Art Brussels, the annual fair taking place this year from April 25 to April 28 in the Belgian capital’s Tour & Taxis building, has gained the reputation of being somewhat of a discovery fair for emerging talent. Since its inception in 1968, Art Brussels has established itself as a platform for young artists to gain visibility at the international level, possible in large part because of Belgian collectors’ keenness to purchase early in an artist’s career.
Recognizing how challenging the contemporary market is for mid-tier and smaller galleries, particularly at the international level, Art Brussels stands out as one of the few major fairs that makes it possible for medium and small galleries to take a chance on showing young, lesser-known, and often lower-priced artists without risking major financial loss.
“Younger galleries that represent young artists are absolutely essential for the dynamism and for keeping the contemporary art market alive,” Art Brussels director Anne Vierstraete told Observer. “Galleries take big risks when deciding to represent emerging artists, so it’s important for fairs like us to promote this on an international scale.”
In stark contrast to the gigantism that dominates the art-fair industrial complex, Art Brussels boasts that of the 800 artists represented this year, 90 percent are alive and nearly a third under the age of 40. The DNA of the fair, Vierstraete said, is geared in large part to the “daring and curious nature of Belgian collectors” and the quickly evolving changes of the art market.
For its 37th edition, the contemporary fair will present 148 exhibitors in three different sections: “Discovery,” dedicated to galleries who actively support emerging international artists; “Rediscovery,” devoted to underrecognized or forgotten artists from the 20th century; and the slightly more traditional “Prime,” with a focus on mid-career and established artists. In the additional “Solo” presentations, 23 galleries are invited to provide a stand-alone showcase of the work of a single artist.
In response to the rapidly evolving fair landscape and contemporary market more widely, this year’s edition of Art Brussels will also see the launch of “Invited,” a new section of the fair that attempts to incorporate the increasing number of galleries and art spaces that eschew the traditional gallery model. “The section will comprise nine younger generation galleries who have not yet participated in the fair and who are given a total carte blanche,” Vierstraete said.
Among the nine mostly European invited galleries is La Maison de Rendez-Vous, a Brussels-based space shared by four different galleries from Prishtina, Mexico City, Tokyo and Los Angeles. Ballon Rouge Collective, another participating space with an unconventional format, is an itinerant gallery that hosts exhibitions across Europe, the U.S. and Latin America. For Art Brussels, they will be showing the work of Turkish artist Merve Iseri and Lille-based Philip Janssens.
Other participants include Paid by the Artist, an Antwerp-based space founded on a gallery model that adapts and changes for each exhibition project, and Counter Space Zurich, who will be showing, among other works, a performance piece by Anne Rochat in which she presses her naked body against a block of ice. The rest of the galleries, if with more traditional exhibition formats, are equally committed to keeping with the fair’s longstanding history of championing young and innovative work.
As the Belgian capital’s contemporary art scene grows, Art Brussels sets a strong precedent for other international fairs to break with traditional formats.
“As galleries are adapting,” Vierstraete said, “fairs must do the same.”
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