Kiss and Make-up

Julian Elias Bronner at the 32nd Art Brussels

Left: Art Brussels director Katerina Gregos. Right: Dealer Elizabeth Dee and artist Gabriele Beveridge. (All photos: Julian Elias Bronner)

THOSE NEW TO THE ART-WORLD CIRCUIT quickly realize that to see is to know: When it comes to objects and the people that travel worldwide to view them, a sense of familiarity arrives from recognizing the same names and faces around the globe. Introductions, handshakes, and the international two-cheek kiss are most often merely phatic formalities. This is especially true in a city like Brussels, where you see the people you know often and can easily point out those you don’t, urging people to get acquainted and fast. Perhaps that’s the reason the one-cheek kiss is customary for the Bruxellois: When leaving one opening for another, is there really any point in making the effort with a second kiss when you’re only going to run into the same person at the next venue and repeat the ritual?

“I’ve only been here for a couple of days, and already I feel that I know half the people in the room,” Brussels newcomer and New York–based dealer Elizabeth Dee told me at Tuesday night’s well-attended opening at nonprofit space CAB. As the VIP opening for Art Brussels was pushed back from Wednesday to Thursday this year and set two weeks after Art Cologne, a higher number of visitors had more opportunities to explore many of the “off” events going on around town. “Out of Character,” the exhibition on view, featured installations by seven artists, each chosen by one collector with whom they collaborated on the project. Surrounding us was Brazilian artist Rodrigo Bueno’s exquisitely presented Brussels Sprouts––an installation spanning both interior and exterior spaces consisting of locally sourced antiques and bric-a-brac, hung from the walls and ceiling, which shared the appearance of being overrun by nature. “Nothing came from Brazil but Rodrigo and his assistant, George,” the collector Sandra Hegedus Mulliez, who was also Bueno’s sponsor, told me. “It’s literally site-specific.”

Left: Dealer Catherine Bastide. Right: Artist Philippe Terrier-Hermann and collector Nathalie Guiot.

Wednesday night, several of us made the twenty-minute drive to Uccle––a fashionable yet residential district of Brussels––for “Textile Languages,” an exhibition organized and selected by French-born collector and textile heiress Nathalie Guiot at her former home. Guiot had first told me about this exhibition in Turin back in November, days before she was set to depart for an extensive tour of studios in Bangalore, Bombay, and Delhi. Her research culminated in a beautiful presentation of seventeen international artists, from Jonathan Monk to Baptist Coelho. Having arrived late, I only had time for one glass of champagne after guests began to leave the expansive garden of the property to make their way to this or that dinner.

While my usual MO at art fairs is to let the works speak for themselves, this time people had more to say. During the nine hours I spent at the fair that day, discussions of summer plans, this or that afterparty, or hotel accommodation in Basel seemed more present on people’s minds. “Will I see you in Hong Kong?” Art Basel director Marc Spiegler asked me excitedly. “I’m flying directly from New York.”

“What a jet-setter!” joked a collector.

“You’re only a jet-setter if you have a private plane,” Spiegler assured him. “It’s called jet lag for the rest of us.”

Left: Barbara Gladstone and gallery director Simone Battisti. Right: Artists Koening van den Broek and John Baldessari.

New this year was “Curator’s View”––five booths at the fair that addressed a thematic proposal. Particularly successful was Sorry We’re Closed Gallery’s “Plaster Mind,” curated by owner Sébastien Janssen, which featured works from artists as varied as Hans Arp to Allan McCollum. Nearby, Meessen de Clercq celebrated its fifth year since the opening of the galley by offering a discount of €555.55 to a few lucky collectors. While the consensus was that quality was good overall, some attendees found themselves wanting more of the new. They came closest in the FIRST section, an area of sixteen younger galleries invited by the fair and given prominence at the entrance of Hall 3. Works by Isabelle Cornaro at Hannah Hoffman; Julian Charrière at Dittrich & Schlechtriem; Petr Davydtchenko at Harlan Levey; and Emilie Ding at Samy Abraham, among others, were “unusual suspects”––as the fair’s director, Katerina Gregos, told me––for many Belgian collectors. Awards were also given to Office Baroque for its solo booth of Catherine Ahearn and to Jousse Entreprise for best booth in general. Yet Bugada & Cargnel’s booth—showcasing artists Wilfred Almendra, Étienne Chambaud, Adrien Missika, Nico Vascellari, and Charrière—was unofficially nominated by art adviser Gregory Lang for the latter prize. “The theme is ‘tropicalism’,” Frédéric Bugada told me, gesturing toward a work by Vascellari consisting of painted, torn, and layered magazine pages arranged as to evoke strata of bark––restoring the paper back to some semblance of a former natural state.

