Musings on Art Brussels 2013

Art with a message

Art Brussels may be over, but its impressions remain. With 189 galleries displaying their wares, it was a feast for the eyes for the pros as well as the simply curious. The emphasis seemed to be on paintings and hand crafted work. Either art works made by human hands are gaining in value, or is it an attempt to hold onto paintings due to nostalgia before technology takes over in the next few decades to come. While most of the galleries were from Europe, the offerings were wide, with a big range.


Many artists feel the responsibility of giving social or political messages. There is nothing fictional about Taysir Batniji’s  photos. In fact they bring one all too forcefully in the present, as one wonders if one has walked into a real estate agency by mistake. Closer inspection at the Paris-based Eric Dupont Gallery stand revealed that the photos and description of these bombed out Palestinian apartments are in Gaza. Any takers, the artist might be asking. How would it feel like to live in constant fear of being bombed by the sophisticated Israeli army?


A few stalls down, one saw burned pieces of clay on the floor of Galeria Quadrado Azul based in Lisbon. The Dutch artist Kevin van Braak sculpted the heads of famous people that he thinks are destroying the world, in light of the financial and environmental crises, and burned them. The heads can be viewed on paper. A unique way of making a personal political statement, which caused many to smile at his approach. Perhaps it’s more effective than burning flags of countries where the majority don’t have a direct hand in the actions of their authority figures.


Going from the macro to the micro level, Ilse Haider work at the Galerie Steinek stand took one to the personal realm of female captivity. Her original works in photo emulsion on wood and cane of famous women such as Josephine Baker can be interpreted as the female being imprisoned. In Eastern cultures, this could be a physical reality. In the liberated cultures of the West, women are still imprisoned in their roles as trophy wives or girlfriends. On the one hand, men tend to be afraid of intelligent girls, on the other, the average girl is bombarded by plastic images by the media and feels the need to look perfect, like models, irrespective of their socio-economic conditions. Unfortunately, there are very few images of strong, intellectual, fashion-independent women in the mainstream media. Women seem to be prisoners in their own minds about what their image should be, while the fashion and beauty industries continue to mint money.


Slater Bradley’s Perfect Empathy (Alina Melancholia) drew a lot of glances as much for its subject matter as for the crumpled fiber print, which not only added depth to the work, but also added to its interpretation at the Galeria Filomena Soares’s stand. In this case the medium became an integral part of the art-work itself. Perhaps it referred to the ageing process of lines or wrinkles which would eventually overtake the wild carelessness of youth, or the trash culture which encourages the worship of the body. What part do the beautiful models play in this adoration of youth?


Far from the catwalk, Anish Kapoor’s work exhibited at Paragon Press stand was a musing on the process of washing out colours to white. It may not have been the intention of the artist, but his work seemed to be a reflection on the concept of emptiness prevalent in Buddhism. White contains all the colours, known and unknown to human beings, yet ironically the absence of hues makes it a negation of this concept.


One of the few Indian artists represented at Art Brussels, Nandan Ghiya at the 10 Chancery Lane Gallery stand, chose to reflect on the past via photos of older generations, capturing a whole gone by era.


Zarina Hashmi’s beautiful work was also on display at the Fair. While India has a rich cultural heritage, the number of artists represented at Art Brussels was in inverse proportion to its population. Artists from China and South-East Asia had a stronger presence. Perhaps the West is slow to appreciate modern Indian art, which tends to retain many traditional elements, or Indian artists prefer to conserve their ethnic approach, which remains connected to their roots. At least globalisation hasn’t made huge inroads into changing Indian tastes in art. As usual, a lack of appropriate funding by the government is an important factor in the comparatively low visibility of Indian artists abroad.

One could brood about philosophical concepts in Marc Mulders’ ‘Persian’ gardens if one could meander through the cool peaceful paths of his harmonious paintings. Amsterdam’s Borzo Modern & Contemporary Art Gallery’s stand was an oasis of serenity in the middle of the busy show.


Giving food for thought were Fred Eerdekens’ copper ribbons that threw shadows of words on the walls. Exhibited at the Samuel Vanhoegarden Gallery stand, they struck a nerve with many viewers.

At Slick Art Fair in Brussels Hiroyuki Doi’s beautiful work was a meditation on the souls that had passed over into the other world after the tsunami in Japan. Many images and faces can be discerned in his work, if one takes the time to contemplate it. His exhibition Inner Journeys will continue until June at Maison Particulière Art Center, Brussels.


The atmosphere was warm at the Nadja Vilenne Gallery stand, with well-known names rubbing shoulders with upcoming artists, showing the broad range of the gallery. John Murphy’s huge brown dog vied for attention with Sophie Langohr’s New Faces. 


Spread over St. Etienne, Paris, Luxembourg and Geneva, Bernard Ceysson Galerie showed a vast range of work, including those of Louis Cane and Marc Devade. Loic Bentiere explained that they work with strong artists.


Galeri Nev Istanbul’s stand  drew the curious, not least due to Inci Eviner’s HD video entitled ‘Parliament,’ a world in itself, or Canan Tolon’s multi-layered work.


A multi-dimensional fair with an interesting programme, Art Brussels success was also due to the vision and strong leadership qualities of new director, Katerina Gregos.


A reflection of the current pre-occupations in Europe and the world, many themes were explored through many lenses and filters of artists from many different countries. Will next year’s art fair be a lot different from that of this year? Only Time can answer that question.


-Sultana Raza ©2013


Photo: Taysir Batniji’s work at the Eric Dupont Gallery.

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