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Don’t miss BRAFA Art Fair 2020

by Polly Allen

Must-See Exhibitors and Talks at the BRAFA Art Fair 2020

Art lovers know that Brussels is a good choice for an art and design break all year round, but once a year there’s an extra emphasis on the art scene thanks to BRAFA,the prestigious art fair that attracts global attention.

It gives you the chance to kick-start 2020 with a curated selection of art and design from 133 gallerists around the world, all brought to Brussels. You can immerse yourself in art and antiques, and learn from the experts at free daily art talks, and take public tours of the fair from 3-4pm daily.

BRAFA runs from Sunday 26 January – Sunday 2 February 2020 at the Tour & Taxis exhibition space. This year is particularly important, as the art fair turns 65, and there’s also one very special exhibit on show, which is our first highlight: five sections of the Berlin Wall, which will be auctioned for charity.

Berlin Wall Charity Auction

On 9 November 2019 it was 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The structure was a physical embodiment of the Iron Curtain that descended over Eastern Europe in the aftermath of World War Two, when communism was imposed on Soviet-controlled territory. East Germany became the German Democratic Republic, and Berlin was split down the middle.

From 1961-1989, the Berlin Wall claimed at least 140 lives and tore thousands of families and friends apart. Afterwards, its ruins were broken apart by ‘wallpeckers’ – people using pickaxes and other tools. The pieces were scattered around the world, sometimes sold off or taken as souvenirs; one section can be found at the Imperial War Museum in London. By auctioning complete sections and giving the proceeds to Belgian charities, BRAFA organisers hope to celebrate the joy of sharing and togetherness, rather than emphasising division.

Art Talk - Keith Haring

The word ‘iconic’ is overused, but Keith Haring has remained an icon since his work emerged in New York in the 1980s. He even painted a section of the Berlin Wall’s west side in 1986, adorning it with his instantly recognisable figures. Though Haring died in 1990, he has continued to be a part of pop culture, with regular retrospectives. His uplifting art has even been licensed for clothing collections with Uniqlo and Happy Socks.

Darren Pih, Curator at Tate Liverpool, and Alberta Sessa, Curatorial Project Coordinator at BOZAR, will talk about Haring’s continued relevance.

Art Talk – Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution

Till Holger-Borchert has curated the upcoming Van Eyck exhibition of the same name at the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent, He is also Director of the Musea Brugge, and will discuss the power of Van Eyck’s paintings in this free talk.

The exhibition’s most famous artwork is the Ghent Altarpiece, or the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, which has been painstakingly restored. Ghent will be firmly in the spotlight for many tourists in 2020, so why not jump on the bandwagon early? You could also combine your visit to Brussels with a trip to the Van Eyck exhibition in Ghent, which runs from Saturday 1 February – Thursday 30 April 2020.

Hans Hartung 1962

Boon Gallery

Based in Knokke-Le Zout, Belgium, the family-run Boon Gallery comes to BRAFA with a range of 20th century pieces, including drawings, paintings and mixed media.

Look out for their hypnotic acrylic painting by Hans Hartung, dating from 1962, which catches your eye with its frantic reed-like abstract marks on a teal background. Each stroke sees Hartung remove the teal paint to reveal the layer underneath. Hartung specialised in gestural abstraction, and his work is also held in Tate Britain and the Guggenheim.

Bruil & Brandsma Works of Art

Bruil & Brandsma consists of two Amsterdam galleries which specialise in European art from the 14th to the 17thcentury, including paintings by Pieter Brueghel II, Fra Filippo Lippi and David Teniers II, but also antique homeware such as caskets, candlesticks and cabinets.

A stand-out piece at BRAFA is the small oil portrait of Dauphin François, circa 1536, in an elaborate tabernacle frame. It was painted by French Renaissance artist Corneille de La Haye, better known as Corneille de Lyon, who worked at the court of the king and also caught the eye of Catherine de Medici.

Dalton Somaré Janus Figure

Dalton Somaré

African, Himalayan and Indian art has been the focus for 25 years at Dalton Somaré. This Milan-based gallery is a member of the Antiques Association of Milan.  

A mid-19th century mbulu-viti sculpture likened to Janus, the two-faced Roman god of gateways and beginnings, is amongst the exhibits. It comes from Kota-Obamba in Gabon, where it was made from wood covered with brass, copper and iron. The detailed strip metal edging on Janus’ armour, and the distinctive facial features, make this an eye-catching find. The Kota people usually depicted ancestors in these figures, so the two-headed design (one with a convex face, the other concave) would represent two ancestors.

Gokelaere Robson Tea Trolley 1937

Gokelaere & Robinson

20th century design is a passion for gallerists Stanislas Gokelaere and Céline Robinson, who are based in Brussels and Knokke and have gone from strength to strength since their launch in 2014. They are particularly drawn to pieces from the 1940s-1980s, none of which would look out of place in a modern interiors magazine.

Case in point: a sage green birch and linoleum green tea trolley, dating from 1937, by Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto, with a nod to Japanese influences. You can buy contemporary versions from the Finnish Design Shop for just over £2,000, but they don’t come with the kudos or the history of the original.

However you choose to explore BRAFA, you’re sure to come across something that makes an impact in the art and design world.

Travel Notes

BRAFA takes place at the Tour & Taxis, Avenue du Port 86C, Brussels.

Showing from: Sunday 26 January – Sunday 2 February 2020

The easiest way to reach Brussels from the UK is by Eurostar, which takes just under two hours from London St. Pancras International to Brussels Midi Station.

Hotel Le Plaza (Boulevard Adolphe Maxlaan 118-126) is officially recommended by BRAFA. This luxury hotel is perfectly placed for the art fair, roughly six minutes away by taxi or 20 minutes on foot, crossing the scenic Brussels Canal.


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