20 of the best spaces for emerging art in Belgium today
Belgium is pretty crowded with major museums and established galleries, but the country’s verocious appetite for great contemporary art means there’s still a lot of room for less traditional approaches to exhibiting. For this extended listicle, we rooted out the most exciting and intriguing non-profit spaces in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent. The resulting selection demonstrates a common theme: support for young, emerging artists, as well as a shared enthusiasm for spaces that wander the periphery of established wisdom on the perfect place to appreciate art. Belgium’s best initiatives for emerging art include billboards on rooftops, apartment exhibitions and bar invasions, and price tags are optional but certainly not the impetus. You’ll be pleased to know there’s a whole bunch of competent people out there cultivating Belgium’s independent art scene, so that you don’t have to.With thanks to Liv Vaisberg, Devrim Bayar, Anne-Claire Schmitz, Alberto Garcia Del Castillo, Felicia Atkinson, Goedele Bartholomeeusen, Sam Steverlynck and Rinus Van de Velde
1. La Loge
After only one season, non-profit art space La Loge has earned a much respected spot on the Belgian art scene with its high quality programme. Testament to its growing recognition, artistic director Anne-Claire Schmitz has even been invited to participate in this year’s edition of Art Brussels. La Loge organises about five exhibitions a year and hosts seminars and talks in which she addresses issues related to the visual arts, architecture and design.
“We invite artists who develop new projects especially for La Loge. We don’t show already existing works.”
“What’s really important to us is that we invite artists who develop new projects especially for La Loge. We don’t show already existing works,” explains Anne-Claire. The space also tries to bring together different disciplines and foster collaborations between artists, such as the one between New York-based photographer Roe Ethridge and Brussels-based artist Zin Taylor whilst the new season opens with Kate Newby‘s ‘Maybe I won’t go to sleep at all’. “We’re the opposite of a White Cube gallery,” says Anne-Claire – and the extraordinary art deco architecture of the building is another star attraction.
A firm favourite since its opening in 2002, Brussels’ Komplot is one of the more established non-profit art spaces in the Belgian capital whose unique vision has also culminated in being offered a booth at Art Brussels. Defining themselves as a curator collective running an art centre, co-founder Sonia Dermience says: “It looks like a gallery but it isn’t one.” For the past two and a half years, the collective has occupied a large space just a few steps from Contemporary art centre Wiels, with expo rooms and about 10 artist studios and rooms for artists in residence. A space large enough to have hosted The Word Magazine’s five-year anniversary party, by the way.
“It looks like a gallery but it isn’t one.”
Komplot has featured artists from Felicia Atkinson to Chris Evans: “The artists we select are not necessarily that young but definitely emerging. Usually we exhibit them a few years after they’ve finished school,” Sonia explains, adding: “We like our shows to be embedded in concepts and scenarios that incorporate a story and the exhibition space itself.” – just like the show Vacanze Permanente, for example, which uses the Jim Jarmusch film of the same name as an entry point. Open to all kinds of different genres, Komplot embraces visual artists as much as writers, and invites outside curators, organises projects abroad and also publishes the ambitious YEAR magazine. “We want to create opportunities and context for contemporary art, also in a political and economical sense; an institution and collaborative, sustainable system which supports artists of all kinds.”
3. Etablissement d’en Face
Etablissement d’en Face is run by a collective of eight volunteers from all corners of the art world. Hosting solo and group exhibitions, the collective like to feature both young artists like Norwegian-born Steinar Haga Kristensen as well as big names like Isa Genzken and Rosemarie Trockel. “We are open to everything and give a lot of freedom to the artists,” explains Etienne Wynants, one of the organisers, adding: “We don’t have any particular criteria when choosing the artist and decide from project to project.”
“We are open to everything and give a lot of freedom to the artists.”
Although it’s possible to buy most of the artworks, he stresses the non-commercial interest of the project: “We never choose someone because they sell well.” Instead, Etablissement d’en Face gives room for projects that might be difficult to show elsewhere, like wall paintings, and resist in following trends. Much attention is given to building a close relationship with the exhibiting artist: “When we invite an artist, it’s a personal thing and we want to get to know them, have a conversation and look at the space together.”
