Art Brussels threw open its doors to the art-loving public yesterday. The fair features one of the country’s biggest galleries, Brussels-based Xavier Hufkens, with pieces from artists such as Thomas Houseago and Harold Ancart. Since founder Xavier Hufkens launched his first gallery in 1987 in an old warehouse on the outskirts of Brussels, it’s become one of Belgium’s most established, and is now housed in a massive townhouse in Ixelles, representing around 30 artists. We spoke with the old-hat art connoisseur about this year’s Art Brussels show and art fairs in general.
Why is it important for you to participate in Art Brussels?
I have a strong belief in what you can call a home-base. If you want to make an impact internationally, then you first need to make an impact at home and establish a strong basis. And that includes supporting the events taking place in these surroundings.
You’ve been around for quite a while, how has Art Brussels changed over the years?
I’ve been participating in the fair for 25 years now. The fair has changed just as much as the art world itself has changed. It all started out as a club of friends and has grown into a big, commercial art fair like all the others, with many participants from many different countries. The location has changed too: in the beginning, the fair was located inside the city, not outside of it.
How important is Art Brussels on an international scale?
The number of art fairs in the world is growing and growing. There are so many: Basel, Miami, New York, London, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Cologne, … I think in this kind of setting, there is more and more room for ‘reowning’ one’s local region.
How big is your booth at Art Brussels? What are you exhibiting?
We have the biggest booth possible and will show works from about a dozen artists, including Belgians like Harold Ancart and Michel Francois. We also have new pieces from Sterling Ruby, which is rare, and Thomas Houseago. But they all have the same importance, there is no hierarchy – which doesn’t mean that we show them all for the same reasons. When you come to think of it, a gallery is a bit of an auto-portrait of yourself. The art you choose tells a lot about you.
Does your booth have a common theme?
We try to show the art in a way that makes sense, that is coherent and beautiful.
Do you commission pieces especially for Art Brussels?
We actually try to avoid that. Otherwise the fairs become some kind of monster that you have to feed. We try not to put too much pressure on the artists and let them work at their own pace. They need their freedom. Jan Vercruysse once said: “Art is slow attention”. You have to give art time.
How do you personally feel about fairs? Many gallery owners criticise them as ‘necessary evils’, so to speak.
I’m someone with rather classical ideas and believe that the place to view art is still the gallery. Fairs are a commercial event to sell art. Collectors visit fairs more and more and at the same time, they come less often to the galleries. You could almost call it ‘art fair tourism’ that is emerging. The real work is what happens in the museum in the galleries, where the art is shown as it is meant to be. At a fair, it’s just installed in a given space. I am very happy to participate, but what really brings me joy is the work in the gallery.
How many fairs do you participate in per year?
We participate in about six fairs each year, but I’m trying to reduce that number.
What are your expectations from this year’s Art Brussels?
The thing is, after 25 years I pretty much know what to expect. It becomes routine, to a certain extent. That’s another thing that makes it very different from the work in the gallery: in the gallery there is never ever any routine, not even after 25 years.
What’s next for you after Art Brussels?
We are getting ready for Frieze New York where we will exhibit a solo show of Sterling Ruby. A one man show is of course more risky than a group show, from a financial point of view, but it permits you to recreate the feeling of an exhibition in a fair booth.www.xavierhufkens.com