Brussels has a rich mixture of commercial galleries, institutions, projects spaces and private foundations... Here are a few things which gained my attention on 11-12 January.
Richard Jackson: Yellow Bad Dog, 20017 at Riva Projects
The most famous artwork in Brussels must be the 17th century bronze of a urinating boy known as the Manneken Pis, in tribute to which my Eurostar reading was Jean-Claude Lebensztejn’s Pissing Figures 1280-2014. I didn’t expect the current exhibitions to echo it, but one of the Charles Riva collection’s two impressive spaces in the city featured an entertaining selection of works contemplating our relations with the animal world – one being Richard Jackson’s canine action painter.
René Magritte: One Fine Late Afternoon, 1964 at the Magritte Museum
There’s even more Magritte than usual in Brussels at the moment, an overhang from last year being the 50th since his death: two dedicated museums, a consideration of his and Broodthaers’ influence on contemporary art, and even a chance – which I didn’t take – to walk into giant recreations of famous paintings at the Atomium. One of his less-known strands are the death and laughter combinations in which he recasts groupings of figures from art history in the sarcastic form of articulated coffins.
René Magritte: untitled drawing at the Magritte House Museum
The modest ground floor apartment, 135 Rue Esseghem, in which Magritte lived with Georgette 1930-54 has been preserved, with an equally intimate museum in the separate flats above. Just 5,000 visit annually, and the volunteer staff would welcome only 50% more. You can, for example, see Magritte the designer of advertising posters in lean years, track his friendships and feuds – fellow Belgian surrealist Marcel Mariën distributed fake cut price special offer leaflets for Magritte works he thought overvalued) – and the occasional glimpse of the directly erotic. This didn't look at all related to Magritte's usual trickery until I asked myself: is she holding a penis or a dildo?
Evan Holloway at Xavier Hufkens
Established artists to show well included Mark Hagen, Frank Stella, Betty Tompkins and Evan Holloway. The last of those has long played with giving trees unexpected shapes and colours. Here the LA artist reduced them for the first time to single line of bronze, diminishing to indicate the paradoxical passage from single truck to single twig, and cast in angular chromatic progressions. Perhaps that suggests a critique of the arrogance of human interventions in nature. Which may, of course, receive its comeuppance…
Amélie Bouvier: White Light Flare, 2017at Harlan Levey Projects
There again, three artists new to me impressed. First, Brussels-based French artist Amélie Bouvier’s show The Sun Conspiracy generates dangerous beauty from something I was unaware of but had hardly missed: another way in which the world faces disaster. This large ink drawing derives from the solar storm of 1859, which was on a scale which occurs unpredictably, but every 200 years on average. If it happened today, every nuclear facility in the world would be exploded, Bouvier warned me, by the magnetic forces unleashed.
Nikolaas Demoen: Gold not Gold at Marie-Claude Flesich
Belgian artist Nikolaas Demoen’s intensely thought-through practice varies – even within a group show at MLF – from sculptural jokes to paintings of philosophers as birds to the installation ‘Gold not Gold’, which is drawn with a pencil marketed as ‘gold’, but which is unconvincing until an intense light is - intermittently - shone onto it. There’s a concise lesson here for advertisers and managers as well as anyone with a personal relationship…
Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Wrapped Trees, Fondation Beyeler and Berower Park, Riehen, Switzerland, 1997-98
What sort of 'ing name is the Ing Art Centre? Whatever, its impressive retrospective of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s urban projects includes some room-sized models as well as drawings, collages, maps and photo documentation of the realised work. Their most organic and so perhaps least typical wrap was of trees, as here, which proved a hard idea to locate but eventually bore fruit in Switzerland.
Alice Anderson: 'Spiritual Machines' at Valerie Bach
I don’t pretend to neutrality, having curated her in London, but Alice Anderson is one of the most profound and radical artists working today, and she is the current highlight of Brussels’ commercial scene. Fresh applications of established practices are presented alongside a new type of performance and painting-like copper wire works which hang with a hint of Rothko in the cathedral vastness of the Patinoire Royale - a former royal skating rink into which the Valerie Bach gallery extends.
Gedi Sibony: Pitcher with More Purple and Green, 2017 at Gladstone Gallery
How come, I wondered, intimately scaled still lives paintings by Gedi Sibony, whom I associate with such moves as appropriating the backs of lorries? In fact, they are conventional found canvases, over which the American adds his own oil painting as he seeks to discover and emphasise their hidden qualities. The results put me in mind of late Winifred Nicholson – and luckily I like Winifred Nicholson…
Elina Brotherus: still from Orange Event, 2017 at Contretype.
Film and photography had but modest presences, the highlights being how both Mario Garcia Torres at Jan Mot and Elina Brotherus at Contretype combined them. It’s hard to pin down quite why the Finnish artist’s evocations of herself in landscapes and re-enactments of flux propositions as games are so affecting, but tone, modesty and lighting must be in there. Here she is inverting the Duchampian with a friend following Bengt af Kinberg’s mid-sixties instruction to ‘regard two or three oranges for a long time’ (well, less than three minutes).
'Politics of Discontent' at Irène Laub
This 11-strong show curated by Jonathan Sullam, focusing on works which on the one hand denounce a system but at the same time incorporate it, was built around three walls: the artist-curator's own room-dividing neon version of a military fence; Rui Calçada Bastos' photographic wallpaper of a surveillance camera trained on the visitors; and the start of one to be built with Keen Souhlal's individually-crafted porcelain bricks, the intricate oriental architectural patterns on which allow for voyeuristic views through in the manner of a mashrabiya.
Georges Seurat: The Seine and la Grande Jatte, Springtime,1888
The central six Royal Museum site is organised to make things awkward (for example security is more intrusive than airports', combined tickets don’t cover everything, the automatic ticket-checking machines malfunction, different-sized bags are allowed in different places, and there is no café). But it’s hard to carp when the collections are so good… This must be one of the best of Seurat’s more intimately-sized paintings.