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

Posts from the Art in Belgium Category

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.

Last month I went back to Brussels for a weekend. Thanks to Eurostar, I am now only 2 hours away from excellent chocolate, delicious beers and, incidentally, friends and family (and cats!).

Saturday 21st July happened to be Belgium’s National Day. Although my homeland is one of the least nationalistic countries I know, the day is the occasion of some sort of celebrations: some black-yellow-red flag waving, some chips eating, firemen letting small children try their luck as hose operators (and in so doing managing to wet innocent passers-by, me included), etc.

As in previous years, the Law Courts or “Palais de Justice” as they are known in French, were open to the public. These were built between 1866 and 1883 (17 years!) in the eclectic style, by architect Joseph Poelaert.

Brussels Law Court, Architect Poelaerts

Brussels Law Court, Architect Poelaerts

Not only is it Belgium’s most important Court building, but the Brussels Law Courts are also famous for their size: the biggest building constructed in the 19th century, it is bigger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The building is currently 160 by 150 meters, and has a total built ground surface of 26,000 m². It has 8 courtyards with a surface of 6000 m², 27 large court rooms and 245 smaller court rooms and other rooms (says Wikipedia).

All this is well and good, but why is that relevant to a blog dedicated to the arts? Well, the Law Courts are at the origin of a curious “artistic” insult…

In the 19th century, in order to build the Palais de Justice, a section of an adjacent neighbourhood (the “Marollen”) was demolished, while most of an adjacent park was also expropriated. As a result of the forced relocation of so many people, the word “architect” became one of the most serious insults in Brussels.

This is probably more charming that your usual sexual/scatological insult… I should, however, point out that “architect” as an insult is not commonly used nowadays, and I wouldn’t particularly advise you to try it next time someone upsets you in Brussels: your opponent may not catch the historical relevance.

Joseph Poelaert architect

Poor Mr Poelaert: at the origin of one of Brussels’ most original insults…

I will close this post on a slightly sad note. A building of such monstrous proportions as those of the Law Courts of course incurs huge maintenance costs (during our July visit, my friend and I wondered how much the heating bills amounted to). Due to the costs, it seems that the building has fallen into a worrying state of decay in recent years, not to mention the frequent escaping of prisoners.

I do, though, really hope the Belgian state will decide to invest the necessary funds to maintain the building: it is part of our history and… it is not ugly, actually.

In art there are a few things which I am slightly obsessed about. In music it’s Mozart’s Requiem, in architecture art deco (think Villa Necchi-Campiglio in Milan, think Palais Stoclet in Brussels). Another of my pet crazes is sacred, or religious, art.

I particularly like the works of the Early Netherlandish (aka “Flemish primitives”) painters. I love the aesthetics and the level of details that can be found in these.

Ghent Altarpiece Mystic Lamb Van Eyck

Ghent Altarpiece or “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” – Van Eyck

That’s the Van Eyck brothers’ “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb“, which is on display in Saint Bavo cathedral in Ghent: hours and hours of delightful observation guaranteed.

Problem: most of these Early Netherlandish paintings depict biblical topics. And it is not only Early Netherlandish sacred art that I like. I am equally enthused by some other annunciations, crucifixions, etc, such as Fra Angelico‘s San Marco paintings or the Issenheim Altarpiece.

Issenheim altarpiece - Matthias Grünewald

Issenheim altarpiece – Matthias Grünewald

Matthias Grünewald’s altarpiece is one of the most powerful things I have ever seen. I was 15. I was on a ski holiday in the French Vosges (the poor’s Alps) with my family; there was no snow; we resorted to visiting the surrounding area. Fifteen years later, I still remember vividly how shocked I was by this work. Should you ever find yourself in Colmar, be sure to pay a visit to the Unterlinden Museum, where it is displayed.

Why is that a “problem”? Aside from the fact that it’s not particularly cool to like sacred art – it’s much more so to be into the other “s” art, namely, Street Art – I am myself not very religious. So my love of religious paintings made me a little uncomfortable. Why should I be so strongly attracted to them, when I don’t really believe in the stories they tell?

That’s where Alain de Botton comes in. Good old Alain: he endeavours to help you out in all areas of your life – architecture, status, travel and now, religion. The main point of his latest book, “Religion for Atheists“, is that the supernatural claims of religion are entirely false — but that religion still has some very important things to teach the secular world.

One of his chapters is entirely devoted to art. While I will not go into details (read the book!), he basically says it’s alright to like religious art, even when you consider yourself a non-believer. Amongst others, he argues that “Christianity recognizes the capacity of the best art to give shape to pain and thereby to attenuate the worst of our feelings of paranoia and isolation.”

Thank you for ridding me of my complexes, Mr de Botton: I feel I can now indulge in as many “Virgin and Child” and “Descent from the Cross” as I like.

A Bonus
for those of you who made it until the end of this post: some “cheeky” religious art…

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is a baroque sculpture in the Santa Maria della Vittoria church in Rome. You can read about some interesting interpretations of Bernini’s work on Wikipedia.

Ecstasy of Saint Theresa - Bernini

Ecstasy of Saint Theresa – Bernini

I will not comment for myself, as I have yet to see the sculpture…

This is the first in a series of articles on the FAI, the “National Trust of Italy”. If you live in the UK, you are most probably familiar with the National Trust, and you’re perhaps even a member of this brilliant organisation. This is what they do:

We protect historic houses, gardens, mills, coastline, forests, woods, fens, beaches, farmland, moorland, islands, archaeological remains, nature reserves, villages and pubs. Then we open them up for ever, for everyone.

Quite cool, isn’t it? Very high on my “to-visit-list” of National Trust properties is Red House (1860), the only house commissioned, created and lived in by William Morris, one of the founders of the Arts & Crafts movement.

Red House - William Morris - National Trust

Red House – William Morris – National Trust

This blog post, however, is more about the National Trust’s Italian equivalent, the Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI), which was established in 1975 following the model of the British National Trust. The aim of this “Italian Environment Fund” is to protect elements of Italy’s physical heritage which might otherwise be lost.

My absolute favourite FAI property, and I have written about it before – in fact, I suspect I am boring some people with it – is the Villa Necchi Campiglio, a jewel of an Art Deco house situated in the heart of Milan.

Villa Necchi Campiglio Milano - Pietro Portaluppi - FAI

Villa Necchi Campiglio – Pietro Portaluppi – FAI

Some other cool properties in Lombardy include the Villa Panza in Varese (north of Milan). The villa displays part of the contemporary art (think Dan Flavin, James Turrell, etc) collection of master collector Giuseppe Panza.

Villa Panza Varese

Villa Panza in Varese – FAI

As well as the Villa del Balbianello, on the shores of Lake Como, which you can even hire for your wedding (if you have a *substantial* budget).

Villa del Balbianello, Lake Como

Villa del Balbianello, Lake Como – FAI

A one-year membership to FAI costs only 39€ and gives you unlimited entry to the properties (which turns out to be very useful when, like me, you become obsessed by a particular house and need to visit it several times a year…).

Writing about the National Trust and the FAI has made me realise there is no such organisation in Belgium (and, as far as I know, in France). There the State is in charge of protecting national heritage. Knowing my slightly complicated country, there would probably need to be three of such organisations anyway, one for each region. I wonder why we evolved so differently with regard to heritage preservation. Anyone able to provide an answer to this burning question?