How Brussels is Capturing the Hearts of European Dealers, According to Simon Christopher
Last June, London dealer Simon Christopher, founder of Christopher Crescent, moved his gallery from the British epicenter to the Belgian capital. Though then considered a somewhat unusual move, his decision is now becoming more apparent—a city quickly and quietly becoming a major art destination, supported not only by its bevy of well-off collectors but now a hotbed of established and emerging galleries. We spoke with Christopher about the move, the burgeoning city, and his exhibition on view during Brussels Art Days gallery weekend.
The move to Brussels came about primarily because I was very keen to get back into a brick-and-mortar space after the previous two years spent nomadically between various cities. The gallery had been operating out of London, but for various reasons, my criteria for property weren’t reached there, and I took to looking further into property in Europe. I knew a bit about Brussels anyway, but homed in on it after a few recesses, which allowed me to start to scratch the surface a bit more, with the help of some established galleries already there. The agreeable pace of life here was the first thing I noticed, and when you consider its great location from which to take in a lot of the continent, along with a network of galleries and a strong tradition of collecting, the pros stack up for the city. I’d also been in discussions with a potential new French-speaking partner in the gallery, and the location was key to that consolidating. As far as deciding upon Ixelles, it was pretty much down to convenience—to be a new face on an established art route. The aforementioned pace of the city is reflected well in our neighborhood, and outside of working hours, it’s possible to spend (too) many hours at various cafes and restaurants if people-watching is one’s want!
I’m still pretty new here, and I haven’t felt obliged to make too much noise. You know, I think its good just to settle in, do the good work, and trust the audience will find you out. Of course, Art Days will help with visibility no end, and I’m really looking forward to beginning conversations with what I hope will be our a longer-term audience. It’s such a great initiative, with really sound intentions. There’s a talk within the program titled “How to transform Brussels into the European capital of contemporary art within five years time.” It’s an incredibly positive and considerate attitude, and it engenders the sense that the interested parties here want to work together to make the city realize what seems to be its enormous potential. London, Berlin, Cologne, and Paris—they all have an identity as an art center in one form or another. I think Brussels is still finding its own, or at least an adaptation of what of it currently has. And of course that can only come from the people that make up the community. I believe it starts from the bottom up, and I do see a good level of organization and criticality amongst the project spaces. Take Komplot, for example, which is really an institution. The dedication to serious programing is totally admirable.
In terms of our program in Brussels, I hope that we might be able offer an international eye on things, and certainly plan to continue to show artists for the first time in the city. It will take me some time to connect with the local protagonists—we have time—so no need to rush into artist relationships. All my existing relationships have been built up over years, and I see no reason to be different here. The first few shows are two- and three-person affairs, something broad to give a flavor of things, but we plan to commence solo projects sometime in the new year. I feel it’s a transitional period for the gallery, so all in all I guess we’re not playing our full hand just yet.
The show to coincide with Art Days is a two-person project with Dan Shaw-Town and Nestor Sanmiguel Diest, two artists that, for want of a kinder description, have varying years under their respective belts. I’ve worked with Dan since the gallery started, so I’ve seen the practice really evolve. He’s an artist that never stops investigating. Be it a new way to transfer information from a newspaper to his grounds, or a new material he has found in the hardware store. Nestor, on the other hand, is an artist I’ve only gotten to know in the last 12–18 months. He’s been exhibiting since the ’70s, chiefly in Spain, and has a wealth of institutional visibility there, but has yet to breakout further throughout the continent. Both of their practices are built upon solid and trusted foundations, made up of familiarity with medium, technique, and motif. The labor and elbow grease put into Dan’s production give a sculptural characteristic to the works, whereas Nestor instead creates these palimpsest-like pieces that are the sum of many, many hours of fine mark-making, and which can tend to verge on Op Art. So as well as being at opposite ends of an age spectrum, there is also an antithesis in their methods. I think it will make for quite a vivacious show.
— As told to Marina Cashdan & Max Schreier
“Nestor Sanmiguel Diest & Dan Shaw-Town” is on view at Christopher Crescent, Brussels, Sept. 13–Oct. 11, 2014.