In 1977, Gordon Matta-Clark had his way with a derelict, five-story Antwerp office building, slicing tear-shaped holes in the architecture, cellar to ceiling, in one of the last and most renowned projects before his death (titled “Office Baroque”)—and in 2007, a gallery opened to the Belgian city, sharing its name with the legendary work. In 2013, following the exodus to Brussels, Office Baroque Gallery set up shop in a cast-iron, Art Nouveau building from 1909 in the city’s edgy Dansaert quarter—turning a former brewery into one of the city’s best emerging spaces. As the last decade has lured a wealth of galleries and collectors to Brussels, we spoke with Louis-Philippe Van Eeckhoutte, director of Office Baroque (himself drawn back to Brussels after stints at David Zwirner and Algus Greenspon) about the attraction of the city. From the family brewery-turned-acclaimed contemporary art center, WIELS, which he names a catalyst of the city’s new energy, to affordable rents, to the Le Corbusier-inspired spot where he sips coffee and reads the newspaper, Van Eeckhoutte offers his best of Brussels that—in the lead up to Art Brussels—have us counting down to the city’s contemporary art fair.
Artsy: Can you describe the neighborhood where your gallery is located? Why did you choose to open a space in that particular area—and generally, in Brussels?
Louis-Philippe Van Eeckhoutte: The gallery is located on Bloemenhofplein in downtown Brussels in a 1909 cast iron building by the Brussels architect Paul Hamesse, who was part of the Art Nouveau generation. We moved to Brussels last November because the city has become a very dynamic hub for contemporary art in Europe over the past few years. We chose to locate downtown because that particular part of town is more open and experimental, and attracts younger generations. The Dansaert area has the combination of galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and cafés that have settled there in the last decade, forming a new heart of Brussels.
Artsy: Can you describe the current art scene in Brussels? How does Brussels fit into the larger Belgian art scene?
LVE: The current art scene of Brussels is quickly changing, with galleries relocating from Antwerp and Paris, opening up second spaces or relocating permanently. The presence of a program as relevant and internationally acclaimed as Wiels is one of the driving forces behind the most recent energy in Brussels. As the city is located between London, Paris, and Amsterdam, it draws a public of international collectors that are traveling through Europe. Brussels also exerts a great attraction on artists who find affordable studios here.
Artsy: What are your favorite local haunts in Brussels?
LVE: There are some really great concept stores in the Dansaert area such as Siblings Factory and Hunting and Collecting, which is thematically rearranged every six months. Bar Beton, with its concrete bar—an exact replica of the reception desk at Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation in Marseille—is the perfect place for a morning coffee with a newspaper or evening drinks with friends. At Selecto you can get bistro food with a gastronomic flair and Viva M’Boma serves hefty Belgian classics (sweetbreads, marrowbone, ox cheek) in an elegant space walled in gleaming white tiles like the butcher’s shop it once was.
Artsy: Can you name any must-see events or exhibitions a visitor to Art Brussels should be certain not to miss?
LVE: I’m very excited for Mathew Cerletty’s second solo at the gallery. Other shows that I’m looking forward to see are Richard Aldrich at Dépendance and Marilyn by Philippe Parreno at the Vanhaerents Art Collection. The exhibition on the Spanish master Zurbarán at Bozar is truly extraordinary, with some striking still lifes.
Artsy: Can you give us a brief timeline of your background as a dealer?
LVE: I started as an intern at Office Baroque in the fall of 2010. After internships at David Zwirner and Algus Greenspon in New York, I returned to Office Baroque as a director in the summer of 2011. In 2014 I joined the committee of Brussels Art Days, a September gathering of Brussels galleries openings, gathering together 30 great shows, all around the city.
Artsy: Can you tell us briefly about your Art Brussels booth as a whole?
LVE: In our booth at Art Brussels we will be presenting a selection of works by artists of the gallery: letterpress prints by Matthew Brannon, sculptures by Thomas Gilissen, photographs by Leigh Ledare, wall-based pieces by Michael Rey, foam boards by Davis Rhodes, and drawings by Kyle Thurman. We will also be featuring an installation-based solo presentation by the L.A.-based artist Catharine Ahearn. For our current group show she made homemade lava lamps and for the fair she’s working on monumental sculptures with cutting boards, chess pieces, and Hulk Hands.