A blog about Belgian culture in London. A blog about the arts in London, Brussels and Milan, from a Belgian point of view.

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I know, this is a rather feeble attempt at putting a catchy title to this post. I have written about the FAI, the “Italian National Trust” before, but this time I would like to highlight one of their initiatives, which aims at protecting endangered historical, natural or artistic heritage in Italy.

The “Places I Love” census

Have you ever asked yourself which place in Italy was your favourite?  Is it a garden, a villa, a forest, an island, a bell tower, a church or a trail? Well, now might be the time to do so, as the FAI is interested in your answer for its “Places I Love” census. Simply choose a place anywhere in Italy which you’d like to see cherished and protected, and let the FAI know. With your help they’ll do everything possible to protect it.

The FAI’s “I Luoghi del Cuore” (“Places I Love”) census, which is now in its 6th edition, aims to give voice to the suggestions on Italy’s cultural heritage, in order to grant it a future. To do so, the census asks citizens to identify those places they feel as particularly dear and important and which they would like to see preserved for future generations. The appeal endeavours to protect big and small, famous or less well-known treasures that occupy a special place in the lives of those who cherish them.

The good thing is that this year, for the first time ever, voting is open to people from all over the world because “beauty has no boundaries”. So you have until 30 November to cast your vote on the Places I Love website.

Saved Locations

Thanks to the public’s support, eleven locations have been saved so far. Here below are two examples.

Mulino di Bàresi (Bàresi Watermill) in Bergamo Province

Bàresi Watermill in Bergamo Province (® Marco Mazzoleni)

Bàresi Watermill in Bergamo Province (Picture ® Marco Mazzoleni)

This mill, which is immersed in a beautiful clearing in the upper Val Brembana (a valley in Lombardy), was highlighted in the first national survey in 2003 and was subsequently acquired by the FAI . Restoration works were completed in 2006 and the mill officially reopened.

Colombaia Castle, Trapani (Sicily)

Colombaia Castle, Trapani (Sicily)

Colombaia Castle, Trapani (Sicily)

The Colombaia castle was the most referred location in the 2008 census, with 7,053 votes. The first success of “Places I Love” was to draw attention to the process of recovery of the castle, which for years had been buried under the weight of bureaucracy, and to shake the situation out of this impasse. As a result, the obstacles that stood in the way of the Colombaia’s recuperation have been overcome: the castle is no longer listed as a national property, but now belongs to the Region of Sicily, which has allocated 600,000 Euros to ensure that the building’s safety is up to standard.

Win a trip to Italy and a stay at an enchanting guest house on the Italian Riviera

To promote the “Places I love” initiative, the FAI is organising a competition in which you have to demonstrate how well you know Italy. Easy! It is quite simple: just answer a few questions about Italy, invite friends to play, recommend places and, finally, connect with your social media accounts (Twitter or Facebook). The final step is perhaps a little bit more complicated: upload a video in which you declare your love for Italy and the place of your choice.

To play, just visit

I found the quiz questions pretty easy (except for the sports section, obviously), but that’s probably because I lived in Italy for 5 years.

The prizes for players from abroad are really, really cool.

San Fruttuoso Abbey (Picture ® Flavio Pagani)

San Fruttuoso Abbey (Picture ® Flavio Pagani)

First Prize: A one week’s stay in Italy at the San Fruttuoso Abbey, which has been turned by the FAI into guest rooms, and a voucher to cover travel expenses of up to €600
Second Prize: 4 days (three nights) at San Fruttuoso Abbey and a voucher to cover travel expenses of up to €200
Third Prize: Contribution to cover travel expenses, up to €100 to be used once on for Italian destinations

From what I can see, not that many people outside Italy have taken part in the game yet, so your chances of winning are relatively high. If I were you, I would definitely play!

