Wim Clauwaert on WIELS’ Art Book Fair

After the long summer break, museums, galleries and the likes are flaunting their art muscles to welcome the new season, and printed matters are no exception. WIELS warms the season with its newly expanded three-day Art Book Fair opening this Friday. It features a wide selection of independent book publishers from across Europe, special lectures, poetry and performances. Organiser Wim Clauwaert, who also runs WIELS’ bookshop, tells us about the technicalities of organizing the fair, and striking the right balance between performance, music, and books.

We will be celebrating the release of our latest edition at WIELS during its opening night with a series of locals only concerts and DJ set. Join the Facebook event here for full line-up and schedule. 

Images courtesy of Micha Pycke.


I run the book-shop here at WIELS, in Brussels, and I was the assistant for the the five editions of the previous book fair, Pa/Per View, which was run by Frances Horn. It used to take place alongside the bookstore, on the mezzanine. Now we will have it on one big floor, on one of the exhibition floors. Usually it was in March, but this year we had the Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker show during that time. Then the museum’s management team gave me the opportunity to do it during the renovations going on now, and I thought maybe it was best to have it the second weekend of September, when there is the Artists Print fair by Komplot and JAP, and it’s also the start of the cultural season. We will see how it goes and see if it will stay in September, or if we move it again, since this is the first time we do it this way. At the same time, during the Art Book Fair, there also is the second Brussels International Underground Poetry Fest, with small exhibitions and performances happening here, right alongside the book fair.


I started by contacting the publishing houses we wanted to have. Some could not make it, others said they did not do fairs anymore. In the end I did the selection and my colleagues helped with the communications, and the technical aspects. But there was already the basis from Pa/Per View, and the name was already well known in the publishing world. So, I thought of just changing the concept a bit and making it bigger, since we do have more space now. So I asked more publishers to come, some of which are not represented in the bookshop. One thing I was a bit afraid of was that the New York Book fair, by Printed matter, is usually at the end of September, two weeks after, but this year they’ve decided to make it just one week after WIELS’ book fair. Because of this some foreigners who wanted to come, especially the English ones, said it was too difficult to come to Brussels then go to New York, which is understandable. Still, I’m quite happy about the selection. The selection represents what I sell in the bookshop – some fanzines, magazines, some photography, theory, artists books, etc. – so it is quite a huge selection. I also wanted to have some antiquarians in the book fair, and now I have two or three that are coming over. I am quite happy about this. I wanted to have five at the beginning but we don’t really have a link with out-of-print books because they are too fragile. But we did get Luiscius from the Netherlands to come. There are some that I we don’t sell here, like Tipi Bookshop here in St Gilles. It is not really a publisher, but more like a bookshop with a nice selection of photography. Since I didn’t have much on photography I wanted them to be here.


My aim was to have everything ready by the end of April. But still at the end of June there were people asking if they could come. But perhaps there wouldn’t be enough space. We have a room, and we know the size of the tables, then we have to figure out how many tables we can put out. In the end, we had to keep re-arranging. I also thought of not calling so many small editors because I did not want them to pay so much for only three days, and at the end of the day would lose money by coming. But some proposed to come themselves, such as Libri Finti Clandestini, and also Pantofle books. Others I contacted immediately because they sell well in the bookshops, and have a presence in Brussels, so it was good that they be here. Making the floor plan can be somewhat difficult with deciding where to place everyone, whether to put countries together, or all magazines together, or fanzines… Because I already knew which editors know each other, I thought of putting them together. But it can also be fun to put them next to someone they don’t know, so they can meet people. Some editors leave immediately after the book fair, particularly the Dutch guys, who live near the border. While others stick around to socialize, and go drinking until late.


As for the age range, the exhibitors are between 30 and 50. As for the public, during the opening it’s mostly students and young graphic designers, and on Sunday it is mostly collectors. Saturday is usually a normal public day. With the Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker show, I hope a new audience also visits and discovers new things.  The poetry festival will have the same hours as the book fair. It’s nice to have other events around the book fair such as music, poetry and other performances to make books more dynamic. There will be, for instance, Phillip Meersman, who is well known in the visual and slam poetry scene.


I am happy about having the freedom to do more things this year, but for the future, I have no idea. We will see after. Maybe we could include more music, more small concerts or experimental things. But then the we would need a bigger budget. This time, we started from zero. We do ask publishers to pay a small amount, between 50 and 250€, depending on the size of the table. They also have to cover their own travel costs, and for sending over the books as well – this is why it’s hard for smaller editors to cover the costs to come over, but on the other hand, for some of them it’s good to come and meet other editors.

Wiels Art Book Fair, Brussels
11th to 13th September 2015