See the Top 10 Booths at Independent Brussels
Believe the hype: this fair has come to stay.
Amid growing anticipation—both locally and internationally—the Brussels iteration of New York’s coolest art fair, Independent, previewed yesterday in the stunning Vanderborght building, bang in the center of the city.
And, for once, the hype was entirely justified: concise (there are less than 70 exhibitors), superbly curated, and with risky yet solid presentations, the first edition of Independent Brussels took us back to those days when attending an art fair filled one with excitement rather than a gnawing sense of déjà vu.
All the exhibiting galleries were handpicked (participating follows by invitation rather than application) and the resulting selection managed a perfect balance between refined heavy hitters like David Zwirner, Isabella Bortolozzi, Jan Mot, and Gladstone Gallery, and exciting young galleries such as Gregor Staiger, C L E A R I N G, Emanuel Layr, and Koppe Astner.
The layout, too, helped to create a good atmosphere. As opposed to the classical, horizontal grid design, the galleries at Independent are sprawled across the six floors of the former furniture store, built in 1935. The fair’s design follows an open plan, so gallerists and visitors can see across each floor, which contributes to a sense of openness and conviviality that most exhibitors didn’t fail to mention.
For many galleries, including gb agency, Carlos/Ishikawa, Mary Mary or Gregor Staiger, this fair marks their first time exhibiting in Brussels. They all cited the participation by invitation and the fantastic selection of galleries as the deciding factor in joining the ranks of Independent.
“For us, being at Independent was the right context to do a fair in Brussels,” Solene Guillier, from gb agency, told artnet News. “The selection of galleries is phenomenal, and exhibitors are taking risks with what they are bringing. It feels exciting to be here,” she added.
Meanwhile, some established local galleries, like Office Baroque, had left the Art Brussels fold to join Independent.
“We’ve done Independent New York for four years now and we are always immensely pleased with the service they provide, the VIP program, everything. So it really made sense for us to do it here in Brussels too,” Sarah Suco Torres, from Office Baroque, told artnet News. “But I don’t think Independent is competing with Art Brussels as such. I think Independent is bringing something different to the city; more American artists, more American collectors, and a more curated feel,” she added.
The quality was indeed phenomenal overall, but these are the 10 booths that stole the show for us:
1. Office Baroque, Brussels
The gallery showcased a large number of its artists in a presentation curated by the artist Jan de Cock, known for his keen eye for displays. Hung salon style, like a contemporary art Wunderkammer, the selection included strong works by Leigh Ledare, Christopher Knowles, Michel Auder, Daniel Sinsel, Matthew Brannon, B. Wurtz, and De Cock himself, among many others. With prices ranging from €2,000 to €50,000, the treasure trove stacked up at Office Baroque proved that, sometimes, more really is more.
2. Gregor Staiger, Zürich
With a prime location—right by the entrance, and across the aisle from David Zwirner—the young Swiss gallery delighted with a booth (almost entirely) dedicated to the consistently brilliant Shana Moulton. The selection included two videos (priced at $10,000) from 2012 and 2014, as well as a teaser of her upcoming video Every Angle is an Angel—filmed on site at her current show at Paris’ Palais de Tokyo and set to be launched next month.
These were complemented by a recent mannequin sculpture and a series of charming small collages (shown upon request) that the American artist crafts as part of her research process. At $3,000 a pop, the collages are a great way to get a piece of Moulton’s ongoing explorations of our contemporary anxieties, amplified by our digital dependency.
3. Galerie Jocelyn Wolff, Paris/Cahn International, Basel
Cross-historical dialogues between works of art have indeed been a thing for a few seasons now (see Frieze Masters and its enduring aftermath) but the shared booth between Jocelyn Wolff and Cahn International took matters to a whole other level.
As part of a theatrical display exquisitely created by the artist Guillaume Leblon—which imitated simultaneously an archeological excavation and an historical museum display—works by contemporary artists from the roster of Jocelyn Wolff (including Katinka Bock, Leblon, and Elodie Seguin) met archeological treasures brought by Cahn, including an Egyptian sarcophagus and a colossal statue of an Egyptian god (with a price tag of €220,000).
The feat did strike a chord with the VIPs, who consistently crammed the booth during the morning preview, spending a large amount of time trying to take it all in. “Independent was the perfect fair to do this,” Cahn told artnet News of his first collaboration with his long-time friend Wolff. “It’s an exciting and young fair, which allows for experimentation, for trying new formats. With this dialogue we have staged here, conceptual contemporary artworks become more objectual, and historical works become more conceptual. We wanted to find a new way to look at this different types of works,” he added.
