“Art Brussels is a cool fair, very ‘Belgian,’ in the sense that it is unpretentious and friendly,” says Rodolphe Janssen, who can claim veteran status, having participated in the fair some fifteen times. Fast on the heels of a booth at Art Dubai, Janssen brings a selection of his impressive and eclectic roster of artists to this year’s Art Brussels, one of the oldest fairs in Europe. A stalwart of the uptown Brussels art scene, Janssen shows emerging artists from Europe and the U.S., though his stable includes a slew of hot up-and-comers and mid-career names; among them are Betty Tompkins, best known for her “Fuck Paintings”; Walead Beshty, who, in his camera-less photography and projects, approaches objects as relics and records of experience; Sam Moyer, with her textural, tactile compositions composed of manipulated and repurposed materials; and Banks Violette, whose bold, contemporary gothic installations have included dismembered sound equipment, salt- and resin-covered church frames, and tanks of nitrogen. Always one to keep his finger on the pulse, Janssen has also hosted Brooklyn’s artist-run organization The Still House Group in the Brussels gallery.
Despite keeping an eye cast west toward the U.S. art market, Janssen is steadfast in his commitment to the Belgian city that has been home to his eponymous gallery for over 20 years. “I opened my gallery in uptown Brussels in 1991, and I was close to the most important galleries of the 1980s, including Brachot, Guimiot, and Ficheroulle,” he explains. “They all closed soon after that and new, young galleries moved downtown. I kept my space uptown, so did Xavier Hufkens, and for the past 10 years we have seen most of the galleries relocating in our area—Almine Rech, Albert Baronian, Nathalie Obadia, Daniel Templon, Messendeclercq, Barbara Gladstone—and this year it is Jan Mot, Catherine Bastide, and Micheline Szwajcer who are moving from Antwerp, Paris, or just downtown to uptown. Being the oldest uptown galleries, Hufkens and I opened second spaces last year, at walking distance from our first spaces.”
The gallery’s firm European roots are frequently reflected in its exhibitions and art fair presentations; next week, Janssen opens an exhibition in his main space by the twin Romanian brothers Gert and Uwe Tobias, whose drawings and woodcuts are mashups of pop culture and Romanian folklore, including Count Dracula, national handicrafts, and peasant humor. At Art Brussels, Janssen will place emphasis on the work of the 55-year-old German artist Jurgen Drescher, who Janssen describes as experiencing something of a “revival,” and who will have a solo show in Galerie Rodolphe Janssen later this year. The gallerist also keeps a close watch on the art world in his own backyard, Belgium. “A new generation of younger artists (Belgians, as well as a lot of foreigners) and curators are living in Brussels because of its location in the center of Europe,” he says. “Brussels now has the largest group of collectors; Gent and Kortrijk used to be the main collector cities in the ’90s. New, important French collectors have arrived in addition to the traditional Brussels-based collectors, as well as Flemish gallerists opening spaces here.”