Bruxelles ma belle
SPRING HAD ONLY JUST BEGUN when a cold chill took hold in Brussels: on March 22 the city was hit by two terrorist attacks. Bombs went off at the airport and the subway, with more than thirty casualties and numerous injured citizens. Panic, fear, and anger ensued. And sadness, too, symbolically expressed with chalk drawings on the street. The people of Brussels responded with a call for solidarity and peace. And with the request to see not only Brussels’s problematic districts, but also its beauty.
“Bruxelles ma belle” (#bxlmabelle) was one of the many slogans that were chanted on the streets: Brussels, my beauty. National newspapers gave away tickets for concerts and the theater, to museums and exhibitions. The government awarded money to the best ideas for elevating the city’s image. Businesses also invested—just before summer the four limitededition design dealers discussed below either opened galleries for the first time (Atelier Jespers and Piano Nobile) or moved to new locations (Victor Hunt and Maniera). For existing galleries the move was a reinvestment in what was previously a calculated experiment; for brand new galleries it was a step into the unknown. But in all cases, these moves radiate hope. And confidence.
These gallerists believe in their city and in their specific place between art and more traditional objects and furniture design. “Applied art and limited-edition design are a less speculative market than that of art,” says Lise Coirier of Piano Nobile. “This kind of design is absolutely of this time,” adds Victor Hunt’s Alexis Ryngaert. But the bottom line is this: these Brussels gallerists all work with national and international artists, architects, craftsmen, and designers, and each delivers unique and diverse objects—spectacular or controversial, subtly poetic or simply full of theoretical baggage, and, of course, with some Belgian surrealism, too.
Like so many inhabitants of Brussels, they dare to experiment. They try out and analyze. But they keep moving—just like their city.
MANIERA WAS FOUNDED in 2014 by the couple Amaryllis Jacobs (an independent curator for Bozar) and Kwinten Lavigne (a production manager at Wiels), who live together in Brussels, along with their five-year-old daughter Alexa. “Neither of us could do it alone,” Jacobs says. “I read a lot and follow the news closely, but Kwinten is the best at managing productions.”
They are inspired by a new generation of Belgian architects who have made their national architecture one of the most interesting in the world today—Office Kersten Geers David Van Severen and Architecten de Vylder Vinck Taillieu, for instance. “The desire to promote their work is one of the reasons why we founded Maniera,” Jacobs explains. “We invite architects who have a close relationship to the visual arts and artists who are clearly inspired by architecture or design to create furniture or functional objects. Most of the time they have not done this before.” Jacobs and Lavigne guide them in the design process, help produce the pieces, and exhibit and sell them in limited editions. “We are particularly interested in designers, architects, and artists who flirt with the boundaries between these three fields. Architects, artists, and designers all play with volume and space, and share the same interests in shapes or in variations in scale. There is an almost sexual attraction—or anyway a very fertile relationship— between the fields.
“Every artist, architect, or designer develops a personal ‘maniera,’ an individual artistic language and method of working. We invite those whose ‘maniera’—their conceptual thinking and formal language—we admire to apply it to furniture design. Of course this is a gamble sometimes: it might fail at some point. But it’s a risk we’re willing to take. We recently showed new furniture by Studio Mumbai, Anne Holtrop, 6a architects, Richard Venlet, Bas Princen, and Christoph Hefti.” Jacobs laughs, “it’s an intensive process, but we always become friends.”
Jacobs and Lavigne started Maniera close to home: the first pieces were exhibited in their own house, a former lingerie factory and jazz club. Later, they began showing new collections in temporary spaces—the Palazzo Clerici in Milan, Henry van de Velde’s Hotel Wolfers, for instance—and they still do: for a few days in early September, they’ll show work by American designer Jonathan Muecke in a brutalist house built by Juliaan Lampens outside Ghent. But this spring they opened a showroom near the Sablon district in the historic center of the city—it’s located on the Place de la Justice, a square at the bottom of the Mont des Arts where Daniel Buren’s much-photographed installation of blue and white flags greets visitors.
“We are very happy to be located in Brussels,” Jacobs says . “We are surrounded by our colleagues from other art and design galleries. And vintage lovers know the neighborhood well. We often participate in design and art trails that are organized in the city. There are hardly any design collectors here, but some of the art collectors can be tempted to buy a design piece, if it leans closely enough to art. We’re pretty good at playing with the border between art and design.” Work by Meucke is on show at the gallery until October 8, after which artist Valérie Mannaerts will take center stage. maniera.be