Tuesday 13 June 2017

Contemporary Art and Design are Thriving in Brussels

 Maarten Van Severen's LCP chaise longue made from a single, folding piece of transparent methcrylate designed in 2002, part of the Plasticarium Collection at the Brussels ADAM design museum. Cover picture of the Atomium and all photographs for DAM by Elli Ioannou

We take a look at the flourishing art and design scene in Brussels which is rapidly expanding with strong investment and government support. Funding from the EU and local government bodies has doubled in the past three years as part of the city’s strategy to become a cultural hub in Europe, write Jeanne-Marie Cilento & Paul James McDonnell

The Tour & Taxi building that houses Art Brussels
CONTEMPORARY art weeks in Brussels resemble the pace of a Paris fashion week. The city swarms with international art buyers, galleries and art media. Next year, Brussels is the official European city of contemporary art reflecting its changing cultural landscape. Economic expansion and investment in art and design has made them thrive. Allocated funding from the EU and local government bodies has doubled in the last three years as part of the city’s strategy to become a cultural hub in Europe. Significant international and local art fairs plus new museums are being hosted in developing areas of Brussels, bridging the socio-economic divide between uptown and downtown.

The 35th Art Brussels fair was held in a formerly industrial district, within the Tour & Taxi hangar. In this redeveloping area of Brussels, there are innovative and ecologically sympathetic architectural developments and the new headquarters of Environment Brussels. Ultimately, the area will offer a mix of diverse housing, work spaces, state-of-the-art conference and seminar venues plus retail, leisure facilities and publicly accessible open space.

In 2018, Brussels is the official European city of contemporary art reflecting its changing cultural landscape

Soaring staircase at Maison Delvaux
Today, design and art can be found everywhere in Brussels. Highlights include, the Maison Delvaux flagship boutique, situated in the heart of the city. It prides itself on being the oldest luxury leather company in the world, operating continuously since 1829 ~ even before Hermes opened. Located in a grand 19th Century former private mansion, the space reflects the brand's philosophy of fusing tradition with innovation and an identity and history connected to Belgium. Walking into Maison Delvaux, you see a majestic curving staircase of wood and marble rising up at the entrance to the top of the mansion. The main room, visible from Boulevard de Waterloo, includes designs displaying luxury bags and accessories with a tribute to Mondrian. A table of glass and iron by Pieter de Bruyne, on the original parquetry wooden floor, is the centre piece, with a minimal display of fine leather handbags. Other original features include a vast bow window spanning two levels and various movable displays. Exhibitions on the first floor include a ‘cabinet de curiosites’ displaying a history of handbags from various creators as seen through the Aumonères collection, some dating back to 17th Century.

Selected design pieces in the permanent collection include a marble, leather and bronze table by Ben Storms, hexagonal brass chandeliers, 'Osaka' by Jules Wabbes, made for the 1970 world fair's Belgian pavilion, a light chandelier by Nathalie Dewez called 'Prism' and an organically shaped desk designed in 1952 by Renaat Braem. Maison Delvaux is neither an art gallery or a typical boutique but offers a unique experience mixing its mid 20th Century design collection of furniture, the handsome 19th Century building and its fine luxury handbags.

The Art and Design Atomium Museum in Brussels
The Art and Design Atomium Museum (ADAM ) pays homage to plastic and its impact on design with its current exhibition titled 'Plasticarium'  from the permanent collection. The ADAM is currently the only museum in Brussels dedicated to art and design from the 20th and 21st Century. The building itself has a classic concrete cube style interior, designed by architects Lhoas & Lhoas. The exterior is a minimalist tube made of mirrored glass, the main architectural signature is the entrance designed by Jean Nouvel, with its bright primary coloured staircase, duplicated in reverse on the ceiling. The colour palette refers to the plastic furniture in the exhibition. The nucleus of the 'Plasticarium' show is mainly from the private collection of Philippe Decelle, including prototypes and everyday objects from the 1960s and '70s. In addition, other works were sourced from a combination of international public collections and galleries. The pieces from the collection show baby boomers’ freedom of expression in the Sixties and designers creating signature pieces that are still iconic today.

The Art and Design Atomium Museum pays homage to plastic and its impact on design with the Plasticarium Collection

Colourful Sixties and Seventies television designs
The vast exhibition includes categories of so-called 'pop-functionalism', for example a long display of various television designs that finishes with the first Mac desktop computer. Other noteworthy pieces are the inflatable and transparent furniture and the anti-design, contemporary pieces. Decelle's collection began in 1987 when he rescued a Joe Colombo chair from a dustbin, eventually prompting him to launch his Plasticarium collection in the heart of Brussels. An ardent collector, Decelle's collection is the only one of its kind in the world. He has collected several thousand plastic items, spanning from 1960, when the first piece of furniture made entirely from plastic was produced, to 1973, the year of the oil crisis.

The collection has been extended to the post-pop era of today. Although various major museums have already exhibited its key pieces, such as Tate London, few Belgians are familiar with the entire collection, including items from every aspect of daily life, including TV sets and Tupperware. There are also original works by many famous designers, including Joe Colombo, Verner Panton, Philippe Starck, Charles Kaisin and others.

The brilliant exhibtion of design from the
Plasticarium Collection
The collection celebrates plastic, a cheap material that has inspired so many designers. Originally it was a product of the economic boom of the Sixties when a generation embraced fun, vividly hued furniture that could be mass produced. For designers this new material symbolised cheerfulness and unpretentiousness. Philippe Decelle's pieces give expression to a new era that felt relaxed and light-hearted. Plastic inspired Pop Art designers and artists alike, in this collection you can see work by Belgium's Evelyne Axell as well as pieces by the New Realists César and Arman. The oil crisis of 1973 heralded the end of the golden period of plastic design. Soon plastic's impact on the environment also became clear. At the ADAM there is a special section devoted to pieces that have been made from resin or recycled plastic.

The Art & Design Atomium Museum is part of Brussels' International Trade Mart (BITM), almost half of which is to be devoted to the permanent collection of the Plasticarium. Overall, it comprises more then 2,000 pieces ranging from everyday objects to works of art via designer items. As there will not be sufficient space in the ADAM to present the collection in its entirety, the display will be rotated on an annual basis. This will offer visitors a different experience with every new visit to the museum.
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The Art and Design Atomium Museum ADAM with an entrance designed by Jean Nouvel
Cesare Leonardi and Franca Stagi's 'Dondolo' 1969, part of the Plasticarium collection at Brussels ADAM
The enormous Plasticarium collection of iconic and everyday designs at ADAM
Transparent sculptural, fantasies part of Philippe Decelle's original collection that he began in 1987
 Maison Delvaux's Renaat Braem1952 organic desk
Display at the stylish Maison Delvaux housed in a 19th Century mansion
The dramatic stripes and curves of Renaat Braem's 1952 desk and chair at Maison Delvaux
 Jules Wabbes hexagaonal brass chandeliers at Maison Delvaux
Pieter De Bruyne's Mondrian-inspired table at Maison Delvaux
Natalie Dewez's 'Prism' chandelier at Maison Delvaux
The former industrial Docks area of Brussels that is being redeveloped

The sustainable new Environment Brussels building in the Docks area

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