It’s that time of year again. Starting on Thursday, Belgium’s art crowd gathers for Art Brussels, the most important art event in the country’s annual calendar. We’ll be previewing the fair this week with a series of daily interviews with gallery owners (Baronian Francey, Xavier Hufkens, Tim Van Laere and Rodolphe Janssens) as well as a range of Throw Away Projects (by Aeroplastics, Bodson-Emelinckx and Sorry we’re closed) and an extensive and exclusive preview of the fair itself. Today, we kick off the series with Brussels duo and real-life couple Alice van den Abeele and Raphaël Cruyt, who opened Alice Gallery in 2005. These two spend their time plugging young emerging artists and have a bit of a thing for street art, as you can see from their Invader exhibition opening this week. We sat down with the pair to talk about their upcoming Art Brussels show and art fairs in general.

How long have you been working on your Art Brussels show?

We started to think about who we’d like to include about eight months ago and then slowly started asking artists, because you never know if they’ll say yes. We also start quite early because we want the artists to produce pieces especially for Art Brussels. In our booth, there will be only one piece that has been shown before, and only because it’s a very important and historic one.

How big is your Art Brussels booth?

We have a medium-sized booth of 37 square meters. We now have to have a bigger space than in the beginning when we were a young gallery. It makes it a bit difficult because the prices of the art pieces don’t double!

What has changed since your first participation in the fair?

When we first started about eight years ago, everything was very new to us. Many of our artists didn’t even have studios yet, but now they can live from their work. We and our gallery grew with them – something that is very important for us. The number of artists we represent has gone up, too, and we cannot show every single one anymore at Art Brussels, while at out first participation in 2006 we exposed 21 artists in a much smaller space than today. We had no experience with it and didn’t want to tell anyone we had to exclude them. Now that’s different.

What are you going to exhibit?

We’re doing a group show of eight artists: Antoine Bouillot, Todd James, Boris Tellegen aka Delta, Olivier Kosta-Théfaine, Pica Pica, Samuel François, Invader and Sixeart. It’s very dense colour-wise. We’re not showing that many pieces and no artist dominates. We try to keep a balance though, a certain consistency. It’s quite pop, bright and colourful. It definitely isn’t easy to find a common line when you show eight different artists. The idea is to have a booth that makes people wander, that works together, but at the same time makes the visitor stop at each piece. People are not going to visit every single booth, so it needs to be coherent and inviting in order to draw them in. Sometimes we also have to improvise a bit as we don’t get to see certain pieces until the week before the fair. The artists do send us pictures of their work process though, so we are not completely left in the dark. But they do like to take as much time as possible.

When you commission the pieces for Art Brussels, do you tell the artists which direction to take?

We do let the artists know what we have in mind for the show and then they tailor their work to it. Especially because the colours are so intense this time it’s important that everything works together. Boris Tellegen for example is making two new pieces. As sometimes his work can be very white, we told him explicitly to do something colourful. We have to give them a certain liberty, so it’s actually hard to plan out before. For the big, established galleries it’s very different though.

Could you elaborate on that? What are the big differences?

We don’t choose the pieces we’ll show from a catalogue like the established galleries do. We focus on new, emerging artists, and for them it’s more important to show something fresh. And they don’t have that big of a stock yet.

What is Art Brussels’ importance on an international scale?

Well, it gets better every year. It’s definitely a good reference and Brussels is gaining importance on the international art market. It’s going in a very good direction. But of course it’s not a first league fair like Basel or Paris. Brussels has more and more young and emerging artists. For the first time, there’s also an off fair taking place this year, which we are very curious about. For us, Art Brussels has always been very good. It’s our territory here, we know the people and clientele, and of course transporting the artworks is much easier and cheaper. Fairs like Paris are tougher, but they are important in order to spread the work of our artists, meet new people and other galleries.

What do you expect from Art Brussels 2012? What are you especially looking forward to?

We want to keep the close relationships with our collectors and also meet new people. There are people we only meet at Art Brussels and nowhere else. The two main points are sales and contacts. We are also looking forward to have a look around, which is difficult though because we’re very busy during the fair. When you find five pieces you liked and that you can remember afterwards, then it’s been a good fair, if you see pieces that change the way you look at art. Regarding out booth we just want it to make sense and see our artists happy. It’s also good to see our artists confronted with the other booths. And of course we want to break even, financially. It’s quite expensive to participate in such a fair.

How difficult is it to break even? And does that mean there’s a lot of competition between the different galleries?

We always hope for the best for everybody. But of course it can be frustrating if the booth next to you works really well. But if the others work well it also shows you that the market is good. It can be quite stressful for young galleries, because if you don’t sell you do have a problem. Fortunately we never had that. You have no permission to fail. And whilst the big galleries can break even by selling one single piece, we have to sell much more.

Why is it that important for you to participate?

It’s important for the image of the gallery and to strengthen old and build new relationships with collectors, institutions or other galleries. If you’re a Brussels-based gallery and don’t show at Art Brussels – it doesn’t look good. It can work as a quality label. Fairs are very important and we couldn’t do without them, but we do have some mixed feelings. They just don’t offer the best conditions to show art. It’s still best to discover art in a gallery setting, not in a little condensed booth. Some collectors only pay attention to fairs and don’t even go to galleries anymore – we find that a bit sad. Don’t get us wrong, we really enjoy being a part of it, but the balance could definitely be better.

Invader: Brussels 2012 – Dérives
Opens 20th April, 18h00
Exhibition runs until 19th May