Yesterday I went to the Frieze Art Fair. I am adding the “Art Fair” bit, because on Friday when I asked at the pub if anyone was going to Frieze, someone answered “Yes” thinking I was actually enquiring whether they were very cold…

Frieze London 2012

Frieze London 2012 (Photograph by Linda Nylind, Courtesy of Linda Nylind/ Frieze)

It was my second visit to this international contemporary art fair, which takes place every October in Regent’s Park. Quite a few of my friends refused joining me this year, on the ground that tickets were too expensive. In a way, they’re right: £28 to do not even “art shopping” but “window art shopping” is probably a bit much. But I couldn’t resist going, for there is no doubt Frieze is the arts event in autumn in London.

Just like last year, I paid particular attention to the Belgian galleries that had made the trip to London for the occasion. Here is a short report of what I’ve seen, in alphabetic order. Unless specified otherwise, all these galleries are based in Brussels.

Almine Rech Gallery: Their current Jeff Koons exhibition, the first in Brussels since 1992, is big news in Belgium. Everyone (including me) seemed to like Gregor Hildebrandt’s “Madge Evans” – a good way to recycle old cassettes in a glamorous way.

Galerie Catherine Bastide: Catherine Bastide was showing works by Valerie Snobeck and Jean-Pascal Flavien. I found Flavien’s reflection on space, or “physical phrases” (climbing, sleeping, waiting, and sitting), very interesting.

Jean-Pascal Flavien, Breathing house, Galerie Catherine Bastide

Jean-Pascal Flavien, Breathing house, a sequence or a phrase (2012) – Galerie Catherine Bastide

Dépendance: The gallery was exhibiting in the “Focus” section of Frieze, open to galleries established after 2001 and showing up to three artists. They had chosen Henrik Olesen, Nora Schultz and Josef Strau, three Germanic artists whose works dialogue nicely.

Dépendance Gallery booth at Frieze 2012

Dépendance Gallery booth at Frieze 2012

Galerie Micheline Szwajcer: Based in Antwerp, this gallery represents some big names, including Hans-Peter Feldmann (a favourite of mine) and Carsten Höller. At Frieze they were showing “Homeless Cat”, a 2011 work by David Claerbout. I must have seen this interactive, real-time video synchronized with actual day and night time at Parasol Unit this spring, although I can’t remember it. They were also showing “Golden Square”, a 2012 work by Ann Veronica Janssens.

MOT International: This London-based gallery opened a second space in Brussels one year ago. In the “Focus” section of Frieze they were showing a video by Elizabeth Price, who is a 2012 Turner Prize nominee.

Office Baroque Gallery: This Antwerp-based gallery was also exhibiting in the “Focus” section. They had brought three American artists to Frieze; I quite liked Aaron Bobrow’s “Maitland”.

Zeno X Gallery: Another Antwerp-based gallery, Zeno X was in the A1 stand (the very first one). I was really intrigued by the work of Dutch artist Kees Goudzwaard. At first sight it looks like minimal colour studies constructed from rectangles of paper and tape. Upon close inspection, you realise that his works are actually painstakingly created trompe l’oeil paintings.

Having written all this, I have a (major) confession to make: I have never visited any of these galleries. In my defence, I haven’t been living in my homeland since 2006, and back then contemporary art wasn’t my priority. I pledge, next time I am back for more than a few days (and there is no major event like, say, my sister getting married), to pay these Belgian galleries a visit on their own grounds.

Thomas Bayrle, Frieze Projects 2012

Thomas Bayrle ‘Sloping Loafers / Smooth’ (2012), Commissioned and produced by Frieze Foundation for Frieze Projects 2012 (Photograph by Polly Braden, Courtesy of Polly Braden/ Frieze)

A few random thoughts about Frieze to round off this article

1. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if one of the galleries came to the fair with a PC… Would they be allowed in at all? (And I say this as someone who’s been using Macs since 1999.)

2. I couldn’t repress a smile when a visitor enquired out loud whether Paul McCarthy was “the singer”, McCartney and McCarthy’s artistic outputs being quite different.

3.  Gail’s Bakery makes really delicious sandwiches and cakes, at reasonable prices. I wish they would open a store in Covent Garden.

4. Yesterday proved to be a linguistic golden opportunity: it is not that often that I can use all five of my languages in the space of one afternoon. That’s very much the spirit of an international art fair I suppose.

