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Brussels fair offers a mixed bag of art surprises
2015.01.25. | Cultural news Forward email | Print
International dealers bring an eclectic selection of works to Brafa

Those expecting to find an eclectic mix of objects at the Brussels Art Fair (Brafa) will not be disappointed. Taxidermy (old and new), Chinese ancestral portraits, Hergé cartoons, Tibetan carpets, maiolica busts of Roman emperors, Art Deco furniture, Medieval tombstones, tribal masks and bronze turtles by the contemporary Belgian artist Jan Fabre is just a small sampling of works on offer at the Belgian event, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. The fair, which opens to the public today and runs until 1 February, features 126 exhibitors, mostly from Belgium and France.

It is this sweeping variety of quality works—the chance to see a striking ancient Roman head of a young Herakles on a 16th-century bust (Galerie Chenel; €480,000) and a wall of colourful 17th-century Chinese lohan sculptures (Galerie Jacques Barrère; 18 in total, priced at €14,000 each) within metres of a vitrine with a 17th-century polychrome waxwork head of a decomposing man (Dario Ghio gallery) and an Erwin Wurm desk made from an armoire (Carpenters Workshop Gallery, edition of eight with four artists’ proofs; prices beginning at €56,000)—that continues to lure loyal collectors back each year. In fact, last year drew a record 55,000 visitors—a 14% increase on the year before.

“There are always a few surprises to be found here,” says the Medieval art dealer Christine De Backker, who sold a miniature 15th-century Book of Hours from the Bruges workshop of the Master of the Gold Scrolls (priced at around €60,000) and a 12th-century German bronze figure of Christ on the Cross, at the VIP opening. “The real art lovers and collectors come here because they know they’ll find quality pieces,” she says.

Tribal art is one of Brafa’s strongpoints and pieces can be found on the stands of specialist and non-specialist dealers alike. Didier Claes of Brussels is showing a late 16th- early 17th-century copper plaque of dignitary or Oba (King) from Benin and fellow Brussels-based tribal dealer Serge Schoffel has split his stand in two: one side features an array of tribal pieces from Papa New Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Ivory Coast and the other is devoted to the 20th-century Belgian artist Joseph Henrion whose sculptures were inspired by African art.

Visitors to the stand of the Brussels-and Paris-based Huberty & Breyne gallery (also known as Petits Papiers) can find the “ninth art”: comics. A solo display of pieces by the Belgian cartoonist and Le Chat creator Philippe Geluck includes a stained-glass panel depicting cats caught in a compromising position (Fécondation in vitraux, 2014; €5,800) and a thoroughly modern response to Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man (Il y en a un peu plus je vous le mets, 2014; €17,000). The gallery, which is also showing works by Robert Crumb, Hergé and François Avril, had a few early sales during the VIP preview, including a 1951 illustration by the creator of the Buck Danny comic, Victor Hubinon, for €35,000.

Although Brafa is known for older works of art, those needing a contemporary art fix can get it at the Belgian gallery Guy Pieters, which is showing works by Gilbert & George, Koen Vanmechelen, Jan Fabre, Wim Delvoye and Tim Noble & Sue Webster.

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