Art Brussels opened its doors to the public last Friday for its 35th edition and it counted a total of 660 artists presented by a total of 145 galleries. In comparison to uber-fairs such as Art Basel, this number might seem small, but fair director Anne Vierstraete made clear that the decision to limit the number of artists was a conscious one, pointing towards the identification as a discovery fair. By limiting the amount of artists to be shown per square metre, the fair allowed for galleries to put more focus on single artists and to give a more well-rounded and curated overview of their works. In contrast to venues crammed with Koons and Murakami, Art Brussels feels quite fresh and airy. A total of 18 artists are being exhibited in solo booths that, at best, really do give off the vibe of a miniature solo exhibitions. Additionally, a total of 30 galleries were given the chance to display works by emerging artists created within the past four years in the Discovery section. Taking all these kinds of booths into consideration, we have compiled a list of our favourites at this year’s edition. Have a look at our picks below.
ADN is a Barcelona-based gallery with a strong focus on political art. From Avelino Sala’s golden, star-embellished baseball bats and blue police force shields splattered in yellow paint to Kendell Geer’s fetish sculptures dealing with the conflicted identity of a white person born in South Africa, the works on view are equally strong in their form and bold in their approach to their respective subjects. In one of the corners of the booth, shielded from the ongoing bustle of the fair, Núria Güell presents her extensive inquisitions on child sex tourism in Medellín. In the video “The Flower Fair”, two girls who were formerly exploited by the ever-growing business of underage prostitution give a Fernando Botero museum tour, talking about their experiences by relating them to the works of the Colombian painter who often used prostitutes as his models. Through simple means, the film shows the consonance that can be found in certain artworks, as well as their potency to spread political and social awareness, rendering the works surrounding it all the more powerful.
John Wood and Paul Harrison at Carroll / Fletcher
Carroll / Fletcher’s booth in the Discovery section was about as British as it gets. Part Charlie Chaplin, part Gilbert and George, John Wood and Paul Harrison star as the heroes in a series of bizarre spatial and bodily experiments, trying to dodge shots from a tennis ball cannon with their feet tied together or falling through the air strapped to a crash mat all whilst remaining a completely straight face. Although their activities seem pointless, Wood and Harrison carry them out with the utmost earnest. Next to the video documentations of these strangely hypnotic and amusing performances, a series of drawings reveals the complex thinking process and the meticulous planning behind each of the works.
FOLD Gallery London
As a gallery with a strong focus on materiality, FOLD decided to exhibit abstract sculptures by five different artists. Leaning against the wall, doubling as a table and nestling around the corner, the sleek and minimalistic sculptures all show an interesting symbiosis between natural and artificial materials. The piece that we loved the most was Ellen Hyllemose‘s enormous gym bag made out of purple, beige, grey and rose-coloured pieces of Lycra. Moulded into its uneven shape by the pieces of cardboard and paper stuffed inside of it and stitched together with red garn in some of its parts, the untitled sculpture has a fascinating anthropomorphic quality to it that makes it worth to go see it in person.
Tschabalala Self and Jonathan Lyndon Chase at Thierry Goldberg
Tschabalala Self and Jonathan Lyndon Chase are artists whose paintings aim to provide a more wholesome, projection-free representation of female and queer black bodies. Both painters depict subjects that, as Self puts it, “are fully aware of their conspicuousness and are unmoved by their viewer’s gaze”. While Self’s acrylic paintings, which often incorporate fabric, have received broad media coverage and critical acclaim, most recently helping her acquire a spot in the Forbes 30 under 30 list, Jonathan Lyndon Chase’s works certainly are just as noteworthy. His acrylic paintings, sometimes depict men, sometimes gender fluid people, both of them occasionally boasting Nike swooshes and dollar signs. They all share a raw sexual energy ranging from bold to tender, defying stereotypical notions of black queerness and instead providing the visual representation of a highly multilayered cultural identity.
