Strange Brew


Left: Curator Anne Pontégnie and Gagosian's Serena Cattaneo Adorno. Right: Artist Mike Kelley. (All photos: Nicolas Trembley)

Last Thursday evening marked the first time that all three floors of Brussels’s new Wiels Centre for Contemporary Art, two floors of which had been inaugurated last year, would be open. The occasion was Mike Kelley’s first retrospective in Belgium, a confluence of exciting events that led Herman Daled, the museum’s president and an avid collector himself, to announce in his opening speech: “Wiels is born tonight.” Housed in the former buildings of the historic Wielemans-Ceuppens breweries, designed in 1930 by architect Adrien Bloome, the museum is for this show plunged into darkness, Kelley having requested that all the windows be covered. “I’m not an Impressionist,” the artist said. “I don’t need daylight.”

The exhibition, “Educational Complex Onwards: 1995–2008,” borrows its title from one of Kelley’s more famous works: a large-scale model, first shown at Metro Pictures in 1995, that represents the various schools the artist has attended. Many of the exhibited pieces revolve around the author’s themes of autobiography and memory and, according to Anne Pontégnie, the show’s curator, “succeed and respond to one another like episodes in a serial, allowing us to understand the internal development that characterizes the last two decades of Kelley’s works.” On the third floor, “Day Is Done,” a series of video installations based on photographs found in high school yearbooks that was presented two years ago at Gagosian’s branch in Chelsea, New York, was partially reproduced and provided something of a grand finale.

Gagosian had invited about eighty people to that night's exhibition preview and subsequent dinner at the breweries. I asked Pontégnie why she thought opinion concerning Kelley was so effusive, and she deduced it was because he was one of the first artists of his generation to say no to Minimalist aesthetics and, in the process, to work with unusual materials.

Left: Dealer Catherine Bastide and Museion director Corrine Diserens. Right: Wiels president Herman Daled.

“Where’s Mike?” was undoubtedly the question heard most throughout the evening. Mike was indeed there, talking with dealers like Ghislaine Hussenot and with representatives of international institutions who had made the trip to Brussels, including Nicholas Serota of the Tate; Ralph Rugoff of London’s Hayward Gallery; Kasper König of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne; Corinne Diserens, director of the Museion in Bolzano, Italy, which will open in May; Xavier Douroux of the Consortium in Dijon; and Dirk Snauwaert, Wiels director. Most of the works came from private collections—including that of François Pinault (who was absent that night)—with a minority coming from Belgium itself. Still, given the venue, it was hardly surprising that so many Belgian collectors were milling about: Anton and Annick Herbert, Sylvie Winckler, Filiep Libeert, and Bruno Van Lierde (who is building a center for his collection), to name a few.

At the dinner, in the magnificent ceremonial hall of the restaurant located in Brussels’s famous Grande Place, the panic caused by the seating arrangement was quickly resolved when everyone decided to sit wherever they liked. I found myself next to artists William Pope.L, whose show was opening the following day at the Galerie Catherine Bastide, and Pierre Bismuth, who had just come back from a residency in Oslo at Marta Kuzma’s Office for Contemporary Art Norway. Other artists present included Lee Ufan, who was accompanying dealer Micheline Szwajcer, and painter (and Wiels board member) Luc Tuymans.

The evening was relaxed, as everyone chatted over foie gras and an assortment of white fish, with frequent smoke breaks on the terrace. Kelley toasted Pontégnie, noting that he “did it for her,” and everyone applauded. Some decided to leave for one last drink at the famous artist-friendly bar L’Archiduc, but no one seemed set to stay out late, since Friday’s party was expected to attract 700 guests. It would have been 701, but unfortunately, I had to be back in Paris.

Left: Collector Annick Herbert. Right: Artist Luc Tuymans.

Left: Curator Stéphanie Moisdon and Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff. Right: Museum Ludwig director Kasper König.

Left: Artist William Pope.L. Right: Xavier Douroux, director of the Consortium in Dijon.

Left: Dealer Ghislaine Hussenot. Right: Marta Kuzma, director of the Office of Contemporary Art Norway.

Left: Collector Sylvie Winckler with Herman Daled. Right: Tate director Nicholas Serota.