Independent directors Liv Vaisberg and Olivier Pesret on the fair’s debut edition

With just over a week before its inaugural edition opens in Brussels, Independent directors Olivier and Liv talk to us about the New York fair’s natural fit for Brussels, comparisons to Art Brussels and why they can’t wait for doors to open on 20th April.

  1. Independent is a well-known art fair, with an already well-established edition in New York. Why was it important to launch a Brussels edition?

Since its inception Independent has had about half of its exhibitors coming from Europe. We wanted to offer them the possibility to be closer to home, and at the same time allow people from the Americas to come to Europe. Brussels was a natural fit for us with a strong art scene and support from institutions, non-profits and collectors. And we all love Belgium!

  1. At its core, what would you say are the overriding values and philosophies of Independent?

A fair by gallerists for galleries. That is our key motto and everything revolves around that. We put all our effort in creating the best platform possible for galleries and more importantly their artists. This means we take into consideration every single aspect. We curate the content by working on invitation basis. We know what galleries bring to the fair and adapt where they are placed in the fair and shape their “booths” based on that. This allow us to create a unique experience for visitors. Also we treat every single gallery the same way. We have conversations with them, and build upon these relationships.

  1. This is the first time Independent ventures out of its New York market. How different is it to launch and organise an art fair in Brussels than in New York?

New York is an international hub for the art world. Brussels has a very different atmosphere which we want people to discover as we feel strongly about the city, country and region in a broad sense. So we start fresh, having to build it all from the ground up. We’ve both been living in Belgium for 12 years now and know the country very well and how it works here, which helps to adapt the New York model to Belgium.

We feel strongly about the city, country and region in a broad sense.

  1. When working on this first edition, what were the main challenges you faced?

In Brussels we needed to start from scratch and source everything locally. We were fortunate to work with the City of Brussels and have this beautiful venue the Vanderborght in the historical centre of Brussels and can rely on the local art community that support us. That helped jumpstart the entire process.

  1. In terms of the participating galleries and the works on show, how would you say it differs from other fairs in Brussels and Belgium?

We are truly a curated fair, and in that sense it is quite different from what you can expect at most other fairs. Since the beginning we work with architects to change our floorplan radically every single year, creating large open spaces thus highlighting the art on display. Our fair resembles much more a biennale than a fair. Galleries showing at Independent bring often site-specific projects. This year, we have 12 galleries sharing their booth and putting up a solid project together. The whole experience is different from regular fairs in Belgium and beyond. Far from being corporate, we function completely different, in a very organic way. We have conversations between us and with our galleries, listen to them, and adapt accordingly. And we are small, some call us a “boutique fair”, we expand but don’t grow in the sense that 65 participants is our very maximum, and it is 65 top galleries and non-profit. Also, Independent is not just a four-day fair. Indeed, we have a permanent space in the Regence Gallery building where we invite galleries from our network to show their artists over a five to six week period. Our Gallery Residency is unique in the world, no other fair has a permanent space of the sort.

  1. The comparisons to Art Brussels are inevitable. Did Brussels really need another art fair and, if so, why?

Did the Armory Show need another fair? We started in NY, the home base of some of our founders Elizabeth Dee, Matthew Higgs and Laura Miterrand and had a positive impact on the March art week. We believe it will be the same in Brussels. With that in mind, when choosing who to invite for the Brussels edition, we reached out to our extended network of galleries and with the new ones we are starting to work with, we looked for galleries that had never shown in the country. Galleries that would really bring something new to the city. The fantastic roaster of galleries we have lined up comes with its own list of followers, collectors, curators all excited to see what the galleries have prepared for the European capital. Our guests will discover all that the city has to offer, including Art Brussels.

 Our guests will discover all that the city has to offer, including Art Brussels.

  1. The fair’s program puts quite a strong emphasis on non-profits as well as on solo and site-driven projects. Can you talk to us a little about this aspect of the fair, and explain its significance to the overall experience?

Our fair being invitational and curated, it naturally encourages galleries to present solo projects, site-specific works or collaboration between artists. It makes it all the more interesting and contributes to the exhibition feel of Independent. We thrive on this curatorial aspect. For example we will have Paris-based Jocelyn Wolff sharing a booth with David Cahn who only trade antics. Contemporary artist Guillaume Leblon is designing the show putting contemporary artists in dialogue with Greek, Egyptian and Roman sculptures. This creates a very special atmosphere, where their artists are happy to come show and often create works specifically for the fair. Artists come to the fair and hang out, which rarely happens at other fairs. For us that’s a marker for our success. That and the unique experience of being surprised each year with a different setting…

  1. On a personal level, what are you particularly looking forward to during Independent?  

Both of us have been in Belgium for well over a decade and have seen it evolve. This really is an exciting time because the local scene is very supportive of our project. We are really looking forward to everyone’s reaction when we open our doors on April 20th. But mostly, we are looking forward to how Independent can contribute in the long term to the Belgian art scene, with our permanent space at Regence and a second edition in the pipeline.

 This really is an exciting time because the local scene is very supportive of our project.

  1. What would you consider a success for this first edition?

If our galleries are happy, if our visitors are happy, then we’ll be happy. Our fair is also for free and open to the wider public. If people come and discover what Independent is about and the word is spread, we will be satisfied. We never thrived on having huge attendant figures though, but offer a great platform to interact with our strong network of galleries and the community of artists they support.

  1. Other than attend your own fair, what will you be trying to catch during the week?

Well, we hope we have time to catch a couple of events during our own fair indeed! Tuesday night there will be gallery openings at Regence, but also Gladstone, Office Baroque, Stems, CLEARING, Almine Rech, who all have great shows at their gallery. Our Regence space is welcoming a New Dehli-based gallery Nature morte with a solo show of Asim Waqif “Autolysis” and a group show on our upper floor “ Droste Effect”. Liv being the co-founder of POPPOSITIONS hopes to have time to see “the Wrong Side” edition run by a new team and situated in Molenbeek.