The body beau­ti­ful

Next year’s BRAFA fair al­ter­nates hu­man fig­ures from Ger­many and Mex­ico with con­tem­po­rary art from Europe and America

Country Life Every Week - - Art Market -

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

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