From Paul Thek’s Accidental Etchings to Gabriel Kuri’s Cigarette Butts, Here Are 5 Must-See Shows in Brussels
The city of adventurous gallery formats and discreet collectors doesn't do hype, but it does do quality.
Some cities are full of contradictions, and the Belgian capital of Brussels is, delightfully, one of those places. The relatively small but deeply international city has an impressive art scene, in part because of its centrality—it’s a short train ride to London, Paris, and Amsterdam, as you can tell by the hoards of lost tourists—but also because the region is home to many serious and discreet collectors with deep pockets, not to mention an adventurous landscape of galleries.
When a few years ago the New York Times excitedly declared that “Brussels was the new Berlin,” the pronouncement went down like a lead balloon in the city in question. Brussels is definitively its own kind of city, and it moves at its own pace. Since then, Kanal mark 1, a co-production with the Center Pompidou in Paris to be housed in a former Citroen car garage, has shown its potential as a new art center. (It is now temporarily closed ahead of its full-blown launch.) In the meantime, there is plenty of first-rate contemporary art on offer in its leading public spaces and commercial galleries this fall.
Here are our some of favorite exhibitions.
Than Hussein Clark at Damien & the Love Guru
Than Hussein Clark, a film and theater buff, has an obvious love for actors. For his exhibition “The Paintings of Selma Vaz Dias” at Damien & the Love Guru, the artist managed to connect to the family of the early 20th-century cinema star Selma Vaz Dias. Clark learned that the groundbreaking English-Dutch actress Dias was also something of a literary genius, not to mention political activist and, later in life, an accomplished painter. Dias’s strikingly brooding imagery, which draws on theatrical characters like clowns and harlequins that are dark and dreamlike, is on view at the gallery alongside Clark’s sculptures.
The Dias family generously allowed Clark to stage this posthumous collaboration. (Dias’s works are on loan from the artist’s estate.) Clark built the architectural surroundings to encompass her small but striking paintings, including one small figure on a tall iron stilt. The overlooked female painter does not fade into the background amid Clark’s works, but rather forms the exhibition’s spiritual and aesthetic core, with Clark’s clear plastic and glass sculptures creating all kinds of sight lines for her work.
Clark also premiered his theater performance, “Chamber Music for Europe (Nonent for Selma Vaz Dias)” earlier this month. The new work was inspired in part by her unpublished autobiography.
“Than Hussein Clark: The Paintings of Selma Vaz Dias” is on view at Damien & the Love Guru, Rue de Tamines 19, 1060 Saint-Gilles, Belgium, September 5–October 24, 2019.
Hana Miletić at La Maison Rendezvous
Early this year, four emerging international dealers founded a time-share in Brussels to bring their distinct programs to the city at the center of the European Union. Called La Maison de Rendez-Vous, the venture has set up shop in a stunning, 19th-century apartment that feels grand yet homely, far from a white cube. It’s therefore quite appropriate for the four art dealers—Lulu of Mexico City, Misako & Rosen of Mexico City, Park View/Paul Soto of Los Angeles, and LambdaLambdaLambda of Prishtina, Kosovo—who are each known to have curatorial-driven programs.
For this year’s Brussels Gallery Weekend slot, LambdaLambdaLambda presents “Retour au travail,” an exhibition of Brussels-based, Croatian artist Hana Miletić’s intricate and bright textile works. Charming and quietly political, Miletić tight abstract weavings are from her ongoing series “Materiale.” She has collaborated with specialists drawn from craft and industrial textile backgrounds. Previous iterations of the works were included at her solo show at the WIELS Contemporary Art Center on the outskirts of Brussels last year and in the Sharjah Biennial in 2017.
The show’s title recalls the stoical mood of workers after a strike, demonstrations, or other industrial action. A floor piece, called RAD (Work) (“rad” translates to “work” in Croatian) represents a concern for working class communities. The minimally-designed carpet features the word she spotted on a woven tarp that the artist found in Zagreb. It is part of a series of carpets she has developed with a Croatian carpet factory, one of the few that did not shutter after the break up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. “Retour au travail” conjures the sense of a return to normalcy—but everything is changed and nothing will be the same.
Gabriel Kuri at WIELS
The odor of Gabriel Kuri’s extensive survey at WIELS precedes it. The Brussels-based, Mexican artist has meticulously installed at least 1,000 cigarette butts (plus coins and chewed gum) into two large piles of sand which are parted like a sea. It is the first installation you encounter upon entering the exhibion “sorted, resorted,” and it assaults the senses.
In the following galleries and other floors of the contemporary arts center, there are around 60 of Kuri’s sculptures, some of them new and made specially for the show. They often make quippy combinations pairing consumer goods with natural materials like sand, shells, or stones. The former brewery-turned-arts institution provides a suitable setting for Kuri’s appropriations of industrial materials.
Lindsey Mendick and Paloma Proudfoot at Ballon Rouge Collective
The previously nomadic Balon Rouge Club—which has popped up in New York, Istanbul, and Los Angeles—has established a space in Brussels dedicated to exchanges with other galleries. Nevertheless, the collective has kept true to its reputation for always being just a little bit different from your typical gallery or project space by handing the key over to the dynamic, London-based Hannah Barry Gallery. Barry is presenting works by the duo Lindsey Mendick and Paloma Proudfoot, showing under the portmanteau PROUDICK.
The Royal College of Art graduates are offering an array of large and small sculptures that are informed by their incredible skills in ceramics. Called “Of all the things I’ve lost,” it is a lively show, if a little too packed. The duo, described as working with “an exultant and unforgiving feminism,” present a sometimes gory, sometimes cutesy, sometimes erotic display of lost limbs, iPhones, and souls in a show that explores the absent object and its memory.
Paul Thek at Jan Mot
This is the first solo show in Brussels of the late artist and painter Paul Thek, who died in New York in 1989 from an AIDS-related illness. It is long overdue considering the time the US artist spent abroad in Europe, a long visit that included a solo show at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam.
With its self-conscious title “I AM, AM I?” Jan Mot presents small-format etchings that were discovered in the artist’s archive after his death. Around a dozen of works from the 28-part series are on view, including a few that were accidentally drawn by Thek backwards, which is perhaps why the artist never made prints of them. Several were made in Paris, France in 1975, and Thek brought them back to the US and packed them away. The title of the show and another work containing the mirrored words AVE EVA seem to refer the artistic blunder.
Nevertheless, these posthumously-produced editions resonate perhaps even more brightly in all their vulnerability. Their cartoonish imagery references bible stories and folklore, as well as the Tower of Babel and the character “Tarbaby,” both of which frequently recurred in Thek’s work.
“Paul Thek’s: I AM, AM I?” are on view at Jan Mot, Petit Sablon/Kleine Zavel 10, Brussels, Belgium, September 5–October 26, 2019.
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