Five Shows to See in Brussels During BRAFA 2019

By Abigail R. Esman
Though often called the “mini-TEFAF”, the Brussels Fine Art and Antiques Fair (BRAFA) in many ways stands in a league of its own, boasting the high quality and encyclopedic breadth of TEFAF fairs in an intimate, highly personal setting. This is not the fair for speculators or buyers looking to party. It is, rather, an art fair for the connoisseurs.

T his year’s edition kicks off in January, as it has since 1955, with an abundance of riches. BRAFA (26 January to 3 February), as always, will spotlight a full panoply of artistic achievement – from ancient Egyptian limestone reliefs to contemporary paintings, and kunstkabinett ephemera to Rene Lalique jewels.

Philippe Wolfers, (Brussels, 1858-1929), Art Nouveau ‘Glycines’ choker, Brussels, circa 1901-1902.
Philippe Wolfers, (Brussels, 1858-1929), Art Nouveau ‘Glycines’ choker, Brussels, circa 1901-1902. Courtesy: Epoque Fine Jewels, BRAFA Art Fair.

Highlights on view from the 133 participating galleries include a stunning, one-of-a kind Art Nouveau choker by Philippe Wolfers, with twining leaves and flowers of plique-à-jour enamel, opals, rubies and tourmalines in gold (Epoque Fine Jewels); an elegantly-sculpted 19th-century Chokwe hair comb depicting a man riding a dog (Didier Claes); Frida’s plaster corset with a hammer and sickle (and unborn baby), circa 1950, worn by the Kahlo herself (Sofie van de Velde); and an exquisitely carved, 16th-century gilded Saint Margaret (Mullany Haute Epoque Fine Art).

Frida Kahlo, Frida’s plaster corset with a hammer and sickle (and unborn baby), circa 1950. Courtesy: Sofie Van de Velde.

BRAFA also hosts two honorary guests this year: British duo Gilbert and George, whose signature coupling of humour with polemic shines in five large-scale works hung throughout the fair. BRAFA will also celebrate the centenary of the Belgian Royal Chamber of Antiques and Art Dealers with an exhibition and catalogue showcasing exceptional pieces from members’ own private collections.

Gilbert & George, Handball, 2008. Courtesy: Gilbert & George, White Cube and Albert Baronian.

And for those hungering for more, Brussels also offers a host of events and exhibitions to complement BRAFA. Here we provide some recommendations.

El Anatsui, The Beginning and the End, 2015. Courtesy: the artist. Photo: RMFAB.

El Anatsui: The Beginning and The End

The city’s flagship art museum will play host to glimmering, draping, folding sculptures and wall pieces by the Ghana-born artist El Anatsui. In his practice, El Anatsui investigates changing traditions and his own identity through African graphic patterns and references to old proverbs, using discarded materials such as bottle caps and crumpled pieces of scrap metal.

El Anatsui, The Beginning and the End, 2015. Courtesy: the artist. Photo: RMFAB.

The fluidity of the works and the universality of their references are heightened by the tactile temptations of their surfaces, and the sheer majesty and grace of their objectness.

On view at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium until 10 February 2019

Installation shot of Beyond Borders, featuring Wirbelsäule/Articulated Column by Tony Cragg, 1997, Zirkon Kompass by Markus Hoffmann, 2015, Untitled by Jaume Plensa, 1996 and Untitled by Jannis Kounellis, 1996. Courtesy: Fondation Boghossian.

Beyond Borders

Villa Empain, a jewel of Brussels Art Deco architecture, is home to the Boghossian Foundation, which, under the stewardship of jeweller Jean Boghossian, is dedicated to creating dialogues between Eastern and Western cultures.

Its current exhibition explores political and poetic ideas around “borders” and aesthetic experience through the work of 37 renowned artists from Europe and the Arab world, including Anish Kapoor, Rebecca Horn and Mounir Fatmi.

On view at Villa Empain through 24 February 2019

Magma Cloud Ashes

From early drawings sketched on cave walls in earth, chalk, and charcoal, to contemporary installations involving coal and pigment, artists have always relied the colours and materials of the elements: red (magma), white (clouds) and black (ash).

The exhibition at the Belfius Art Gallery, home to the Belfius Bank collection, features 50 works from that, while appearing disparate and unrelated, share these fundamental colours. Paintings by Jan Brueghel and René Magritte, drawings by James Ensor, and sculptures by Hans op de Beeck and Jan Fabre are among the exhibits that bring new insights across the history of art.

On view at Belfius Art Gallery through 23 March 2019

Anna Zemánková, Untitled, circa 1960. Courtesy: Hannah Rieger. Photo: Anna Zemánková Estate.

Women in Art Brut?

Women in Art Brut? takes its title as a challenge. Indeed, while most exhibitions have focused on male Outsiders such as Howard Finster, Martín Ramírez, and Adolf Wölfli, Women In Art Brut? showcases 105 works by or about women, on loan from the renowned Hannah Rieger collection.

Laila Bachtiar, Löwe im Dschungel, 2000
Laila Bachtiar, Löwe im Dschungel, 2000. Courtesy: Hannah Rieger. Photo: galerie gugging.

Highlights range from Madge Gill’s intricately-patterned drawings of large-eyed women, to Anna Zemánková’s fantastical, nearly-erotic botanicals and Laila Bachtiar’s richly-coloured pencil sketches of flowers and obsessive black-and-white abstractions. All this goes to making the answer to the exhibition’s question a loud, resounding “yes”.

On view at Art et Marges through 10 February 2019

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