At the discovery section, Grimmuseum provided an immersive presentation of Czech artists Matyáš Chochola’s works, covering the floor in sand paper and the walls in colours that matched the part artefact, part high tech sculpture’s cyan and lilac colours. However, it was the outer wall of the booth displaying sketches by Andrea Eva Györi that really caught our eye. Györi, like Chochola, participated in last year’s edition of the Manifesta Biennale. For the exhibition taking place in a different European country every two years, she was asked to team up with a professional from a non-art-world-related job group and create a joint artwork. Her choice fell onto a sex therapist, and the drawings displayed are part of the results of that collaboration. Centred around the female orgasm, they are both insightful and expressionistic. For all Berliners who won’t make it to Brussels, a visit to Grimmuseum, where the rest of the works is currently on display, is highly recommended.
Eric Yahnker at The Hole
There’s camp, and there’s kitsch. While some of the pieces on view at art Brussels certainly fell into the former category, Eric Yahnker’s pastel colour drawings are pure camp. With hilariously exaggerated forms and in stanching technicolour, he mingles Magritte with kittens, J.D. Salinger with Donald Trump, and art history with amazon. Channeling the iconography and the intrinsic cynicism of a post-Trump America, Yahnker’s drawings at The Hole’s discovery booth made us laugh, then shudder, then laugh some more.
Mohau Modisakeng at Ron Mandos
In his works presented at the Ron Mandos solo booth, South African artist Mohau Modisakeng processes the ongoing exploitation of the black working class in contemporary South Africa, specifically focusing on the Marikana massacre of 2012 in which police officers killed a total of 41 miners during a protest for living wages. Using his body as an avatar for labouring black bodies, Modisakeng shot “Lefa La Ntate”, a series of almost entirely black and sacral-looking photos that show him covered in oil, closing his eyes in mourning and created a number of bronze busts to accompany the images. In the video “To Move Mountains”, he uses the motif of oil once more, this time addressing the ongoing legacy of post-colonialism on a broader level.
Parisian gallery Eva Meyer made a smart move by showcasing the most selfie-friendly artwork of the fair. The whiteboard-like construction by the young duo Goiffon & Beauté displayed at the entrance of the booth has a reflective surface shimmering in all the colours of the sunset that makes snapping a quick photo of oneself in front of it almost irresistible. Fixated onto the surface with small magnets, see-through plastic versions of Post-Its read words such as plan, execute and control, as well as Japanese words such as seiketsu and shitsuke, translating to cleanliness and discipline. Inside of the booth, the nod towards efficiency and business culture goes on with clock a clock by the duo that, devoid of a hour and minute indicator, only shows the passing seconds.
Micah Hesse at Neumeister Bar-Am
In its Discovery Section booth, Berlin-based gallery Neumeister Bar-Am presents a total of three videos by Micah Hesse. Hesse edits computer generated imagery onto camera-filmed material, giving his pieces a look reminiscent of an augmented reality computer game. In “Lobbyless”, he pastes miniature parliament buildings onto the puddles and sidewalk cracks of New York City, breaking them open and stretching them out. With “Shampaigne”, Hesse takes a comical stance against gun violence. In reaction to the go-to gun lobbyist argument that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, he turns his CGI guns into independent and unpredictable agents, exploring the psychological impact of their presence when they are entirely detached from humans. The third, one-minute video “Illuminatic”, is a formal exploration of light reflections on a sunny sidewalk. What stuck with us was the brilliant technology behind each film, the boldly minimalistic video presentation and the gallery’s forward-thinking approach to new forms of art commerce. Visitors are informed that all videos on view, ranging in price from 100 to 3570 euros, are available for purchase online – and that they can even be paid for in BitCoins.
Laure Prouvost at Nathalie Obadia
“These things here right behind me are doing what they can to impress and touch you”, Laure Prouvost’s TV-headed wire figurine is telling us while awkwardly trying to mop up a grey stain on the floor. And the objects showcased, ranging from a stale loaf of bread to a pair of golden slippers that turned to stone when being photographed, are certainly living up to their intents. Walking into the Turner Prize-winner’s booth feels a bit like stumbling into the home of a friend before they’ve had the chance to tidy up. All of the objects tell a heartwarming and beautifully absurd story, and after a while, it certainly does feel a bit hot and stuffy in there, just like the TV figurine formerly proclaimed – but we didn’t mind.