Interview with Katerina Gregos, Artistic Director of Art Brussels

Art Brussels returns for its 33rd year this April. As in previous years, galleries will be presented in different sections, with the addition of DISCOVERY, which will feature 14 galleries who represent lesser-known and emerging artists that have yet to find exposure in Europe. Ahead of the opening, we speak to artistic director Katerina Gregos about her favourite parts of this year’s fair and her work with not-for-profit spaces.

A: Your not-for-profit spaces were extremely well-received in 2014 – what do you look for when selecting artists for these spaces?
KG: We were the first fair to launch a not-for-profit section in 2013 and indeed it has been a great success since then. These spaces occupy a small but very important role at Art Brussels, as they present adventurous, original and experimental practices that would otherwise not be seen within the context of a commercial art fair. They also introduce a counter-balance and variety that complements the more object-based, commercially oriented work that one normally finds within the fair. I look for proposals that are of a more conceptual nature, that are more adventurous, sometimes immaterial and who also engage with the economy of the art fair and the art market in a more critical way

A: Can you highlight some artists/projects at Art Brussels to look out for?
KG: One very unique project I would like to mention is the HISK Café. HISK is the Higher Institute of Fine Arts in Gent, which we host at the fair (we are the only fair to host an art school). Their HISK Café project introduces a menu that represents their 26 current resident artists. The menu serves as a catalogue that will be distributed to visitors. From this menu, guests will be able to select a work of art by one of these artists. When chosen, the work selected will be unveiled and/or presented in a surprising or unexpected way. There is also 120 minutes a project by artists Artists Frank Koolen and Lieven Segers whereby during the total length of Art Brussels every hour a solo exhibition will be opened and closed within the hour. In addition there will be presentation by the Flanders Art Institute and the Mondriaan Fund of recent art books and artist’s catalogues selected by the renowned Belgian book designer and publisher Luc Derycke, together with the curator and critic Maaike Lauwaert. Both programmes are part of Beste Buren, the 20th anniversary of the Flanders – Holland cultural alliance. Finally, I’d like to mention Coll/nnection by the artist Pierre Bismuth, who aims to activate the contemporary art collection of ING Bank, Art Brussels’ main sponsor, in a more performative way at the fair.

A: Can you explain to us a little about how you go about choosing the various galleries, are there people and artists you have worked with for years?
Obviously there are people that I know and have worked with present in the fair, but in selecting galleries I have to go beyond my own curatorial preferences and make sure that the fair is able to cater to the wide audience it receives. I am part of the Art Brussels Gallery Committee and the selection takes place on the basis of a democratic discussion and debate about each gallery submitting an application and subsequent voting. Apart from presenting galleries who we feel have a solid programme, list of artists and track record, I personally look at galleries who are able to negotiate the limited context of the art fair booth in a more imaginative and creative way, in terms of what and how it is presented. And obviously, being a “Discovery” fair, I am always on the look-out for inspiring emerging artists and young galleries who can bring a singular vision to the fair.

A: What are you looking forward to most about Art Brussels?
One of the highlights of the fair this year is a new programme we are launching called Artist’s Music, which will feature daily live musical performances by contemporary artists and their bands. This concert series is organised in collaboration with Brussels-based arts centre, Beursschouwburg and will take place on a purpose-built outdoor Stage. Bands/artists that will play live include: Joris Van de Moortel, Ping Pong Tactics, Ratzinger, Musique Chien, Bright Entity, Different Fountains, Mittland och Leo, and Dennis Tyfus / Vom Grill. It’s quite new, and no other art fair has done it, so we’re quite excited.

A: You’re curating the exhibition for the Belgian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and one of the artists featured, Sammy Baloji, is presenting a Solo booth at Art Brussels; how important do you feel it is to involve new artists with larger projects?
KG: I don’t necessary feel I have to connect my activities as an independent curator to the fair or vice versa unless there is a raison d’ etre. Sammy Baloji is an artist I have worked with before (for the exhibition Newtopia: The State of Human Rights which took place in 2012 here in Belgium). It so happened that Imane Fares, the gallery who represents him in Paris, applied for a SOLO presentation of his work, and as I select the solo shows it made sense to show him at the fair, prior to the Biennial and also because he is an important Brussels-based African artist. Art fairs might not have the same prestige as museums or biennials but they do play a very important role in showcasing and promoting artists, especially ones like Baloji who are not exactly art market household names. In addition, I was interested in including an artist like him – whose work is socio-politically engaged – in the context of the fair because there is a lack of this kind of work at art fairs. It’s almost as if collectors are afraid of it. There is a misconception here, I think; that socio-politically engaged work is lacking in the aesthetic dimension. I don’t think this is true and an artist like Sammy Baloji proves it.

Art Brussels, 25-27 April, Brussels Expo (Heysel) Place de Belgique 1 BE- 1020 Brussels.

1. SHAWCROSS, Slow arc inside a cube, courtesy of Art Brussels.