Writing this post is against my own interest. I am torn between keeping this a secret and telling everyone how good it is. I’ll go for the latter, since they are very nice people.

Love Art London is one of the most beautiful things to have happened to me since moving to London. Love Art London is, in their own words, the “best god damn behind-the-scenes art club in London”. It is all true.

It was founded by the ever colourfully-dressed Chris, who left his job at Sotheby’s in order to organise a “monthly programme of unique arty happenings exclusively for members”. The club is run by him, aided by the ever-enthusiastic American gal Lindsay. The lovely Emma, a fine art student who interns with them, provides practical assistance.

Love Art London hangs out with Billy Childish (© Lovel Art London)

Love Art London hangs out with Billy Childish, who shows off his woodcut printmaking technique (© Love Art London)

London has a lot to offer culturally and even I, who pretty much live through that (I was about to write “for that”, but that sounded slightly too extreme), find it sometimes overwhelming. There have been times when I thought I was getting close to an arts overdose.

So it is easy to just follow the blockbuster shows at the world-class museums that are Tate, the V&A, the National Gallery and the British Museum. And then to add to them some seasonal events such as the Frieze art fair or the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion.

Which is why Love Art London is fab. For £25 a month, you have access to the 4 (or 5) events they organise monthly. These include behind-the-scenes visits to exhibitions, auction houses and museums, usually with their curators or directors. We also often visit artists in their studios, which provides an opportunity to get a first-hand account of their practice.

The following three events have been my favourite so far.

Polly Morgan studio visit and subsequent show at All Visual Art: I’ve already written here why I like this taxidermy artist so much.

Lucian Freud’s drawings at Blain Southern: In conjunction with the retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery, Blain Southern was showing over 70 years of drawings by Freud. I found them utterly beautiful and very intimate.

A behind-the-scenes at Phillips de Pury design auction with their in-house specialists: as a design enthusiast I had been hugely looking forward to that visit. I was not disappointed…

This week’s event, a “Walk & Talk” with British sculptor Richard Wentworth, deserves special mention for being one of the most intellectually stimulating events so far.

Other highlights included Renaissance Sculpture at Daniel Katz Gallery; Jelly Sculpture with Bompas & Parr; Alex Hartley in conversation at Victoria Miro; a visit to the studio of Idris Khan & Annie Morris; a behind the scenes at the Mondrian & Nicholson exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery (with the show’s curator Barnaby Wright); the Catlin Art Prize with Curator Justin Hammond; a “Graffiti Connoisseur’s Walking Tour” in Shoreditch (increased my street creds greatly with that one…); “Alexander Calder in India” at Pilar Ordovas; and a behind-the-scenes at the Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garret.

Chris Pensa, Love Art London

Sometimes we do “weird” things: here Chris and Karen Howell (from The Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garret) demonstrate old amputation techniques.

Last but not least, Love Art London is an excellent way to discover more of London itself. The city is so big, you can easily take to staying in your local area. I live in Stoke Newington, and without Love Art London I probably wouldn’t have set foot yet in Wandsworth, Colindale, or Acton.

A note for Chris:
Having had a thorough look at all the past events, there are some I feel very sorry to have missed indeed. Any way you could repeat Museum Framing Uncovered, Restoration Masterclass, Jewellery Handling – and, above all, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel: Inside a Gothic Masterpiece?

The below is a (chronological) record of my artistic and cultural consumption for the month of September 2012. I have yet to find a good website that would enable me to keep track of all the stuff I do and see, so at the moment this blog will have to do.

Strictly speaking, I started my cultural month in Milan, where my very much needed – and somewhat deserved – holiday in Italy was ending, with a visit to the Museo del Novecento (the “Museum of the 20th Century”).

Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, The Fourth Estate, Museo del Novecento

Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, The Fourth Estate, Museo del Novecento

Back in London, this is what I’ve been up to.

