Art Market

At Art Brussels 2023, Emerging Artists and Rediscovered Masters Shine

Wilson Tarbox
Apr 20, 2023 8:14PM

Installation view of Division of Labour and TJ Boulting’s booth at Art Brussels, 2023. Courtesy of Division of Labour and TJ Boulting.

Art Brussels is a fair much like the city it occupies. Perhaps not as iconic or flashy as Paris, New York, or London, Brussels is, nonetheless, a plucky, punchy European capital that refuses to be passed over or cede its cultural centrality to the European art world.

Two years after the pandemic forced the 55-year-old fair to adopt a clumsy hybrid of online sales and a city-wide gallery crawl, Art Brussels has triumphantly returned to Brussels Expo, also known as the Palace of Exhibitions—an imposing, almost Stalinist, Art Deco tower perched upon the Heysel Plateau, on the northern outskirts of the city. From its sprawling terraced emmarchement, visitors on the doorstep of the fair can look back upon a sweeping vista of the verdant surrounding park with the city’s iconic Atomium looming large in the distance.

The fact that this impressive setting is quickly put out of a visitor’s mind is a testament to the quality and vitality of the works on display inside. This year’s edition presents 152 galleries from 32 countries with more than 800 artists on display. Booths are divided into five unequally sized sections: Prime, Solo, Discovery, Rediscovery, and Artistic Project.

Amelie Bouvier
Potentially Hazardous Portraits #17, 2023
Harlan Levey Projects

The vast majority of exhibitors are in the Prime category, and deliver the familiar formula of presenting a cross-section of works by represented artists. One such example is Harlan Levey Projects, which shows a pair of beautiful works by Marcin Dudek that were burnt, lacerated, and then painstakingly stitched back together with surgical tape. Also on display are a trio of intricate hand-drawn ink works by Amelie Bouvier, a couple of delicate bronze casts of toxic Israeli flora from Ella Littwitz, and a high-tech diptych by Emmanuel Van der Auwera.

This last piece shows an image of what appears to be a military drone strike, thus introducing a surprisingly persistent theme of war and geopolitics that prevails in many booths at the fair.

One example is found at the booth of Budapest-based Ani Molnár Gallery, within a dense composition of blue porcelain plates by Carlos Aires, Telediario VI (2019), which depicts armed soldiers bearing the flags of various countries, homeless people, and grieving war victims.

Another is a grim sculpture by Nicolas Lamas entitled The fall (2021), which presents fragments of a human skull and a wasp’s nest within a desert storm–style tactical military helmet at the Brussels-based gallery Meessen De Clercq. In the same booth, visitors can see Eruption (2021) by Thu Van Tran, a small, delicate porcelain biscuit representing a billowing mushroom cloud.

But for every artwork serving as a reminder of the troubled times that we live in, there are others that demonstrate the ability of contemporary artists to ceaselessly reinvent beauty through beguiling forms that test the limits of the human imagination.

One fine example is found at the joint booth of London-based galleries TJ Boulting and Division of Labour, which present a chromatically harmonious pairing of paintings by Angelina May Davis and soft sculptures by Daisy Collingridge. Both artists present the view with sublime and uncanny imagined worlds. Collingridge’s sculptures and suits, in particular, which resemble exposed fat and musculature made from padding and bright pastel spandex, seem to offer a more immediate and tactile foray into the world of childhood nightmare and fantasy.

Many of the galleries that stand out for their charming and captivating weirdness are to be found in the Discovery section, dedicated to younger and emerging artists. The Paris-based Double V Gallery presents an installation by Alice Guittard, consisting of polychrome marble reliefs depicting lights, candles, cigarettes, and plumes of smoke, hung at various heights set against a dark, chalkboard-like background.

Alice Guittard
Vanessa et les pierres, 2018
Double V Gallery

A little further down the section is a joint booth by the Barcelona-based House of Chappaz and Rotterdam-based JOEY RAMONE, which presents an installation by Spanish artist Anna Moreno. The work consists of black lights revealing abstract motifs on loose canvas hanging on the wall or, in one instance, on a sort of scaffolding made of perforated metal beams like an erector set–cum–deck chair.

A few blocks over, the gallery WHATIFTHEWORLD from Cape Town shows a series of relief sculptures by Chris Soal. These at first glance appear to be masses of centipedes, coral, or algae blooms but are in reality abstractions made up of discarded bottle caps threaded onto electric fencing cable, with burnt and unburnt wooden toothpicks. They are hung alongside a series of beautiful and luminescent mixed-media works by Stephané Edith Conradie that look as if they were made from blown glass.

On the opposite side of the fair, the Rediscovery section serves as a comparatively sedate counterpoint to its vibrant Discovery counterpart and is dedicated to underrated, underestimated, or forgotten 20th-century artists, living or deceased.

Mauro Staccioli
Unitled, 1975
Galleria il Ponte

One standout booth in this section is the Florence-based Galleria il Ponte, which presents a solo exhibition of the work of Mauro Staccioli, a conceptual artist whose esthetic and politics were forged in chaotic and violent Years of Lead period in Italy between the 1960s and ’80s. His small but aggressive sculptures made from concrete and metal are menacing and full of sharp edges. They evoke different devices conceived by businesses and city governments to chase away the homeless, a subject that enraged the artist but also inspired him. These small-scale models of the much larger sculptural “interventions” made for outdoor and indoor exhibitions and public events from 1970 to 1982 are all that remains of the artist’s work.

Indeed, Galleria il Ponte presents viewers with the fruits of a great archival effort to recover what remains of the artist’s legacy and is much indebted to the documentary photography of Enrico Cattaneo, which is also on display. It is a truly remarkable booth for the labor of research that it represents. Works such as these serve as a reminder of the dedication to memory and cutting-edge contemporary creation that make the offerings of Art Brussels, year after year, so unique.

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