4. Mary Mary, Glasgow
Mary Mary, one of Glasgow’s most exciting commercial galleries, staged a superb dialogue between two young female artists, the Irish Aleana Egan and the LA-based Milano Chow. Egan’s textural sculptures—priced between €16,000 and €19,000—encapsulate and obscure literary references with precarious, everyday materials like cardboard, tape, and filler. Meanwhile, Chow’s graphite on paper drawings and photo tranfers—priced between £2,200 and £3,000—betray a nostalgic fascination with vintage fashion and noir female characters not dissimilar to those found in the artworks of Lucy McKenzie and Paulina Olowska. It’s not immediately obvious exactly why, but the stark contraposition of styles and materials worked beautifully.
5. Elizabeth Dee, New York/Peres Projects, Berlin
Shared booths were in abundance at this first edition of Independent Brussels, and joint presentations created some of the highlights of the fair. The three Belgian artists working under the moniker of Leo Gabin, represented by both Elizabeth Dee and Peres Projects, gave the two galleries the perfect excuse to share a space and showcase the trio’s new body of work, the series Exit/Entry. Dee subtly complement her presentation with a John Giorno Thanks for Nothing canvas (in the region of $35,000) and two photographs by Mac Adams.
Meanwhile, Peres Project presented one large painting on canvas and two large painting on plexiglass in metal frames by the young German artist Melike Kara. Kara’s phenomenal paintings, depicting social interactions rendered with an expressionist touch, were certainly one of the discoveries at the fair.
6. Galerie Micheline Szwajcer, Brussels
One could be tempted to say that—with its polished presentation of (mostly) established Belgian stars—the Brussels gallery played it safe. But when the artists in question turn out to be Lili Dujourie, Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, David Claerbout, and Ann Veronica Janssens—joined by Stanley Brouwn, Bernard Frize, and Daniel Dewar & Gregory Gicquel—it’s best to be forgiving and enjoy the quality of the works. The group of VIPs and local collectors that crowded the booth at all times during the preview definitely seemed to agree.
7. David Zwirner, New York, London
Zwirner brought the blue chip factor to Independent, with a humungous booth by the entrance and a miscellaneous display of heavy hitters like Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Fred Sandback, and Wolfgang Tillmans. There was also a generous display of works by Carol Bove, with Yellow Chevrons, a recent sculpture by the American artist, changing hands during the preview for a price in the region of $175,000. Meanwhile, a large canvas hung as a tapestry of sorts by Oscar Murillo was on reserve a few hours into the preview for a price in the region of $280,000.
8. Gb Agency, Paris, and Galeria Jaqueline Martins, São Paulo
This shared booth was all subtly nuanced, which made it stand out next to more garish presentations. gb agency brought a nice selection of small, mostly paper-based artworks by the Czech artist Jiří Kovanda, spanning his conceptual performative pieces from the 1970s up to very recent works, which, with an average price of €5,000 were an absolute steal.
Meanwhile, Galeria Jaqueline Martins presented a series of works by the young Brazilian artist Anna Mazzei, who creates stunning sculptural installations in which geometrical objects become anthropomorphized and infused with narratives. Pieces of a man (2016), a wall-based installation featuring small flat objects made of rubber and copper somehow brought to mind the sensual explorations of fellow Brazilian artist Lygia Clark. Mazzei’s works were a fantastic discovery, and with prices ranging between €2,000 and €5,000, also quite accessible.
9. Le Salon, Brussels (invited by Almine Rech Gallery)
This booth works because of two reasons. First, because it’s funny and colorful, and second, because it’s the result of an act of support and generosity, which in a fair context is always a happy surprise. Instead of exhibiting works by its roster of artists, the Paris, London, and Brussels-based Almine Rech gallery has offered the editorial and curatorial platform Le Salon to use the space at the fair.
Le Salon’s presentation focused around the motif of the cat tree—a brilliant “sculptural form” that is actually gaining some traction in the young contemporary art realm (I first saw it used by Eric Bainbridge at Frieze London 2014).
Here it had been used and reinterpreted by a fantastic selection of artists including John Armleder (the only one represented by Almine Rech), Laurent Ledeunff, Regina Maria Möller, and Amanda Ross-Ho. For those who want a piece of this cat tree action, rest assured, all the works are up for sale.
10. Galerie Meyer Kainer, Vienna
Despite its rather understated look, this booth won my heart because of its beautiful selection of sculptures and installations, specially a lovely wood, polystyrene, acrylic, and parachute cord piece by Rachel Harrison called Framing device (pink) (2014), a wood and foam floor sculpture by Thea Djordjadze, and a table-based installation with cut-outs by Nikolas Gambaroff.
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