Left: Artist Rodrigo Bueno and his assistant George. Right: Collector Sandra Mulliez Hegedus (left).

Everyone met up again the next day following the fair for the inaugural opening at new art space MonCHÉRI, co-owned by Paris-based art dealers Frédérique and Philippe Valentin (of Galerie Chez Valentin) and Jeanroch Dard (of the eponymous gallery). “The three of us were drunk one night in Torino and we were eating those little Mon Chéri chocolates––you know, they’re actually not that good––and the idea to open this space came into our heads,” Dard told me. And what better city than the capital of chocolate? If their first exhibition, “Yeah and Look Where It Got Us,” tells us anything, it’s that intoxication and insight sometimes go hand in hand.

An hour later, we arrived downtown at Galerie Greta Meert’s dinner for the joint exhibitions of John Baldessari and Edith Dekyndt. Downstairs, fifteen paintings from Baldessari’s “Take ( ) / Scene ( )” series consists of “clichés” from old black-and-white Hollywood films which the artist “reinvests” with new life by pairing them with excerpts from an invented script and painting color accents on the original image to add symbolic value. “Art is a buffet table, not unlike tonight’s dinner,” the eighty-two-year-old artist told me. “Nothing is forced: You take what you want and you leave the rest.”

Left: Simon de Pury. Right: Lawyer Luc Saucier and Serpentine Gallery codirector Hans Ulrich Obrist.

Since it’s no secret that most fair frequenters prefer to take in art with a few cocktails to wash it down, private parties (such as chez Samir & Florence Sabet d’Acre on Friday night; art dealer Charles-Antoine Bodson’s birthday on Saturday) and pop-up parties (such as the one organized by independent curator Anissa Touati and artist Tjorg Douglas Beer with Le Baron DJ Samuel to celebrate their group exhibition “Stalactica”; or the Catclub Party the night after) left some––without naming names––searching for cabs at daybreak. However, the week ended softly on Sunday with a sushi party at French collector Agnès Rein’s home attended by collector Herman Daled, Wiels Contemporary Art Center curator Dirk Snauwaert, and artists Franz Erhard Walther and Akram Zaatari––both of whom currently have shows at Wiels. Running on little sleep, I left early without saying goodbye to most, a social faux pas analogous, perhaps, to attending Art Brussels week itself––or, as one friend later put it, much like your mother-in-law’s birthday: You shouldn’t miss it, but you’ll be forgiven the next time around if you do.

Left: Office Baroque’s Louis-Philippe Eckhoutte, Marie Denkens, and Wim Peeters. Right: Artists Tjorg Douglas Beer and Kees Visser with art adviser Vincent Matthu.

Left: Artist Donna Huanca. Right: Dealers Philippe and Frédérique Valentin.

Left: Centre Pompidou director Bernard Blistène and dealer Natalie Seroussi. Right: Wiels Contemporary Art Center director Dirk Snauwaert, Kunsthalle Basel director Elena Filipovic, and Dépendance’s Michael Callies.

Left: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen curator Francesco Stocchi and dealer Frédéric Bugada. Right: Dealers Stéphanie and Sébastien Janssen with Sorry We’re Closed Gallery’s Emilie Pischedda.

Left: Collector Bernard Soens and Stedelijk Museum director Beatrix Ruf. Right: Collectors Florence Sabet d'Acre, Walter Vanhaerents, Frédéric de Goldschmidt, and Filiep Libeert.

Left: Dealers Greta Meert and son Frédéric Mariën. Right: Artist Gregor Hildebrandt.

Left: Artist Julian Charrière and MUMOK curator Katherina Schendl. Right: Artist Thu Van Tran, collector Agnès Rein, and artist Eric Baudart.

Left: Dealer Hannah Hoffman and art adviser Sacha Zerbib. Right: Artist Sophie Giraux and art consultant Patrick Letovsky.

Left: D+T’s Grégory Thirion. Right: Collector Mimi Dusselier, artist Pierre Bismuth, collector Bernard Soens, and artist Manu Engelen.

Left: Art adviser Gregory Lang and collector François Blanc. Right: Artist Baptist Coelho and curator Julia Marchand.

Left: Collector Anita Zabludowicz. Right: Artist Akram Zaatari, collector Herman Daled, and artist Franz Erhard Walther.