The essence of Art Brussels 2015 in 14 moves

For those based in the Belgian capital, the week of Art Brussels comes with the excitement and inevitable stress of a yearly celebration. From the unison opening of new exhibitions at all the main galleries to a plethora of alternative events such as the emergent art fair Poppositions, Art Brussels manages to squeeze the city’s art world in a unique week-long frenzy. But never before this year, had the opening event felt like a rock festival.


The novelty of 2015 edition is a collateral series of gigs called Artists’ Music, taking place in the outdoor yard between the fair’s two halls. Profiting from an exceptionally clement weather, people headed outside after hopping off the crowded path across the stands, getting in the queue for their overpriced beer while being entertained by the noisy punk guitars of Belgian rock bands such as Ratzinger or Ping Pong Tactics.


In this context, music somehow highlighted the schizophrenia of the art world’s fairs, that strange feeling of a commercial industry that doesn’t want to be one because art, unlike the rest, must always keep its sexy/intellectual/romantic/reactionary overtone after all.


Some refreshing air in front of that slightly anarchic stage made it much easier to focus on the art rather than the art world’s circus, skimming the overwhelming quantity of pieces to find our picks. Here they are, listed along with a few words you might even call tweet-long reviews.


1. Anouk Kruithof, Sweaty Sculpture (Back), 2015, at Boetzelaer|Nispen.

Materiality chasing the sleekness of the digital images is often a risky pursuit though this sculpture plays with the reflections of its surrounding environment so well that creates a third and very original space in between.


2. Andris Eglītis, Painting series Dirty Modernism, 2014, at Alma Gallery.

Part of a solo show, this painting summarises the whole booth with its quirky objects in cubic banal habitats. The title of the piece confirms a sort of surrealist influence.


3. Stefan Belhau, Shadows Edit 1 and Das Leichte, 2015, at Niklas Schechinger Fine Art and DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM.

Squeegeeing humps of paint down a canvas is nothing new though creating compositions that almost become figurative (see family portraits there?), controlling the paint to achieve very technical gradients or using photoshop-looking backgrounds make a whole lot of difference.


4. LELLO//ARNELL’s solo show, at Josza Gallery.

A restructured world is made of crooked surfaces on flat supports, painted in the shades of the most neutral colour which is grey and adorned with what seems to be a parody of office plants.


5. Josh Reames, Okay – Ac- cm. 137.16×116.84, 2014, at Brand New Gallery.

Just like the title of another of his paintings says, Reames depicts “E-things”: a collection of little references on canvas coming from quickly browsed webpages or simple life experiences (what is the difference anyway?). Their fake shadows and the painted wooden frame give an entirely different dimension to the picture.


6. Claire Tabouret, Les Amazones (la vallée), 2015, at Bugada & Cargnel.

No photograph can render the chromatic richness of the artist’s palette of fluorescent colours. As we also find in other series, the artist depicts female figures in a way that undermines symbolisms linked to them.


7. Nick van Woert, Cross section, 2014, at GRIMM.

This stunning piece, previously shown at the artist’s retrospective at MAMbo, speaks about the artist’s general interest in archaeology as a way to metaphorically uproot the hidden effects of time while trying to fix it again through art.


8. Anne Neukamp, Scharnier, 2014, at Galerie Greta Meert.

The heritage of Pop Art could be used to interpret Neukamp’s work though what we find most interesting is how, unlike what the artists working in the 1960s mainly did, she hid her imagery underneath the layering of the painted surfaces.


9. Mathew Cerletty, Friends, 2014, at Office Baroque.

Snakes, possibly the most symbolical animals of all mythologies, become friends: a tamed, simple and colourful shape used by the artist to create an image.


10. Claudio Parmiggiani. Senza titolo, 2015, at Meessen De Clercq.

A splendid example of Parmiggiani’s 40 year long career and research into translating objects in two dimensional pictures through their smoky silhouette.


11. John Houck, French Curve (From the series “A History of Graph Paper”), 2014, at On Stellar Rays.

Similarly to fellow artist Lucas Blalock who has recently answered to our Proustian questionnaire, Houck destroys what we expect from the photographic medium. The hybrid space of this print is both sheerly realistic and totally imaginative.


12. la Pablo Janssens solo show, at Jeanrochdard.

Having seen so many paintings using gradients, those of Janssen felt much more critical and inventive. Not to mention that he has come up with the best presentation of his work found on an artist’s website: http://belapablojanssen.com/


13. Jean-Baptiste Bernadet, Untitled (Trails I), 2015, at Galerie Valentin. Simply put, it is hard not to irrationally fall for the romantic beauty of Bernadet’s oil painting.


The booth of The Institute For Human Activities.

With its blunt approach to the topic of the exploitation of Africa by the West, Renzo Martens’ Enjoy Poverty (2008) is probably one of the most controversial documentaries in recent film history. A few years after its release, Martens founded the Institute For Human Activities and its Gentrification Programme, an attempt to help those Congolese plantation workers he depicted in the film through contemporary art. The booth presents a series of chocolate portraits made by the workers and sold with so-called artistic added value, generating revenues that directly go back to their creators. Subtly twisting the very Western political and economical strategies, Martens boldly applies his view to the problem of poverty and ambiguously shifts the focus of the Western spectators from the effects of Congolese destitution on to its causes.


April 26, 2015