Art Brussels has a major birthday this year. For its 50th edition, April 19-22, it will champion Belgian galleries (46 altogether, or 32 percent of the 2018 participants) while still bringing together 100 international galleries from 32 countries.
The fair is divided into three sections: “Discovery” features work created by emerging artists during the past three years; “Prime” presents internationally-recognized artists, and Solo puts the spotlight on three artists with solo presentation (Alex Chaves, Daniel Firman and Marlon Mullen). There’s a commissioned film by Philippine Hoegen to celebrate the fair’s half-century mark: “Crossed Wires” examines the Brussels art scene and its intrinsic relationship to the city at large over the past five decades.
Anne Vierstraete, managing director of Art Brussels and a longtime resident of the city, spoke to BLOUIN ARTINFO about how visitors might best enjoy the city during their time at the fair. She spoke of her favorite places to purchase vintage jewelry as well as the best venues to admire local Art Deco flourishes.
How long have you been living in Brussels?
Since the age of 14. Before that I lived in Vienna, Austria.
What are your “can’t leave without seeing this” recommendations for the city?
Don’t miss the memorable Grand Place, a Unesco World Heritage site and an incomparable jewel in the heart of the city.
What is the most overrated thing people advise visitors to check out when they are in town?
Probably the landmark bronze sculpture called “Manneken Pis.” On the other hand, it remains the emblem of the city’s rebellious spirit, and gives a good sense of the Belgian humor… Brussels marries deeply anchored traditions and a resolutely contemporary drive.
What restaurants would you recommend, and what makes them unique?
Brussels is famous for great Belgian beers, fries, delicious artisanal chocolates… There are a lot of gastronomic starred restaurants, yet also very nice brasseries to eat simply but well.
Sticking to typical Belgian/French cuisine in the heart of the city, one of the oldest (although not the most trendy) restaurants is Comme chez Soi. A legendary institution run by the same family for four generations, with two Michelin stars, and a very friendly and informal atmosphere. The Art Deco setting is unchanged since 1936. An absolute must.
In a more accessible price category, my latest find is Sanzaru, which offers fantastic Nikkei cuisine, using Peruvian products alongside Japanese culinary techniques. The team works closely with chef Lucas Felzine of Uma, a Parisian restaurant; he was the first to introduce the Nikkei cuisine in France.
What would you do if you had a free morning or afternoon in Brussels?
I would certainly pay a visit to the daily flea market at Place du Jeu de Balles. The Spanish artist Oriol Vilanova decided to move to Brussels simply for the flea market, where he finds postcards that serve his artistic oeuvre.
Where would you head for the best shopping?
One of my preferred shops is “Excelsior – Ciel mes Bijoux,” close to the atmospheric Sablon square. It’s a small concept store with a lot of accessories, artist jewelry (Hervé Van der Straeten, Uli Rapp, Cilea, Satellite), a unique selection of Belgian fashion (De Clercq & De Clercq), plus timeless knitwear by Belgian designer Isabelle Baynes. The family runs two other shops next to the concept store: one selling haute couture vintage jewelry, the other vintage bags by iconic brands. The condition is impeccable, and their authenticity is certified.
Where would you recommend people stay when they visit?
The hotel Made in Louise, close to a number of Contemporary art galleries, is where you can experience the charm of living in a typical 20th-century Brussels townhouse.
Quartier Brugmann is one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Brussels; the place to stay there is Maison De Gend, a guesthouse offering several rooms and apartments.
What are the best venues to check out the city’s art offerings?
The first would be WIELS, for Contemporary art addicts! It is an outstanding Contemporary art center located in a former brewery. Then Bozar Center for Fine Arts, which is not to be missed: a hub in an Art Deco masterpiece by Victor Horta, where there are international exhibitions, classical and Contemporary concerts, theater, film, and conferences.
What are the best places to buy art?
Brussels offers a huge variety of Contemporary art galleries. A lot of them are concentrated in specific areas within the city, which makes it easy to visit several of them at once.
The most established include Xavier Hufkens, Greta Meert, dépendance, Almine Rech, Nathalie Obadia, Templon, Albert Baronian, Office Baroque, OV Project, Sorry We’re Closed, Rodolphe Janssen, Maruani Mercier, Meessen De Clercq, Patinoire Royale…
The emerging galleries include Stems, Harlan Levey Projects, Levy.Delval, Waldburger Wouters, Felix Frachon, and others.
What are the ideal spots to see live music?
L’Archiduc is a mythical place for jazz, live music and cocktails in a beautiful Art Deco interior. Architects, intellectuals and artists gather there until late.
What are your favorite bars to relax in after the fair?
When the weather is nice and warm, there’s a very informal and young atmosphere at Place Flagey, around the Flagey Arts Center; or Bar du Marché until late in the night, and Café Belga.
What are you most looking forward to about this newest edition of Art Brussels?
I’m always excited to see what the galleries will come up with. Given the high level of competition, a lot of effort is made in order to stand out from the crowd; it’s always exciting to see the diversity in each booth.
Discoveries are not always where you expect them to be but of course I’m very fond of our Discovery section. This year’s edition brings a lot of first-time participants including A.Gorgi (Sidi Bou Said), Bank (Shanghai), Braverman (Tel Aviv), and Öktem&Aykut (Istanbul).
I’m very curious to see the booths of our newcomers, like Zeno X, Tommy Simoens and Tim Van Laere (Antwerp), Habana (Havana), Anne Mosseri Marlio (Basel), among many others.
— Art Brussels runs through April 22
Founder: Louise Blouin