Even in the thick of great tragedy and tribulation, art persists, and thus Art Brussels will be standing firm in 2016, shifting global attention from destruction to our continued capacity for creation. The choice is a remarkable, commendable one, and to be sure, it will be nothing short of a joy to see this art-world institution—now in its 34th year—once again grace Brussels’ burgeoning local scene with a broad sweep of work from across the globe. The tagline for this year’s edition—‘From Discovery to Rediscovery’—looks to be particularly apt, for just as Art Brussels is liable to shine with its characteristic vibrancy, reveling in the inventive programming and play that has brought countless galleries clamoring to its previous stagings, it also seems as though return visitors will have plenty to experience anew.
Art Brussels’ most salient shift this year arrives in the form of a shift in venue; previously housed in Brussels Expo, the fair will now be laying down roots in the city’s vast Tour & Taxis, a breathtaking turn-of-the-century complex whose industrial features—yawning ceiling and oceanic windows—will prove ideal for a celebration of the visual. Belgian photography collective OTTOMURA, whom Art Brussels tapped for their 2016 Creative Campaign, has offered tantalizing and surreal glimpses of the structure wreathed in whorls of colored smoke.
As significant as this locational switch-up are Art Brussels’ announced structural changes, the foremost of which is a slimming down in size, if not scope; in contrast to last year’s edition, which collected 191 galleries from 34 countries, the 2016 showing will present 141 from 28 countries, offering, it would appear, the same vital diversity in a more compact profile. The fair will also be gathering a fleet of fresh faces this time around, ceding just under over one third of its floorspace to newcomers. Among the first-time exhibitors are Luis Campaña (Berlin), the ubiquitous PACE (London, Beijing, Hong Kong, Menlo Park, New York), and New York’s Lyles & King, who were just recently seen among these parts.
As ever, Art Brussels will spotlight established and rising artists in their ‘PRIME’ and ‘DISCOVERY’ sections, respectively, but the addition of a new initiative titled ‘REDISCOVERY’ will draw newfound emphasis to work of the modernist avant-garde that may have escaped the snare of the art-historical canon. While the fair’s SOLO section will continue to foreground a wide variety of individual artists, this year’s flagship project—an exhibition entitled Cabinet d’amis—will place a constellation of figures in close dialogue, drawing from the collection of Belgian curator Jan Hoet (1936–2014).
We’d be terribly remiss were we to move idly along to our Art Brussels highlights without mentioning the presence of another dawning art fair in Brussels—namely, the newest arm of Independent. Indeed, April 20th marks the launch of the inaugural Independent Brussels, an event which, given Independent’s reliably sky-high grade of quality, should be nothing short of unmissable. The fair will arrive with 60 galleries from 30 countries, stretching its legs across the six floors of a former furniture store. While Independent Brussels will naturally see the participation of several local venues, it will also be bringing a number of exhibitors to the city for the very first time; let’s hope it sees more of them—and indeed, more of Independent—in the years to come.
bitforms gallery | Jonathan Monaghan (PRIME)
An artist eminently interested in the seismic shifts brought on by new technology (and, moreover, given to instrumentalizing this new tech himself), Jonathan Monaghan falls neatly in line with the ethos of New York’s bitforms gallery, which orbits around similar lines of inquiry. The 20-minute film Escape Pod is something of a crystallization point in Monaghan’s body of work—a conceptual intersection of paths well tread—and make no mistake, things get strange. In a CGI parable set on loop, a golden stag bounds through millennial landscapes of luxury and terror, a lone wanderer in a post-Snowden, post-Snow-Leopard world not dissimilar to ours. Welcome to the near future, brought to you by bitforms.
Ani Molnár | Marge Monko (DISCOVERY)
Courtesy Budapest’s Ani Molnár Gallery, which has quickly risen to renown by way of its radical curatorial practice and steady presence on the art-fair circuit, visitors to Art Brussels will have opportunity to acquaint themselves with the ferociously smart (and oft beguiling) work of Estonian artist Marge Monko. Working primarily in photo and video, Monko directs both original and appropriated material to incisive political ends, peeling back the layers of tacit signification lurking beneath our material past. Monko’s work bears the conspicuous imprint of Pictures Generation influence, picking up threads left by the movement’s female luminaries, but its grasp on the modern zeitgeist buoys it well above mere reference.
Jenkins Johnson Gallery | Gordon Parks (REDISCOVERY)
While rightly celebrated, the work of Gordon Parks, the photographer-turned-filmmaker who brought issues of civil rights and rural poverty into stark, affecting relief, remains ripe for rediscovery. The jarring lucidity of Parks’ vision lent presence and weight to sociopolitical issues that linger to this day, and to look upon his photographs is to both be reminded of our progress and compelled to continue our forward push. Parks’ work will be in the good hands of San Francisco/New York mainstay Jenkins Johnson Gallery, which, on the occasion of the artist’s 100th birthday, organized the career-spanning Centennial Exhibition.
Galerie Daniel Templon | Iván Navarro (SOLO)
But a passing glance at the media comprising Iván Navarro’s Cars (gracing Brussels care of Galerie Daniel Templon) should convince the unacquainted that the Chilean artist operates in rarefied territory. Though Navarro addresses subjects well represented in contemporary work, approaching issues of power and control from his (decidedly unique) position as a survivor of Pinochet rule, he does so through utterly unique material means, crafting seductive displays of torqued neon and mirrors spilling outwards into infinite regress. Fragments of language hurtle through Navarro’s world, reaching the viewer as strange, denaturalized ciphers that demand second looks. Go ahead—peer into his warped looking glass—just take care not to tumble in.