Five Collectors Band Together to Dispel Speculative Market for Emerging Art

For its fifth edition, experimental Brussels-based fair, POPPOSITIONS, has turned the tables on the collectors who typically populate art fair aisles. While a strong contingent of galleries still make up the selling portion of the affair, POPPOSITIONS also tapped five top-notch Belgian collectors to present “Do you have ‘barbaric taste’?” a selection of recent acquisitions over 600 square meters of exhibition space.

  • Maanantai Collective, Canning the Mist & Canned Mist, 2012, courtesy Private Collection, Belgium

    Maanantai Collective, Canning the Mist & Canned Mist, 2012, courtesy Private Collection, Belgium

POPPOSITIONS is a young, international fair, based in an old post office building and focusing on 40 young galleries, nonprofit and artist-run spaces, and curatorial initiatives. Liv Vaisberg founded the fair four years ago to run alongside Art Brussels. “We are positioning ourselves as an ongoing critical discourse of the fair model—recognizing it as a necessary evil. We want to show that we can experiment on the art economy outside the prevailing art market models,” she explains.

The show, which takes place over an entire floor of the fair, includes 800 works lent by five major collectors—Galila Hollander, Benoît du Roy, Frédéric de Goldschmidt, Cédric and Cookie Liénart van Lidth de Jeude, and Alain Servais. All the pieces on display have been acquired in the last 10 years and cost under 8,000 euros each. The exhibition itself is being curated not by the collectors but by the outside team of Les Commissaires Anonymes and Nicolas de Ribou, who oversees Servais’s personal collection.

  • Lucas Jardin, Augmn, 2014, and Andy Boot, Untitled (Black), 2012, courtesy Private Collection, Belgium

    Lucas Jardin, Augmn, 2014, and Andy Boot, Untitled (Black), 2012, courtesy Private Collection, Belgium

“The Belgian collecting scene favors sharing and cooperation rather than competition,” Servais points out. “Many collectors and particularly those five involved are often visiting each other, discussing their acquisitions and sharing information.” Servais and de Goldschmidt have been supporters of the fair since its second edition. When they discovered POPPOSITIONS had spare space in its 2015 edition, they proposed the concept of a self-financed exhibition and invited the others to take part.

“I am convinced that today is a time where a huge gap has opened up between the cultural and the monetary value of work, with a part of the art market trying to convince new buyers that what is expensive is relevant culturally,” Servais notes. There is often a notable distance between the works being chased by the market that would fit into a more saleable space and the more challenging pieces that are praised by critics and institutions—especially with younger artists.

  • Yarisal & Kublitz, Domestication, 2009, and Boris Dennler, Heater chair, 2011, courtesy Private Collection, Belgium

    Yarisal & Kublitz, Domestication, 2009, and Boris Dennler, Heater chair, 2011, courtesy Private Collection, Belgium

The choice of works on display was made on instinct rather than names. “The approach we chose for the selection was to exercise, as well, our barbaric taste. We tried to choose artworks without knowing anything about them, about the artists who made them,” de Ribou highlights. “We made an instinctive first selection based on the appearance of the artworks. Everything is in the hanging and the scenography.” What this looks like has been a surprise—even the collectors do not know the final line-up.

De Goldschmidt is looking forward to seeing how his works sit in dialogue with other collectors’ pieces—as well as to rediscovering pieces forgotten in storage. “This idea is to show that there are great pieces available at reasonable prices if you like to go beyond the main galleries and fairs to look for them. Emerging artists, unless or before they’ve been taken over by the market, need to be priced reasonably.” He emphasizes how friendships with and support for artists has continued among his four fellow collectors and notes that he engages with artists’ practices over a period of years, rather than on the whim of speculation or fashion.

  • Rafal Bujnowski, Coffee Stain, 2002, and Lode Geens, Hek, 2009, courtesy Private Collection, Belgium

    Rafal Bujnowski, Coffee Stain, 2002, and Lode Geens, Hek, 2009, courtesy Private Collection, Belgium

The role of the collector here is interesting. Servais sees a Europe, which in the grip of austerity cuts is (sadly) moving more in line with the U.S., where the effective privatization of culture is normal. As de Goldschmidt notes, “In countries such as Belgium with little state support for the arts, contemporary artists would not be able to get recognition and exposure without collectors.” Yet the breadth of taste and conversation within this project emphasizes a desire for creative collecting and new, outside-the-box ways to financially support the art world.

—Francesca Gavin

POPPOSITIONS runs April 24–27, 2015, Canal Wharf, Brussels.