Art Brussels’ 34th edition signaled something of a turning point – a deepening of the contemporary art fair’s distinctive character, brought about by the move to Tour & Taxis, a former customs warehouse, and the decision to reduce the size of the fair by 50 galleries, down to 141. This resulted in renewed, respectful viewing conditions that allowed northern light to flow into the Tom Postma-designed space.
But departing artistic director Katerina Gregos and managing director Anne Vierstraete also streamlined the fair’s offering in terms of content by increasing the proportion of galleries in the ‘Discovery’ section. 'Most fairs place blue chip galleries at the entrance,' said Vierstraete. 'We turn things around: the first thing you experience is the experimental, young artists with work produced between 2013 and 2016; artists who haven’t reached the international market yet.'
Art Brussels steered the conversation even more towards the discovery of exciting talent by adding a new section, ‘Rediscovery’, in which a number of artists from the historical avant-garde were identified, that had previously been overlooked or forgotten. Standout presentations included Galerie Daniel Templon’s focus on the American Jules Olitski, whose early spray painting technique explored the disembodiment of colour. The work of Japanese Yuko Nasaka at Axel Vervoordt had a similar subdued quality that, with its references to the moon, was almost mystical in execution.
Twenty-four galleries participated in the 'Solo' section this year. Sammy Baloji, the Congolese artist who represented Belgium in Venice last year, stood out with a visceral installation that combined geometrical patterns on skin and copper with performance.
'Quixotic', a word Gregos used to describe the fair, could also be applied to ‘Cabinet d’Amis: The Accidental Collection of Jan Hoet’, a selection of 200 works from the legendarily idiosyncratic Ghent curator who passed away in 2014. Shown in a diorama designed by Richard Venlet, it surrounded the viewer with art much in the same way Hoet immersed himself in the world of the artists he championed. 'The social aspect of art predominated for him,' reminisces his son, Jan Hoet Jr. 'Though part of these works was acquired, he never had the ambition to become an art collector. He simply busied himself with art. The artists, to him, were more important than their finished products.'
That attitude can be extrapolated to Art Brussels as a place that attracts collectors who are not just interested in acquiring art for monetary value, but who enjoy what this fair does best: bolstering discovery.