The body beautiful
Next year’s BRAFA fair alternates human figures from Germany and Mexico with contemporary art from Europe and America
EACH year, if we are lucky, the organisers of the BRAFA art and antiques fair that takes place in Brussels every January, invite a group of arts journalists to Belgium for a couple of days’ recce, visiting galleries and talking to dealers about the choicest things that they will be exhibiting. There are always a couple of extra cultural treats—one year, a backstage tour of La Monnaie, the Brussels opera house; on others, to the Art Deco Villa Empain, the Royal Museum for Central Africa at Tervuren, or to a major private collection of Surrealists. This time, we were based in Ghent, where we saw an interesting exhibition of paintings and works of art on the theme of the birth of capitalism during the Flemish Golden Age.
That evening, we visited Ooidonk, a late-16th-century castle in the Hispanic-flemish style owned by Count Henri t’kint de Roodenbeke—uncle of the chairman of BRAFA—WHO, with the decorator Gerald Watelet, has carried out an and sensitive refurbishment over the past few years. The following morning, on the way to Brussels, we visited the studio of Wim Delvoye, a conceptual artist whose intelligent and often witty work, to my mind, makes the factory productions of Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst seem very uninteresting.
In Brussels, we concentrated on dealers around the Sablon, which allowed a few moments for chocolate shopping in the square itself, which has gradually been taken over by fashion outlets and chocolatiers.
At the 2017 fair in the Tour & Taxis complex from January 21 to 29, there will be 132 exhibiting galleries, 16 from outside Belgium, and including 12 new names. Last year, more than 58,000 visitors were attracted by the mixture of antiquities, paintings, sculpture, furniture, design, silver, porcelain, tribal arts, original cartoons, cont emporary art and, ever a particular strength, medieval works of art.
The human figure will play a great part, with fine examples drawn from many different periods and cultures. It would be hard to be unimpressed by a monumental, 33½in earthenware seated figure (Fig 3) offered by the Galerie Deletaille, Brussels specialists in pre-columbian and traditional African, Indonesian and Oceanic cultures, with a growing sideline in contemporary work. This piece comes from the Totonac El Zapotal culture of Veracruz on the Mexican Gulf coast and dates from between 600 and 900AD.
Then, with Klaas Muller of Brussels, there is a 60¼in-high south German carved and polychrome limewood Virgin and Child (Fig 4) dating from the 1460s. The Child is particularly lively and the sculpture is quite remarkably well preserved. There are hardly any wormholes, even in the hollowed-out back, which is unpainted. The Virgin stands on a devil that has been given a human face. Jan Muller of Ghent has a triptych of The Adoration with Donors (Fig 1) monogramed and dated 1531 by Dirck Jacobsz. of Amsterdam (1497– 1576), although specialists believe a second hand was involved. Here, the Child looks a little anxious, as if hungry after so much adulation. There will be more medieval Madonnas with De Backker, of Hoogimpressive
Fig 1 above: Fig 2 above right:
Fig 3: Totonac figure. With Galerie Deletaille
Fig 4: Carved figure. With Klaas Muller