Anne Vierstraete, the Managing Director of Art Brussels in conversation with Paul Carter Robinson ahead of the opening of the fair next week. Art Brussels 2018 from Friday 20 April until Sunday 22 April 2018. Preview: Thursday 19 April 2018.
We aim to always stay current by confronting topics and themes that are relevant – Anne Vierstraete
Ms Vierstraete is a graduate in German Philology from the Université libre de Bruxelles, Anne Vierstraete has acquired a wide range of professional experience in her eighteen years as Head of Marketing & Communication at Bank Degroof and eight years as the director of the Erasmus Fund for medical research. Since 2010, she has also been engaged in a variety of freelance consultancies.
Since 2014 Art Brussels has been piloted by Anne with a close-knit team. At a time when the number of contemporary art fairs throughout the world is rapidly increasing, Art Brussels has gained its rightful position in the international art market and will continue to maintain its image as a fair of high standards and varied artistic programming, combining emerging talents with more established ones.
How has the fair evolved over the last 50 years?
Over 50 years, Art Brussels has contributed in an important way to the development and prominence of the Belgian art scene. It is the most important contemporary art event in the Benelux and its DNA is tightly tied to the local scene, among which are of course the collectors. Belgium’s rich and vibrant contemporary art scene has developed over the last fifty years and built on a tradition of “collecting” that distinguishes Belgium as a country said to have one of the highest number of collectors per capita in the world. Going back to the establishment of the fair in 1968, the event, then called Foire d’Art Actuel, was set up as a platform showing the newest trends in art at that time, wanting the wider public to get involved with contemporary artistic creation. So it was all about discovering new forms of art, getting to know the artists and being introduced to the gallery owners who were there to identify new artists and accompany blooming talents in their artistic development, promoting them both in Belgium and abroad. To this day, what defines Art Brussels is that in addition to the established and mid-career artists on show, the fair always has an exciting Discovery section reserving a large part of the fair to the most emerging talents.
What outstanding features should we be looking out for at Art Brussels 2018?
Before you even walk into the fair, you will be confronted with an outstanding feature in the form of eight monumental sculptures by renowned artists and emerging talents. These will be on display outdoors at the entrance of the industrial Tour and Taxis building.
Our artistic project this year Mystic Properties is definitely one not to miss. It will be on show in Hotel De La Poste within the Tour and Taxis site and is curated by Elena Sorokina and in collaboration with the HISK (Higher Institute for Fine Arts).
Alongside the fair’s artistic programme, Belfius Wealth Management, principal partner of the fair, will present, in the Belfius lounge, Inspiring / Inspired: Women in the Belfius Art Collection. The exhibition will feature women, both on the canvas and in front of the easel in an exclusive series of works specially selected for Art Brussels.
On top of the special projects, the fair has commissioned artist Philippine Hoegen for an original film entitled Crossed Wires, which explores the Belgian art scene, seen from different positions and timeframes within the past 50 years. It gives insight into its development and complexity, focusing in particular but not exclusively on Brussels. The film will be on show at the fair and is a great way to relax after a long day!
Is the concept of the art fair still relevant for the serious collector? Why?
I believe in the essential role that international art fairs like Art Brussels play in order to diversify what’s on offer on the global art market, allowing galleries to address specific collectors’ communities with whom they can build long-term relationships, through a distinctive profile, a dedicated approach towards the richness of art historical content and a close attention to quality.
In a changing internet driven world, does social media impact on Art Brussels? Does it have an effect?
Social media can only have a positive impact as it encourages people to post images of individual artworks encouraging appreciation for and promotion of the artists themselves. Social media contributes to a fair’s international visibility, allowing users to engage with the themes present at the fair all around the world.
It also enables global/international audiences to engage with and virtually experience the fair, the artwork and the conversations surrounding the contemporary art on show regardless of their location. Social media and digital initiatives have also enabled Art Brussels to extend the life and ethos of the fair beyond the specific dates and to continue to support emerging artists, galleries and museums by highlighting various projects through social media posts.
How does Art Brussels attract foreign buyers? Are the lions share of your buyers local?
Art Brussels attracts a very international spread of adventurous and curious collectors of all ages as well as retaining the loyal Belgian collector base who are known for their committed approach and penchant for risk taking in their collecting. The fair has a high rate of returning galleries who enjoy the benefits that come from the consistent and in-depth engagement that the Belgian collector-base shows.
Collectors today have a global approach to collecting, how do you target these buyers and have them coming back for more?
The galleries that participate in the fair cater to this global approach as the selection of galleries is so broad and the artists they have on show are so diverse. The different sections within the fair (DISCOVERY, REDISCOVERY, PRIME and SOLO) also allow for collectors to explore these different interests in a more curated way.
How does the fair attract younger collectors?
The DISCOVERY section is a huge success, attracting many different types of collector but specifically our younger collector base. The themes presented and works on show are extremely current, with all works produced between 2015 and 2018. This allows collectors to really discover artists that are about to explode in the contemporary art scene.
The fair has this year also asked Los Angeles based curator Martha Kirszenbaum, one of the members of the DISCOVERY selection committee, to initiate some guided visits for groups of young collectors in the fair, and more specifically in the DISCOVERY section.
With the proliferation of so many international art fairs, how does Art Brussels retain its own special identity? How do you keep your competitive edge?
Competition in the art fair world is of course acute, but interesting and positive in the way that it obliges you to stay alert as to what is going on. It demands you to identify the exact components of your DNA and its correspondence with the kind of market you address. It forces you to question your model in comparison to others operating in the same market.
We aim to always stay current by confronting topics and themes that are relevant and appealing to contemporary audiences through our extensive artistic programme. Our artistic project, for example, allows us to bring in a highly curated aspect to the fair allowing visitors to experience something slightly different alongside the booths.
From your perspective, how would you describe the atmosphere in the art market today? Do you feel the art market has over heated?
The atmosphere is exciting – especially when at the centre of an art fair like Art Brussels, it’s impossible not to be excited when seeing all the activity that takes place amongst collectors and galleries. We go for quality and stay away from art fair art and the search for record prices, so in our segment I consider it a privilege to be working in an environment that generates so much enthusiasm and passion.
How do you judge the success of Art Brussels? In a nut shell, where do you see Art Brussels in the future?
Art Brussels has endured over the years as it has succeeded in staying faithful to its distinctiveness as a discovery fair, and also because of its reputation among gallerists and art lovers to be a valuable marketplace where art is showed for its inherent quality. The fair demonstrates a passionate and distinctive approach to contemporary art, which appeals to fans and collectors fleeing the trends of the moment and the art already seen in other major fairs. We never stop questioning our model, in order to stay ahead of the latest trends in the art market and stay in step with our strengths and our identity. So hopefully, we stay forever young!