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Galleries in Brussels Steal the Spotlight From Paris

Galleries in Brussels Steal the Spotlight From Paris – Brief Article

Paul Michaud

BRUSSELS, Belgium–With Brussels now only 90 minutes away from the center of Paris (thanks to the new express train service), it was inevitable Brussels would become an offshoot of the Paris art market.

Indeed, many galleries, foremost among them De Jonckheere–the renowned specialists of old masters of the likes of Pieter Breughel and Maerten Van Cleve–have set up operation in both cities.

But the train is only one of several reasons why the Brussels art market has managed to grow considerably in recent years while the traditional markets of London and Paris have, at best, stagnated. There are fiscal reasons (notably excessive taxation) that have led many French galleries to open Belgian “succursales” (subsidiaries). Many dealers and collectors claim Brussels is a cheaper and better place to live.

But undoubtedly the major reason for the near overnight success of Brussels as a major new art marketplace is that it has become the unofficial capital of the European Union. And, as such, it has managed to attract to Belgium a wholly new population of highly educated, well-paid professionals. These new bureaucrats, business people, lawyers and educators have done much to internationalize the Belgian capital. Indeed, the city’s fourth major language, English, is now spoken in the city streets as frequently as the country’s three other principal tongues: French, Flemish and German. It has also forced the art sector to think about offering the works of a greater number of artists representing a larger assortment of cultures than beforehand.

One sign of the growing importance of Brussels as an art marketplace is the creation, at long last, of a central district in the city where many of the new galleries have decided to set up shop. The Boulevard Barthelemy is where some of the hottest up-and-coming galleries have settled. This street runs alongside the canal which marks the western periphery of the Belgian capital, not far from the Brussels stock exchange and a short walk away from the Grand-Place, the Botanical Gardens and the Gare du Nord.

Located in two large buildings, most of the top galleries have also managed to do something which would be quite unthinkable to the top galleries in Paris–they jointly organize exhibitions, press coverage, unveilings, guided visits, joint brunches and more for visitors, press and collectors alike. Some of the more spectacular recent exhibitions have been observed at such galleries as Kanal 20, Albert Baronian, Artiscope II, Crown Gallery, Encore … Bruxelles, Guy Ledune, H&R Projects, La Lettre Volee and Windows.

Christine Ayoub, who manages Windows, located smack in the middle of the new art district at 20 Boulevard Barthelemy, said her gallery was created in 1996 as a joint venture of two pre-existing galleries, Bernier/Eliades of Athens and Tanil Gallery of Munich. Ayoub quite appropriately refers to the two as “mother galleries” and noted that unlike Tanil and Bernier/Eliades, Windows “has set as its principal objective the development of new international talent without giving a priority to any particular medium. We are just as comfortable offering photography and painting as well as sculpture, video and multi-media”

But, although attention is being paid increasingly to the new art district, Brussels nevertheless maintains the reputation as the site of many well-established traditional galleries. The Galerie Pascal Polar, for example, is located at 108 chaussee de Charleroi, about a half-mile south of the Boulevard Barthelemy district.

As far as gallery owner Pascal Polar is concerned, Brussels has become a major art powerhouse in recent years for one reason only. It is perhaps not so much because of the presence of a new international elite attracted by the growing importance of the European Union, but “because we sell good art at a lower price than Paris and London” he explained. “If there is something specific about the Belgian art market, it is probably that more than anything else.”

Moreover, he pointed out, “If Belgian painters still interest collectors, it is in large part because they are `irregular’ and can’t be categorized as part of any trend or school”

Also, he noted, Brussels galleries are well-known for not having the stuffy atmosphere one tends to find in London or Paris. “Our welcome is always a warm one” he said, “and we find it unfortunate, at least for the present moment, that international collectors have a tendency to want to go to Paris or London when they would be agreeably surprised to come and buy here in Brussels.”

Polar’s new quarters, for instance, was “designed by two exceptional architects who have allowed us to remain true to two ostensibly contradictory trends–to be, at the start of a new century, in the forefront of the great art of the future, all the while staying in touch, culturally speaking, with the recent past.”

This description could also be put forth to describe the new Brussels art scene that is beginning to take root in a city which before long will undoubtedly become not only a major international powerhouse but also increasingly the de facto capital of Europe.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Pfingsten Publishing, LLC

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