Independent art fair disrupts the status quo in Brussels

Barely inside Brussels’ new art fair, Independent — open one day prior to Art Brussels — and a sense of renewal overrides the habitual weariness induced by white-cube inspired fairs the world over. Olivier Pesret, Co-director of Independent confirms that founder Elisabeth Dee was driven by a desire to “change the existing model of art fairs.” The gamble of alterity has already paid off.
Created seven years ago, Independent  is already an established part of the New York art scene, where it runs in parallel to the Armory Show. The fair’s aim is to retain a reasonable format, and to “not become a machine that is no longer led by galleries.”

Five floors and 72 exhibitors later and the air of change is confirmed: an authentic desire on the behalf of the organizers and participating galleries to produce something out of the ordinary is clearly visible. Some important established galleries have bypassed the city’s older fair, Art Brussels, opting for Independent. Among these, Gladstone, David Zwirner and Chantal Crousel; For Crousel, a Belgian native, this is the first time she has ever exhibited in her home country, a positive indicator for Independent.

Galerie Chantal Crousel | photo. Isabelle Arthuis

“We’re a curated fair” explains Pesret, “we curate the content.” This initiative is probably where Independent’s success lies: “a lot of fairs today simply align their accepted proposals, we change our design every year in an effort to blur the lines between the galleries and truly engage with the presentations.” There is no favoritism either, “we operate in the same way with all galleries: the conversations are the same with a very uncomplicated relationship.”

The invitation-based selection “is an organic process,” says Pesret, “based on the collectors and curators that we know well, or on galleries recommending other galleries, which creates a large rotation, allowing us to expand naturally.”  

Independent features elaborately curated projects such as the collaborative stand between Jocelyn Wolff and Cahn International, with a presentation posting archaeology in conversation with contemporary art. “Clearing” features a series of haunting sculptures by Huma Bhabha in burnt wood, whilst Jaqueline Martins from Sao Paulo presents a poetic installation piece by Ana Mazzei. Gregor Staiger presents a stand of video and installation work, with both hilarious and disturbing pieces by Shana Moulton alongside Nicolas Party’s work.

Dvir has brought along an installation of white caps entitled Internationalismus by Sarah Ortmeyer. The gallery recently opened a new space in Brussels in the former galley of Catherine Bastide, who has taken a sabbatical, and is proving to be a force to be contended with, with a dynamic pace well suited to the arrival of Independent.

Dvir Gallery | photo. Isabelle Arthuis

At Art Brussels, the Discovery section remains the most interesting space and the location of the most interesting conversations. Notable pieces include works by Martin Cordiano and José Vera Matos at Walden from Buenos Aires as well as a selection of well executed drawings by American artist Christine Sun Kim at Carroll/Fletcher. An impressive collection of photographs by Caroline Heider can be found at Unttld gallery from Vienna featuring snapshots of female models, folded and rolled up. Super Dakota is presenting two artists, Sarah Derat and Chris Dorland, both of whom are undoubtedly names to watch. A sculptor and painter respectively, the quality of their work is impressive.

Elsewhere within the fair a certain tension can be felt in reaction to the arrival of Elizabeth Dee and her band of young, exciting collaborators. One gets the feeling that a more overarching division could be on the horizon between the old and the new in Brussels.

Behind the imposing and well-established mechanics of Art Brussels, a lack of enthusiasm can be felt. Despite the impressive new location at Tour & Taxis, it could be argued that the fair needs to take further steps to exit the grey zone. Maybe the arrival of a new contender will provide the necessary wake-up call.