The Estorick Collection and the “In Astratto” Exhibition
In the near future I’ll write a whole blog about the Estorick, the only gallery devoted to modern Italian art in the UK, so I’ll be brief here. Last month I paid them a visit to see the “In astratto” exhibition, which explored abstraction in Italy between 1930 and 1980. I even attended a free lecture on Futurism after WWI, on the last sultry afternoon of 2012 in London – perhaps not the wisest of choices since there were so few of them…

Damien Hirst at Tate Modern
Sometimes I live dangerously: sometimes I wait until the very last day of a major exhibition to see it. Sometimes, as a result, I don’t get to see it because it’s sold out (and I forever regret the only opportunity to see two versions of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Virgin of the Rocks” together). Fortunately this was not the case, and I managed to see this major retrospective of Hirst’s work. I was happy to be able to finally form an opinion on this ex-YBA who seems to have somewhat fallen out from grace recently.

My flatmate, who’s slightly older than me, claims he liked Hirst in the nineties already, before he became super famous (Hirst, not my flatmate). Anyway, I must say I was pleasantly surprised: there were quite a few very clever ideas that made me smile or reflect.

That visit was also the occasion for a quick (probably too quick) look at the newly opened Tate Tanks.

NB: I paid reduced ticket price thanks to my National Art Pass :)

Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living

Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living

The Old Operating Theatre (with Love Art London)
I had never heard of this most unusual museum before my visit, which was organised by Love Art London and led by the museum’s chief curator Karen Howell. The Old Operating Theatre Museum features Europe’s oldest operating theatre and is located in a unique space in the Herb Garret of St Thomas Church.

Bring on fab atmospheric location, old medicine and apothecary instruments, and demonstration of amputation techniques in the good old times when anaesthetics didn’t exist. The Old Operating Theatre is one of the quirkiest museums I’ve seen, and I definitely recommend it, especially if you are into medicine.

“Mademoiselle Julie” at the Barbican
Back in July a friend of mine suggested booking tickets for Strindberg’s famous play, performed in French, in a French production (by Frédéric Fisbach), and… starring Juliette Binoche herself. The play ended up being the talk of the town, and I was very glad I caught the second performance.

I thought the production was quite nice, modern in an elegant way, and I liked Binoche’s performance. I found Nicolas Bouchaud as Jean less convincing (a bit stiff). Juliette Binoche’s costumes were designed by Lanvin’s Albert Elbaz, and were very chic indeed. On a side note, I would be very grateful if someone could explain to me what the silent man in a rabbit mask was representing.

Juliette Binoche in Mademoiselle Julie at the Barbican

Juliette Binoche in Mademoiselle Julie at the Barbican (© Christophe Raynaud de Lage – Festival d’Avignon)

The Magic Flute at the ENO
Together with Carmen, Die Zauberflöte is my absolute favourite opera. The English National Opera was presenting a revival of their “traditional” production by Nicholas Hytner of Mozart’s masterpiece, celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Although the staging was a bit too classical for my taste, and despite the fact that the opera was sung in English (as is customary at the ENO), Mozart’s music did the trick, as always. And it was nice being back at the Coliseum, 12 years after my initial visit – which actually coincided with my first time ever at the opera.

The Magic Flute at ENO

The Magic Flute at ENO (Alistair Muir)

Viewing of the Design Auction at Phillips de Pury (with Love Art London)
I love design, I really do. This is why I had been waiting impatiently for that particular Love Art London gig since it had been announced: a behind-the-scene tour of Phillips de Pury’s autumn Design Auction, with specialists Marine Hartogs and Meaghan Roddy. Of course I fell in love with several pieces, including these sublime Venetian pots by glass artist Yoichi Ohira.

Phillips de Pury - Design Auction September 2012

Design Auction at Phillips de Pury, September 2012

My month ended with a visit to the studio of British portrait artist Nicola Green, with Love Art London again.

The purpose of this post is not simply to list all of the cool things I saw and did last month. I would really like to start a conversation here. Have you seen any of these shows, exhibitions and museums? Did you think they were brilliant? Were you disappointed? Either way, let me know. And let me know if I’ve missed something that was, well… unmissable.