4. Abilene Gallery
Nancy Moreno, Louise Boghossian, Raphaël Lecoquierre, Regis J. Monrozier and Andrea Montano all met at their art school entrance exam at La Cambre and decided to look for a place to live together. When they came across a big old townhouse in St Gilles, they saw its potential not only as a living space, but also as one to showcase art. In September 2011 they opened Abilene (named after the ‘Abilene paradox‘) on the ground floor, and began to host in situ works produced in the gallery itself by art students and recent graduates.
“We want to be a platform where people meet, and transform that energy into exhibitions, concerts, performances.”
As well as exhibitions featuring young talents Leo Hoffsaes, Vadim Pigounides and Dougie Eynon, the gallery also showcases musical projects and hosts parties in its basement: “We want to be a platform where people meet, and transform that energy into exhibitions, concerts, performances – anything conceivable.” And they’ve decided that Brussels is the perfect breeding ground for initiatives like theirs: “There is a really nice balance between the alternative scene and bigger international galleries. You can go from an independent pop up event to Xavier Hufkens‘ private view. The art scene is very accessible and if you do something and stick to it, you can easily become part of it.”
5. De La Charge
The 12 artists that make up De La Charge found a space in a large house in St Gilles as a group, but they don’t really see themselves as a collective. “Everyone works on their own projects,” says De La Charge member Martin Belou. While their first goal was to find a working space to build their studios, the large building also offered the perfect setting for exhibitions.
“We’re open to everything and never veto proposals.”
And their approach is very relaxed: “Everyone here can suggest a show. Some have already organised several and others none at all,” Martin explains. “We’re open to everything and never veto proposals.” De La Charge aims to be a place for exchange and puts a clear emphasis on giving visibility to young and emerging artists from all disciplines. Previous expos have included artists Chisato Ishiyama, Damien Rankovic and Gaëlle Leenhardt. Definitely one to drop by on, even if only to see the house’s bewildering interiors.
Middlemarch, named after the imaginary village in George Eliot’s novel, is a project founded in 2011 by Virginie Devillez, former curator at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, and artist Jean-Baptiste Bernadet. When Virginie couldn’t find a space for a new contemporary art venue, she teamed up with Jean-Baptiste and decided to just use her own living room and dining room. Their first exhibition in October 2011 was an instant success and they decided to stick to the unconventional concept. “When an exhibition is hosted in someone’s home people feel more comfortable and less intimidated,” says Jean-Baptiste.
“When an exhibition is hosted in someone’s home people feel more comfortable and less intimidated.”
They’ve hosted seven shows so far, spotlighting local, emerging artists and side-projects from more established ones. Supporting homegrown artists is very important to their vision: “ Galleries in Brussels very often show artists from abroad and for the Belgians there are not many opportunities left. That’s why artists are opening their own spaces,” explains Virginie. The idea of freedom and flexibility without commercial pressure is at the core of Middlemarch’s agenda: “We want to give artists the opportunity to show in a simple and humble and flexible context that they don’t have in commercial spaces where everything must be negotiated and planned a long time before the opening.” Next up on the space’s program: Robert Suermondt, Israël Lund and Sam Korman.
Opting for a kitschy, uninspiring bar in the center of Brussels as their venue of choice, Danai Anesiadou, Alberto García del Castillo, Jean-Paul Jacquet, Lars Laumann, Stefanie Snoeck and Margot Vanheusden, who are all each on their own right already actively involved in the local art scene, are working on an art project of a different kind. “We don’t organise exhibitions in the traditional sense,” says Alberto, who also is one of the curators at Komplot. Instead, since 2011, they’ve been inviting artists to create pieces to mesh with the interior of Rue de Flandre’s Midpoint bar.
“The social aspect of the project is very important to us.”
For each new artwork added, they organise a vernissage that brings together people from the art scene and anyone else who’d like to join. “The social aspect of the project is very important to us,” explains Alberto. Accordingly, the party is part of the concept. They invite artists they’d like to party with, and encourage him or her to not only do an art piece but also invite DJs etc. As the works are permanently integrated in the bar’s interior and not marked as such, people who visit the bar don’t even know they’re looking at art. The project, which doesn’t take itself too seriously, allows the participating artists to let their imagination run free, producing playful and humourous works like golden toilet seats (Filip Gilissen) or a stuffed calf on a wall shelf (Guillaume Bijl).
