Brussels has gained a reputation as “the next Berlin” and “Europe’s best-kept secret”, thanks to a combination of low rents and a high number of art collectors. But as Brussels Gallery Weekend kicked-started the international art season on Thursday (8 September), international collectors and curators largely stayed away and some local galleries opted out of the official programme (which charges €2,700).
The event is “having a bit of a slow start”, says the Brussels-based collector Alain Servais, who is part of Gallery Weekend’s ambassador program tasked with attracting collectors. The event’s strategy this year was to focus on bringing young collectors in their 40s instead of household names whose schedules might already be full. But only 11 international collectors accepted the official invitation from Gallery Weekend.
“The art scene [in Brussels] is remarkable but Gallery Weekend remains quite local,” Servais says. Part of the problem, he believes, is a “lack of ambition” compared with equivalent events in Berlin and Amsterdam.
Although international artists have played an important role in the vitality of the local scene, they may find it hard to move to the city because unlike Germany, Belgium does not issue artist visas, according to the US artist Haseeb Ahmed. His exhibition Wird is on show at Harlan Levey Projects. European artists may find it easier to move to the Belgian capital “but the tax system is a nightmare for lower income brackets,” he says. On the upside, what makes Brussels an attractive art scene is that “Belgians of all incomes find it natural to collect art”, he says. Two of Ahmed’s 3D-printed sculptures sold to a Belgian neuroscientist during the exhibition’s opening night.
Nevertheless, the four-day event, which saw 31 gallery openings across the city, included numerous standout shows. Among them was Galerie Templon’s presentation of Gregory Crewdson’s latest series of eerily composed photographs (Cathedral of the Pines, until 29 October). An exceptional non-commercial show, Décor, saw collectors flocking to the Boghossian Foundation’s majestic art deco home Villa Emplain. Curated by the institution’s artistic director Asad Raza, the artist Tino Seghal and the art historian Dorothea von Hantelmann, the exhibition aims to create dialogue between Eastern and Western cultures. The show features in situ installations by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Daniel Buren. Works by Jorge Pardo and Philippe Parreno in the show incorporated household objects such as hanging light fixtures and electric outlet adapters (until 29 January 2017).