I’ll just come straight out and say it: It would be difficult to imagine a more exquisite art fair than BRAFA 2017.
Granted, that may not be true for those seeking out yet another Rudolf Stingel, or the shiniest Jeff Koons, or checking out how their own recently-acquired Fontana Concetto Spaziale measures up. But for those for whom an art fair is a search for special treasures, a chance to widen their art horizons, or perhaps most of all,
to forget about Donald Trump, this, the 61st edition of the Brussels Antiques and Fine Art fair, offered all that they could hope for.
With 132 exhibitors showcasing the artistic achievements of more than four millennia of civilization, the fair
– as every year – offers an abundant range of objects, from Egyptian artifacts at Harmakis and David Ghezelbash, to 17th century furnishings and objets d’art at Steinitz, paintings by Renoir and Pissaro at Stern-Pissaro, Russian icons at Brenske, and a scattering of various Jim Dine “Heart” paintings (at De la Beraudiere and Harold t’Kint de Roodenbeke) — not to mention a stunning assortment of diamond Cartier bracelets and an Alphonse Mucha necklace at Epoque Fine Jewels. Notable, too, are the Coronation of St. Peter (1475-1500) by the Master of St. Nicolas at Mullany (who will be showing at TEFAF this year for the first time); a Nakashima couch at Frank Landau; an early Basquiat drawing at Boon Gallery; and the requisite early Andy Warhol drawings, omnipresent at most art fairs ever since German dealer Daniel Blau rescued hundreds of them from the archives of the Andy Warhol Foundation a few short years ago.
As the fair’s press release observes, “The main distinguishing feature of BRAFA lies in its eclecticism and in its great openness to all forms of art. It encourages a diversity of genres, the latter being reflected notably in a free arrangement of stands where all specialties are mixed together and intersect, so as to create unexpected dialogues along the visitors’ itinerary.” Not only this, but several dealers themselves have been known,particularly in recent years, to mix genres: hence tribal art dealer Bernard de Grunne, for instance, perched Pende masks from the Democratic Republic of the Congo among tables by contemporary sculptor Isabelle de Borchgrave.
Notable among the offerings was also what was less present: fewer Zero works this year, especially, which set me wondering if the hype had passed. (Remarkably, much of what Zero was on offer hung in the booths of galleries that specialize in very different material, like Old Master paintings and furniture design; Frank Landau combined his Nakashima couch with works by Heinz Mack and Walter Le Blanc, for instance.)
In this, some proved more successful than others; while a few galleries seem to be struggling to find an identity, others clearly take joy in diversity. All, however, seemed to share a different joy: red dots were raining down by the second preview day. Still, you won’t find the kind of mad, competitive scrambling one often finds at art fairs; BRAFA is the place for connoisseurs, for measured, careful searching by collectors for whom collecting itself is an art as much as passion.
Which is why it isn’t just the jewels tucked into random corners of the fair that bring such delight (a series of miniature Ensor drawings at Galerie Seghers, for instance, who also have a charming Richard Pettibone “Monet Haystacks”; or a simple and charming Chagall “Profile au Bouquet” gouache at Galerie des Modernes). Rather, much of what makes the fair so much what many of its visitors most needed was a sense of embrasure, the feeling, as you entered among the darkened spaces and spot-lit masterpieces, walking the pale, blue-and-white carpet (designed this year by third-year textile design student Eugenie de Bergeyck), that everything would somehow be okay, that in a world battered by terrorists and populists and political confusion, there is still – all this. Just this. And that this – all this – will persevere.
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