The Best Shows To See in Brussels

With Art Brussels in town, a guide to exhibitions to see in the Belgian capital

BY Carina Bukuts in Critic's Guides | 25 APR 19

Anicka Yi, ‘We Have Never Been Individual’, 2019, installation view, Gladstone Gallery, Brussels. Courtesy: the artist and Gladstone Gallery, Brussels

Anicka Yi
Gladstone Gallery
23 April – 15 June

In her first show with Gladstone Gallery, Anicka Yi reveals one of the secrets of the sea. For ‘We Have Never Been Individual’, Yi has produced glowing spherical sculptures covered in leather-like seaweed to bring well-deserved attention to the underestimated, highly resilient, algae. For a second series, Yi has created aquascapes with both algae and cyanobacteria to reflect on using microorganisms as a food and energy source for humans. The connection of organic and industrial material – a symbiosis between nature and technology – is central to Yi’s work. This is also mirrored in the exhibition title, which refers to philosopher Bruno Latour’s well-known essay We Have Never Been Modern (1991), in which he encourages his readers to reject the nature-culture binary.

Merve Iseri, ever changing perpetuity, 2019, pastel, oil bar on unprimed canvas, 1.8 x 1.5 m. Courtesy: the artist and Ballon Rouge Collective

Merve Iseri
Ballon Rouge Club
25 April – 8 June

In the moving final sequence of Albert Lamorisse’s Le ballon rouge (The Red Balloon, 1956), a young boy floats above the streets of Paris, carried by a bundle of balloons. Since 2017, the nomadic gallery Ballon Rouge Collective has been floating through galleries and project spaces across the globe, occasionally organizing exhibitions. The curators ultimately opened a permanent space in the heart of Brussels in March 2019. For the second exhibition in this space, curator Evelyn Simons invited Istanbul based artist Merve Iseri to present a series of paintings at the threshold between dream and reality. On unprimed canvases, delicate lines form bodies and objects that seem to meet only by chance. Iseri’s strange compositions create surreal worlds in which the void on the canvas becomes the projection surface for the subconscious.

Ellen Gallagher, An Ecstatic Draught of Fishes, 2018, oil, ink, gold leaf and paper on canvas, 2.5 x 2 m. Courtesy: the artist and WIELS, Brussels

Ellen Gallagher with Edgar Cleijne
2 February – 28 April

‘Liquid Intelligence’ at WIELS shows the evolution of Ellen Gallagher’s artistic practice over the last 20 years, from early works on paper to multimedia installations in collaboration with Dutch artist Edgar Cleijne. Her series of monochrome ‘Black Paintings’ (2010–2016) explores blackness as both colour and identity, challenging the paradigms of modernist painting as well as the narratives of African American history. What first appears to be a simple black canvas becomes something more with a closer look: torn pages from magazines for a Black audience are glued on the surface, ripped with a blade and finished in black.

Elsewhere, C-type banners, a 70mm film and two 16mm projections fill an entire room and form the immersive installation Highway Gothic (2017). A joint project with Cleijne, the installation reveals how the construction of Interstate 10, which links the east and west coasts of the southern United States, is connected with a brutal disregard of Black communities in New Orleans. Like many of Gallagher's works, Highway Gothic conveys bitter historical truths that are unfortunately still present today.

Gillian Carnegie, 8, 2019, oil on canvas, 84 x 58 cm. Courtesy: the artist and dépendance, Brussels; photograph: Mark Blower

Gillian Carnegie
25 April – 25 May

Gillian Carnegie’s palette is quiet and gloomy. Different shades of grey collide with washed-out blue and the canvases look like they are covered in shadows. A black cat slowly walks down a dark stairway, another cat sits on olive green sheets and several studies of the same withered bouquet hang on the walls of dépéndance. Carnegie reexamines traditional painting genres such as still life, portrait and landscape to explore painting as a technical exercise rather than an expressive outlet. While the motifs appear conventional at first, the mood and composition make the images distinctive. Nothing is ever in the centre or screams for attention. But the longer you look at Carnegie’s paintings, the more the subjects push the limits of representation and tell their own stories. Still waters run deep.


Meret Oppenheim, Handschuh, 1985, publication. Courtesy: Galerie Levy, Hamburg and © ProLitters

‘Matters of Concern’
La Verrière, Fondation d’entreprise Hermès
27 April – 6 July

‘Matters of Concern’, the third in a series of exhibitions curated by Guillaume Désanges, is dedicated to materially-focused practices that explore mindfulness. As well as artistic approaches, the exhibition also includes contributions by scientists, choreographers and activists. Some works examine the return to materiality in the form of craft practices like Raymonde Arcier’s knitted sculpture Mère et Petite Mère (1973), which reimagines traditionally ‘female’ craft techniques as feminist practices. Others deal with the relationship between culture and nature, like artist Lois Weinberger, who creates autonomous ‘plant societies’. Elsewhere South African artist Igshaan Adams constructs large woven installations which connect Islamic iconographies with South African motifs to explore new forms of a transcultural aesthetic.

Zoë Paul, 'Despina', 2019, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and La Loge, Brussels

Zoë Paul
La Loge
24 April – 29 June

Zoë Paul’s working methods are rooted in the tradition of craft. For her exhibition at La Loge, Paul has constructed Zargana (2019), a large, specially-commissioned bead curtain. The title of the piece not only refers to the Greek name of the red goatfish shown on the curtain but is also common slang to refer to women and associated with the ancient mythological figure Despoina, the goddess of mysteries. Named after the latter, Paul’s exhibition ‘Despina’ combines the Athens-based artist’s interest in craft with Greek mythology. While craft has long been considered women’s labor, Despoina represents the fertility of the earth. By creating handcrafted works inspired by the ancient goddess, Paul explores the ability to form a new female identity.

Paulo Nazareth, '[A] FLEUR DE LA PEAU', 2019, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo / Brussels / New York

Paulo Nazareth
Mendes Wood DM
24 April – 1 June

For his first exhibition in Belgium, Paulo Nazareth recalls the colonial violence and genocide committed by Belgium during the appropriation of the Congo. A series of billboard light installations feature the names of maximum-security prisons which set up a relationship between colonial powers (France and Belgium) and their colonies (Congo). The bright light of these works literally opens your eyes and the work reflects on the colonial nature of prisons: how the deprivation of liberty are not African forms of punishment but a colonial remnant of control. The black and white photograph series ‘Untitled, from the white ethnography series’ (2019) show blurry found footage of people of colour with several white chalk circles drawn on the photographs. While the bodies of anonymous people are captured in the photographs, the chalk circles on the paper are Nazareth’s attempt to liberate them.

Also on display is the series ‘Santos de Minha Mãe’ (My Mother’s Saints, 2019), in which Nazareth links spirituality with capitalism: food products that bear the names of saints are placed in resin blocks. Coffee is named after Santo Antônio, sweets after Santa Rita and wine after San Martin. The profane meets the sacred and shows Nazareth’s interest in the shifting meanings of religion and its relation to capitalism.

Main image: Lois Weinberger, Holding the Earth, 2010, photograph, 60 x 90 cm. Courtesy: Salle Principale, Paris and © Paris Tsitsos

Carina Bukuts is associate editor of frieze. She is based in Berlin, Germany.