No fair does eclecticism quite like BRAFA. Or rather, no fair does eclecticism all under one roof quite like BRAFA. In other cities, accessing the sort of mix on show at the annual Brussels fair requires navigational expertise and a tireless enthusiasm for satellite shows. At BRAFA, it’s possible to wander through a demountable 6-sq-m house by Jean Prouvé taking in 18th century porcelain pitchers and tribal masks from Gabon along the way.
What started as a cosy affair 61 years ago for a coterie of (mainly Belgian) cognoscenti has morphed into an international fair that caters to many. This year, it's bigger than ever – 137 galleries are taking part, of which 21 are new comers. Among them is Galerie le Beau, which presents Scandinavian, Italian and French pieces from the 1940–1970s, laid out in ‘a Haussmann-era Paris apartment’. Stanislas Gokelaere, a French collector and his wife Celine Robinson, a tribal art expert, ‘spotted a gap in the capital for such decorative pieces’ and BRAFA marks their first fair.
For six-month-old Brussels gallery Patinoire Royale, BRAFA was an obvious first fair. ‘It’s local, it’s stable and is puts us in front of a new audience,’ says director Constantin Chariots, who specialises in modern art from the 1980s onwards.
Dealers such as Dierk Dierking, who started selling tribal art in Cologne in 2002, finds that BRAFA ‘allows the opportunity to mix design, art and architecture, in a way other a fairs don’t'. Pointing out the Prouvé house, George Nakashima furniture and 1960s watercolours on show at Dierking, Salis and Landau, he asks: 'Where else would we be able to get (and afford) a 170 sq m stand?’
As to be expected from this antiquarian stalwart, Flemish old masters and 17th century vanitas paintings are in abundance. At Brussels gallery Meessen De Clercq (an Art Basel regular and BRAFA novice), a replica of a Willem Claeszoon Heda still life is the inspiration for a display of works by contemporary artists. But the scarlet scene at Guy Pieters Gallery steals the show; human brains and religious iconography are merged in a series of new marble sculptures by Antwerp artist Jan Fabre. The throngs flocking to the stand hint at BRAFA’s slow but sure contemporary drift.