An 11-square-metre billboard overlooking Brussels’ rooftops is Rectangle’s unlikely exhibition space. “We want to show art in an alternative way and repurpose public space,” explain the creative minds behind the project. Artists Cédric Alby, Jeremie Boyard, Pierre-Pol Lecouturier and Xavier Pauwels mounted the billboard about a year ago on the roof of their studio, a former printing workshop in St Gilles. “By using the strategies of advertising campaigns to present art we want to play with this type of media and question its role in today’s society,” say the artists.
“We want to show art in an alternative way and repurpose public space.”
Every two months a new image is mounted, and the diverse programme has included artists from Singapore illustrator Sookoon Ang to Venezuelan-born Jesus Alberto Benitez. While some are images that already exist, others are made in situ especially for the billboard. Though the artworks are for sale (in different sizes), the artists are quick to emphasise that the main goal is a non-commercial one: “It’s a kind of silent activism. It’s not aggressive, which is probably why it hasn’t been taken down yet,” they say, adding: “We don’t just want to attract the attention of the art connoisseur but of passers-by in the street.” And perhaps soon the project will be turning heads in neighbourhoods other than St Gilles, as the Rectangle makers plan on expanding the project to the rest of the city.
Getting people to talk about their art projects is actually bizarrely difficult. While some refuse to answer our curious questions altogether, the creative minds behind SIC copped out entirely and decided to allow Andy Warhol to answer for them: “It’s the only thing we can agree on doing in order to stay true to our practice,” co-founder Sébastien Biset writes in an email. But what does it mean? In response to our question on the objective of the project, the answer is a simple “yes.”
“It’s the only thing we can agree on doing in order to stay true to our practice.”
Lacking any kind of coherent insight into the project, here’s what we do know: SIC, founded in 2005, organises exhibitions of the works of emerging Belgian and international artists as well as seminars, lectures and concerts, and publishes art theory books and even has its own journal. This year the project was one of the few non-profit art spaces to be invited to Art Brussels, something they’ve earned with a year long high-quality programme that has included artists from Ivo Provoost and Fiona Mackay to Olivier Foulon.SIC, Avenue Van Volxemlaan 54 – 1190 Brussels www.sicsic.be
“Of course you can write something about our room. But I don’t want to answer your questions,” was how Hans-Christian Lotz refused our interview request, fitting perfectly with our preconceived stereotype of difficult arty types. Together with his partner Peter Wächtler, Lotz hosts exhibitions in pretty unusual surroundings: their own apartment.
“Of course you can write something about our room. But I don’t want to answer your questions.”
Going by the name of Sotoso, the pair, who are both artists themselves, organise expos based purely on their personal preferences and Georgia Sagri, Manuel Gnam and Nicola Brunnhuber have all made it into their living room. But don’t let the homely approach fool you: instead of integrating the artworks into their interiors, they’ve completely emptied a white-walled room for each artist, revealing themselves as fans of the classical white cube concept after all.
11. The Ister
Started in late 2011, Ister is run by eight friends from backgrounds as diverse as theatre and neuroscience. “We felt like organising contemporary events in a very large sense,” says Lila Pérès, one of the founding members. Correspondingly, they’re open to various genres and try to include everything from visual arts and music to design and fashion – with an accent on emerging international artists.
“We prefer having to reinvent ourselves constantly; it’s much more exciting and enriching.”
As Ister does not occupy a permanent space, all events – which range from exhibitions to dinners and lectures – are always held in different locations. Their latest show, “The Long Leash”, included works by Nathaniel Mellors, Shelly Nadashi and James Richards and took place in the digs of Brussels collective Wolke. “For a while we tried to find a permanent space, but we gave up in the end,” Lila explains. “In the end we prefer having to reinvent ourselves constantly; it’s much more exciting and enriching.”
