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.
ALEXIS RYNGAERT WAS ONLY twenty-five in 2008 when he decided he wanted to start an internationally renowned gallery. He has succeeded brilliantly. In 2011 Ryngaert opened the first permanent exhibition space for the gallery, which he named Victor Hunt; today he has clients from around the globe and exhibits regularly at Design Miami and Design Miami/Basel. His desire, he says, is “to show things that don’t exist yet. I am passionate about the future. My motto is: yesterday was ok, today is better, and tomorrow will be amazing. That is why I show digital crafts regularly. They’re interesting because the creators are often design teams, rather than individuals—in that discipline you literally have to put ten or twenty components together that have never been put together before. It requires technological, electronic, mechanical, and aesthetic insight. And good organizational skills. Conceptual, referential, or process-oriented design is also interesting to me, because it makes me feel an emotion and freedom that transcends functionality. I have a lot of fun.
“I am about the same age as most of the designers I work with, so our contact is quite direct. If I don’t like their work, I just tell them. I have been working with Kwangho Lee from Korea for a long time and with Humans since 1982. Also Julien Carretero and Johannes Hemann, Tom Price, and Mischer’traxler. But also with Brussels-based Sylvain Willenz and Maarten De Ceulaer. These are all designers that have proved that they could keep their studios running—they’re not one-hit wonders.”
Ryngaert’s all-time favorite collection is Lumière by Commonplace Studio. “The weather has always been intriguing to mankind. It’s in our genes. How Commonplace Studio interprets it in a completely new way is amazing: with lights that serve as screens to project weather imagery onto. Each lamp lights up through the projection of moving images on the inner surface of the glass bulb. Acting in multiples they orchestrate a cinematic spectacle.”
Ryngaert just moved to the up-and-coming quarter of Ixelles near the Bois de la Cambre, where a lot of new galleries, shops, and restaurants have opened recently. “There are lots of art galleries here so it’s a good location. Brussels has had twothirds fewer visitors after the attacks in March. But they know how to find me in the niche where I am situated. I mostly have international clients anyway— especially the American market. It’s easy to understand why: they are the risk-takers. They buy a lot more modern art. And they’re not afraid to invest in this kind of limited-edition design.”
“Designer Tomás Alonso is perhaps the most functional designer I work with. He has decorated an entire house—he designed everything: from the toilet roll holder to the cabinets and the bed. How crazy is that?” This fall Ryngaert has big plans to show Victor Hunt’s first solo female designer, Sabine Marcelis. victor-hunt.com