Newly-installed Art Brussels director Katerina Gregos’ fresh start

“Art fairs need to get away from their typical supermarket style.” The 31st edition of Art Brussels gets underway tomorrow, and this year, after 15 years under the tutelage of Karen Renders, Greek-born Katerina Gregos is taking the directorship reigns, breathing a blast of fresh air into the whole affair. 

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How do you define good art?

Nobody can give a proper answer to that because art is just so subjective. What is art? Even that is debatable. Personally I’m drawn to artworks that display social and political engagement and address critical issues of our time through a filter of visual mediation. Art that doesn’t just document but that is imaginative, interprets and transforms. A mix of intellectual content and distinctive visual means.

What made you want to work for Art Brussels?

It’s very challenging to develop the artistic programme of an art fair, and its long-term vision. And art fairs are, right now in their current form, at a tipping point: they all have a standardised format and are largely similar. My goal is to challenge this heterogeneous identity and find ways to improve it.

I’m drawn to artworks that display social and political engagement and address critical issues of our time through a filter of visual mediation.

What’s changed at this year’s Art Brussels, then? 

We worked with designers on the scenography for the first time. There are more spaces for social interaction and the whole look is more artistic and less corporate. There’s also a stage for performances and talks, and we gave out six free booths to non-profit art initiatives like Komplot and La Loge. Another first is that I have a vote in selecting the participating galleries.

How are the galleries selected? 

Even though I do have a vote, I don’t have the same freedom as an expo curator. The selection is made by a committee of seven gallerists and we vote democratically on the applications. We got about 500 this time. In the end, a fair is only as good as its galleries.

What makes a good gallery?

A good gallery is one that has a good programme; that is usually the consensus among curators, collectors and others educated in reading art. It’s impossible to define, but they should have a committed, coherent and visionary programme.

Many artists and gallerists criticise art fairs as an inappropriate place for presenting art. What’s your response?

The thing is that people are going to galleries less and less – maybe because they don’t really fit into today’s event culture. There are more than 200 art fairs all over the world nowadays which speaks for their success, and they really are important: they contribute to the economy of art, to the formation of collections and they involve everyone from the art market. It’s a great way to meet people and make discoveries because there’s so much under one roof. I actually wrote the 187 participating galleries a letter suggesting they go beyond the typical supermarket style and pay more attention to scenography and coherence. Some had already been doing that, of course, and others just don’t care because they are only interested in selling. I’m very curious to see the result.

Art is the last frontier of free expression.

What about the huge rise in the number of satellite fairs? 

This multiplication shows that there really is a need and an audience for it. But of course they vary a lot in quality. I see them as something complementary; not something antagonistic. Satellite fairs benefit from the audience of the official fairs because they’re such fertile ground. There can never be too much art! It’s a good thing. We’d never say ‘there’s too much football’.

What got you into art in the first place?

I read ‘The Story of Art’ by Ernst Gombrich when I was 12 years old and it really impressed me. Art is the last frontier of free expression. In this world there are only a few spaces left for free creativity. Everything is getting commercialised and privatised. Art challenges the way you look at the world and cracks cemented opinions.

Art fairs can be quite overwhelming, especially for newcomers –  any tips how to make the best of your visit?

Slow down and look hard. Cast aside the white noise and take your time. You won’t gain anything from running. Just scanning everything doesn’t work. And you won’t discover the hidden things.

Art Brussels’ 31st edition opens to the public tomorrow.