12. Objectif Exhibitions
Since its founding in 1999, Objectif Exhibitions has stayed true to its original concept, which was to offer a small, flexible space at the edges of contemporary art. The eclectic programme is quite extensive: in the past two years alone, the art space has hosted no fewer than 16 exhibitions and 13 events. Every four years the artistic director changes and the current chief is New York-born Chris Fitzpatrick who says he is trying to shake things up a bit: “I still do solo shows but try to organise them in a way that they overlap with each other in order to create conversations between different artists,” he explains.
“What I understand immediately doesn’t interest me.”
In terms of materials and media, Objectif Exhibitions is open to all genres and practices. But how does the selection process work? “I like artists who address fundamental questions in a challenging and perplexing way. What I understand immediately doesn’t interest me,” says Chris. One of the project’s signature particularities is its flexibility: “The exhibition structure follows the need of the artwork, not the other way round.” This adaptable attitude made it possible for Nina Beier to do a four year exhibition while other artists only exhibit for a single day. Another time employees set up their desks in the middle of the exhibition space on an artist’s request, and another show had staff change the opening times of the gallery till late.
13. Extra City
Founded in 2004 by curator and critic Wim Peeters, Antwerp’s Extra City will soon celebrate its ten year anniversary. Having started out in an unheated space down at the docks, the art centre has undergone a couple of changes of venue and they’ve recently set up in a large industrial building in Antwerp’s South area. Renovations of their new space are currently in full swing as they prepare the ground for an enormous exhibition space on several floors, a café and even a small cinema.
“In Antwerp you have the M HKA, the galleries, and a vast in-between space, where you find us.”
“We want to be a hub and platform for the local scene and at the same time connect it to international developments in contemporary art,” explains Romanian-born artistic director Mihnea Mircan. Accordingly, Extra City’s exhibition programme offers a mix of Belgian talent and tackles internationally relevant topics. “In Antwerp you have the M HKA, the galleries, and a vast in-between space, where you find us,” Mihnea says. “Our advantage is not being burdened by bureaucracy. I love the spontaneous and flexible way of working here.” You can check out Extra City’s new space on 14 September when it reopens with three parallel exhibitions featuring Luc Deleu, Mona Vatamanu, Florin Tudor, Allan Sekula and Noel Burch.
When SECONDroom presented its first show in September 2006, the imprint was still located in a spare room in the home of co-founder Christophe Floré in Brussels and mainly featured the work of friends, or friends of friends. Three years ago he moved to Antwerp and took the concept with him. Now, he and his three colleagues rent a small space every time they organise a show, which is almost every week.
“Our motto is: cut the crap.”
It’s an unusually high frequency for an exhibition programme and SECONDroom has clocked an impressive 300 exhibitions so far. “Our motto is: cut the crap,” says Christophe. In practical terms, this means that visitors can only see the artworks for about three hours at the opening reception, which is at the same time as the closing event. “We want to show art in a concentrated way,” he says, adding: “We also don’t spend much time or money on communication anymore – it’s really not about us but about the work of the artist.” In terms of the selection process, the exhibited artists range from emerging up-and-comers to older art teachers. “We choose artists we personally like, who trigger something in you,” adds Christophe.
15. LLS 387
Austrian-born art critic and exhibition-maker Ulrike Lindmayr founded the non-profit art space LLS 387 in 2007 because she felt there was a need for an alternative to the established scene in Belgium. “I try to organise projects which are possible because we’re on the periphery, not despite of it,” Ulrike says. This attitude allows for such projects as a wall painting on which 16 different artists all worked together.
“I try to organise projects which are possible because we’re on the periphery, not despite of it.”
Young emerging artists are also a big priority, and for the exhibition ‘ NowBelgiumNow’ Ulrike travelled the country together with Stella Lohaus to visit 90 artists in their studios to select the 9 that would make it into the show. But how do you choose? “I like art that moves me, that pushes me to my mental borders, art that turns you upside down,” says Ulrike. LLS 387 unites professionalism and experience with an alternative approach and improvisation: “The small budget we have keeps you on your feet, there is no fixed frame.”
Originally founded as a branch of Lokaal 01 in the Dutch city of Breda, the Antwerp sister venue has today become the main – and only – location for the Lokaal01 franchise. “We had to close down our Dutch dependence due to the lack of financial support in the Netherlands,” explains artistic director Frederik Vergaert.
