Galerie Rodolphe Janssen has been a Brussels staple since 1991, showcasing emerging artists from Europe and America and boasting a roster that counts such renowned international artists as Betty Tompkins. We had a  tête-à-tête with owner Rodolphe Janssen where he talked about his gallery’s appearance at the highly anticipated Art Brussels that kicks off today, the role of art fairs in general and his role as a juror at Belgium’s biggest art bash. 

How long have you been preparing your Art Brussels show?

The first thing we do is to meet with the artist in their studio, discuss what we want to do and choose which pieces we want to show. I think we did that about six months ago. The second step is to draft the plan of the booth.

How big is your booth at Art Brussels?

We have a booth of 100 square metres, so we can give the artworks some space and install one piece per wall. It’s important that everything is coherent and not randomly mixed together.

Which artists will you show and how do you choose them?

When choosing the artists, we usually concentrate on those who will have an exhibition in the gallery later in the year, so we can use the fair to introduce them to the public. We mostly show pieces that have never been shown before. I’d say 90% are exhibited for the first time at Art Brussels. We’ll concentrate on about 12 artists this time. All have the same importance, but we will be emphasising Jürgen Drescher. We will actually show five of his pieces. He’s German, 55, and is experiencing what you could call a revival at the moment. So we put an emphasis on him in order to make it easier to talk about the upcoming exhibition.

Does your show at Art Brussels have a theme, some kind of a common denominator?

Our booth will be divided into three rooms. One room is very minimal, the second one plays with irony and derision, and the third one is the most ‘violent’ one. It’s full of sexual and political tension and includes works by Betty Tompkins, for example. We try to arrange everything in the way we would do it inside an apartment.

Why is it important for you to participate in Art Brussels?

A fair is primarily about selling. But it’s also important when it comes to making new contacts and meeting people. And it helps us to prepare the programme for the rest of the year. Art Brussels is in our country, our city, so if you want to contribute to the contemporary art dynamism in Brussels, then you should participate. I’m always very surprised when the big Belgian galleries decide to not participate in Art Brussels – I don’t understand that choice.

What importance does Art Brussels have on an international scale?

I consider it to be the best fair of the second league. It cannot keep up with Frieze, Basel or Paris, of course. But it’s better than its direct competitors on the same level, like Cologne for example.

Yours is one of the older galleries in Brussels, how many times have you participated so far? And how has Art Brussels changed over the years?

I think I’ve shown at Art Brussels about 15 times now.  In the beginning it was organised by the galleries themselves and took place not annually but every two years. It was nice, but not very professional. But the art market was also different back then.

How do you personally feel about fairs? Many gallery owners criticise them as ‘necessary evils’, so to say.

The public loves art fairs. People like it so much because they don’t always have time to visit lots of galleries. It’s the event of the year with around 30.000 visitors. It’s how the system of the art market works nowadays – it’s a fact. Sometimes I enjoy a fair, at other times I don’t. When I sell a lot I usually like it (laughter). I accept it as a necessity and try to participate in it in a way that makes it a success for the gallery. We prepare the fairs very well and very professionally and make sure we have a good communication strategy. I am present at the fair all the time, together with lots of staff. Of course you can criticise the fairs, but it doesn’t change the fact that you have to be successful at them.

You are also part of the Art Brussels jury. How do you select the galleries for the fair?

We look at the programme of a gallery, its originality. The quality of the artists is of course essential. It’s also important that the gallery really works well with its artists and makes them move forward. If there’s a gallery that gives you a glimpse of the young Scandinavian art scene for example, then it’s very important to let it participate.

What’s next for you after Art Brussels?

I am going to visit art fairs in New York and Hong Kong. The gallery is not participating, but I want to have a look at it. We also have to prepare for the Miami and Basel fairs. And there’ll be an exhibition by American artist Chris Martin here in our gallery in Brussels.

Chris Martin
From 7th June to 14th July
Galerie Rodolphe Janssen, Rue de Livourne 35 Livornostraat – 1050 Brussels