Belgium is a country that’s always faced challenges in defining itself, unsettled politics, and a need to be distinct from the neighbour countries. That’s rubbed off on the art world in the capital, Brussels – the New York Times playfully dubbed the scene a “cosy chaos” back in 2012. But from then on, Brussels’ galleries and artists are finally getting thrown into the spotlight. Belgium’s capital is emerging as the best-kept secret on the European art beat, where “cosy chaos” has thrived into a creative climate that’s bold and energetic.
For a city with no state-backed contemporary art museum, it may sound strange that Brussels is now getting so much attention. But just walking these cobblestoned streets, inspirational aesthetics can be found everywhere – from the downtown Comic Strip Walk, a collection of murals dedicated to Belgian comics like The Adventures of Tin-Tin and The Smurfs, to the work of local graffiti artists like the internationally-acclaimed Bonom. Also in 2008, the cutting-edge art venue Wiels opened in a former brewery. According to artistic director Dirk Snauwaert, the local scene has come on leaps and bounds since then.
“The most striking thing on the everyday level is the internationalisation of the scene,” he explains. “There’s a presence of a huge variety of actors from very different countries, languages and continents. Brussels has seen not only its population diversify enormously, but also a big affluence of young artists who are looking for an affordable and open city in the heartland of Europe.”
Over the last 10 years, dozens more galleries have opened in Brussels, ranging from indie and underground to utterly grandiose. One of the newest on the scene is Office Baroque. The contemporary art gallery migrated to Brussels from Antwerp in 2013. Last September, Office Baroque opened a second location near Bozar, Brussels’ Centre for Fine Arts.
“The gallery moved as we were both looking for a larger space to accommodate a more ambitious programme and because Brussels was becoming the major city in Belgium when it comes to contemporary art,” says gallery director Louis-Philippe Van Eeckhoutte.
Belgium’s ongoing quarrels about language and politics, which take centre stage in the capital, have only helped to influence local art in a positive way. Despite finally getting the credit it deserves in Europe’s art world, Brussels unfortunately stands to be eclipsed again because of recent terrorist attacks that have rocked the city. Snauwaert hopes that doesn’t stop tourists or artists from experiencing the scene in Belgium’s capital.
“It’s a very eclectic city with very different neighbourhoods, a bit chaotic because of the absence of city planning, which makes it a permanent surprise to walk still around town,” he says. “People are also still looking at art attentively. It’s not a place where latest trends, financial records or buzzwords shape the everyday.”
Bloemenhofplein 5 Place du Jardin aux Fleurs
1000 Brussels, Belgium
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Text & Photos by Barbara Woolsey
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