“Applicants have to make a proposal that relates to the Antwerp space – other than that there are no rules.”
Every year, Lokaal01 publishes an open call for residencies followed by exhibitions with a number of different artists from all over the world. “Applicants have to make a proposal that relates to the Antwerp space – other than that there are no rules,” says Frederik. “We especially want to know how the artists will spend their time here as our emphasis is more on the process and the research and less on the result.” The five to six artists selected annually work at Lokaal01 for about four weeks on their exhibition pieces and are encouraged to take advantage of the space and do things they’re not able to make in their own studios. The main objective of the project is to support young artists and young oeuvres: “Not enough spaces give opportunities to the young. There should be more initiatives which give them exposure but also time to experiment.”
Founded in 1998, the New International Cultural Center (NICC) is an artist-run organisation that aims to strengthen the artist’s voice in contemporary society and defend the interests of visual artists. As well as its activist undertones, the NICC also organises exhibitions and has featured the likes of Ryan Gander, Lieven Segers and Philippe Van Wolputte. On the programme are also lectures, debates and artist talks, including such past luminaries as skateboarder-turned-photographer Ed Templeton and Japanese contemporary artist Norio Imai. The NICC is currently in the process of moving its headquarters to the Belgian capital, so don’t miss the inauguration celebrations that will be taking place at Brussels Art Days in September.NICC, Timmerwerfstraat 38 – 2000 Antwerp www.nicc.be
First created in 1990 by Hans van Heirseele and Guido De Bruyn, Ghent’s Croxhapox is one of the oldest spaces for emerging art in Belgium. In its 20 years it has demonstrated a knack for recognising future big-shots: Croxhapox, (which is best described as an experimental art house) was one of the first to exhibit celebrated Belgian painter Michael Borremans.
“Croxhapox was one of the first to exhibit celebrated Belgian painter Michael Borremans.”
The project is open to all kinds of contemporary art including music, poetry and film, while at the same time promoting upcoming and unknown artists. The programmers give a lot of room to experimentation and artistic director Laura Van makes sure to let us know that they are “not a gallery.” Accordingly, they don’t represent any artists and have no commercial interests whatsoever.
19. Kiosk Gallery
It started out in a small glass pavilion in 2006, but KIOSK has now moved to a much larger venue: a former anatomical theatre on Ghent’s Bijloke site. Although the gallery is closely affiliated with the nearby art school, its programme is totally independent. “We show a mix of emerging and established artists that have international potential and have already showed internationally but are not famous yet,” explains director Wim Waelput, adding: “We want to show mature, contemporary art with a strong emphasis on the creative process.”
“We want to show mature, contemporary art with a strong emphasis on the creative process.”
Accordingly, KIOSK takes its time with each artist to work on the exhibition concept, making sure that there is a dialogue with the space, and often reaches a thematic approach through the practice of the artist. The programme highlights interesting tendencies and practices and places an emphasis on modernism, the notion of the craftsman and an awareness for the social and political. Each year KIOSK hosts four exhibitions focusing on visual arts, either solo artists or duo shows: “The artists we choose don’t get many opportunities like this so we really want them to take advantage of getting an individual show,” says Wim.
20. These Things Take Time
This Ghent-based art space features the standard issue white cube atmosphere and large and inviting street-facing display windows. It was opened in April 2012 by graphic designer and fine arts student Matthias Yzebaert. “I have a bit of a problem with institutions like galleries, schools and museums and wanted to build my own little playground, a free zone without rules where everything is possible,” says Matthias.
“I have a bit of a problem with institutions like galleries, schools and museums and wanted to build my own little playground.”
Accordingly, the goal of the shows at These things take time isn’t to sell stuff, but rather to present artworks that go against the common logic of the art world. They also address social and institutional questions. The latest group expo ‘It’s a give and take’ brushed aside the ego of the artist by omitting the names of the participants and replacing them with logos. “Art should never have to be sellable and artists should be freer,” says Matthias. “But what do you expect when books like ‘How to make it in the art world’ are published… There is just not enough rebellion.” It’s that exact sense of rebellion that he aims to fuel with his outsider project.