskarl Gallery) and Noémie Goudal (Les Filles du Calvaire). I was particularly enchanted by Goudal’s presentation, after having seen her collaboration with Icelandic choreographer Bára Sigfúsdóttir recently.

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+ Funny how you just need a pink carpet (Le Salon & Almine Rech at Independent) or works in one colour (green; Sorry We’re Closed at Art Brussels) to make your booth stand out and get mentioned in all the overviews. (I understand: just by the sheer number of them, all the booths just tend to look alike, in the end.)

+ Funny also to see how people behave, when they overdose on art. They start taking pictures of all the wrong works.

+ To me the “non profit”-section of Art Brussels looked rather disappointing, this year. I’ve seen stronger presentations. It looked almost like some art school playground.

+ The freestanding works of art in the halls at Art Brussels, such as Johan Creten’s big owl? Drop that. People mostly walked past them, not even noticing them.

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+ Curious to see how it will go with the rivalry: Art Brussels demanded exclusivity from all the galleries this year. Micheline Szwajcer, one of the galleries leaving Art Brussels for Independent, had one my favourite booths, with that surreal looking tiny little roof by Ann Veronica Janssens. Almine Rech was nevertheless present at both fairs. They asked Le Salon to curate a show at Independent.

+ We’ve had several fairs trying to offer a nice alternative to Art Brussels. We’ve seen them come and go. (This year: Off Course and YIA.) It’s nice to see that at least one of them manages to stay: Poppositions. It’s also nice to see that it really offers an alternative option. Once again at an interesting location (La Vallée, near Art Brussels), once again it succeeded in maintaining a sort of loose art school-atmosphere.

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+ Food for thought: this tweet about Independent by oft-quoted Belgian art collector Alain Servais, in response to Utopia Parkway’s tweet about the 9.000 visitors: “Hoping galleries sold enough to give it another shot. Quality was high but Belgian collectors & buyers’ inertia surprised me.” Or as one of the Independent founders, Elizabeth Dee, admitted in The Financial Times: “It’s a big investment.” Take into account this fact: the number of exhibitors at Independent New York was 45, at Independent Brussels 72.

+ Just in case we’re getting too proud about all this, a quote in the New York Times from New Jersey art advisor Clayton Press. “Americans are generally orientated to Art Basel and Frieze and FIAC. They have a perception that most European art fairs are regional events. There’s just so much art available at the moment, and there’s a lot of confusion about price. They’re comfortable with what they know.”

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+ Another quote, by Gerard Faggionato, a partner at mega gallery David Zwirner, also in the NYT: “Belgium needs a good fair, but it was always going to be local, particularly this year.”

+ Want some lists? According to Artnet these were the 10 best booths at Independent and these 10 were the best at Art Brussels. According to Artsy these were the 7 best booths at Art Brussels and these were 6 artists to watch at Independent. Want to know what sold at the fairs? You’ll find more about that here and here.

+ Want to know about the parties & see some people pic’s? Read Artforum’s article here.

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+ It’s not really about the fairs, but nevertheless one of the more interesting interviews I’ve read recently about galleries, fairs and collectors in Belgium: this Artspace interview with Damien Bertelle-Rogier of Super Dakota.

+ The next edition of Art Brussels will be taking place April 21-23, 2017, again at Tour & Taxis. The next edition of Independent Brussels?

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(Title: taken from This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both of Us by Sparks)

 

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