Brussels Gallery Weekend – In Conversation with Sybille du Roy

The 13th Brussels Gallery Weekend takes place from 3 to 6 September 2020. The project presently led by Sybille du Roy has grown over the years and is now considered to be the second most important artistic event in the city, right after the renowned Art Brussels fair. The significance of the Belgian capital on the artistic scene has been quietly built up over the last two decades, and its geographical location has attracted an ever-increasing audience, both locally and internationally. Nevertheless, in a year irreversibly marred by the pandemic and the consequent wave of cancellations (particularly of Art Brussels), the staging of the Brussels Gallery Weekend has become of utmost importance for artists, galleries, institutions and alternative venues alike, which have been deprived of public and sales. The programme has more than 50 spaces dedicated to contemporary art, thereby strengthening the unifying spirit which, according to Sybille du Roy, defines the artistic scene in Brussels.

Francisco Correia – You have mentioned before the tight bond between Brussels Gallery Weekend and Art Brussels. How do both events support and interact with each other?

Sybille du Roy – I think there is a big difference between them. Whereas BGW is a local event, AB is mostly an international fair. We work with the same galleries (the ones from Brussels) and take place at different times, so it is in the interest of both to support each other. However, I would say that AB supports us more than the other way round because they are bigger. Usually they organise shuttles to bring people over, offer us media support and, also give us financial backing. Although this year has been a bit different, since they also faced enormous difficulties, but they are still with us. It’s a nice relationship.

FC – How would you set apart the aim of both projects?

SdR – BGW started 13 years ago with the aim of bringing collectors back to the galleries. Back then, I wasn’t the director, but I did take part in the discussion as director of one of the participating galleries. Over time BGW grew, and now we have visitors from all over the world; last year we had Chinese and Americans. Obviously, this year is more complicated, but in the end the aim is to highlight Brussels’ art scene, the strengths of the city, its galleries and even its institutions, since we also have the Off-programme with non-profits and artist-run spaces, and our own exhibition with young artists. BGW is a close-up of what is happening in Brussels now.

Furthermore, we founded Art Across Europe which is a big project that brings together gallery weekends from different countries. We – usually! – help people to travel; we organise Zoom meetings with key players from different cities; etc. This project started right here in Brussels and it is very interesting because it is a about people from different cities working together to highlight their local art scenes.

FC – 2020 will go down in history books as the year called off by the coronavirus pandemic. During its first half most art events were cancelled, as the galleries and museums closed their doors. How are the galleries and the participating institutions reacting to this first major art event occurring in Brussels after the quarantine period?

SdR – In fact, this won’t be the first event. Back in June we organised a “Mini Gallery Weekend”. We made it free for every Brussels gallery, we did a collective opening and we had some public coming. Now of course this is on a larger scale.

Every day has been a new challenge. People say they are coming and the next day they cancel because they are not allowed to travel anymore. We will still have people coming from abroad which I confess surprises me. Anyway, galleries and institutions are very happy for BGW to happen, but they want to make sure that it does so in a very safe and realistic fashion. This year there will be no big parties or champagne, everyone is strictly focused on the content and the organisation. There will still be small get-togethers. But visits will be supervised so we can make sure safety rules are respected, as well as the capacity of each gallery, which was calculated based on the number of metres squared. Logistically it’s a nightmare, but people are willing to come and that’s the most important thing. Otherwise, without this activity some galleries already told us they would have to close. We are counting on the public to come and the collectors to support. We have groups from Belgian and from some other neighbouring countries’ museums supporting us more than ever. I would say that this year we have a good vibe. Everyone is concentrated on what is essential.

FC – Unlike many other recent art events, BGW will be happening fully off-line. Right?

SdR – Hopefully yes! But again, we are not there yet. We launched a new website where people can view the installations, galleries and artworks in detail. I would say it is our baby version of Artsy [laughs]. It is a flexible tool that we will be able to make use of again. We will also have a few events happening online, such as a talk about the importance of revaluing the local; or some workshops that this year will not be possible to have live. However, the committee has always insisted that BGW happen in the galleries with the Belgian art lovers and collectors present.

FC – Since 2018 BGW has hosted the Generation Brussels show. This year’s edition is curated by Evelyn Simons and it includes exciting younger artists such as Helóise Rival and Carlota Bailly-Borg. Can you explain what this section is about and what its outcome has been so far?

SdR – I worked in galleries before and my brother is an artist, so I am aware that is very difficult for younger artists to get exposure. In one of the galleries where I used to work, we once showed non-represented artists and the feedback was amazing. The public was very happy, those young artists got visibility and some even went on to good galleries after that.

Therefore, if we want to show the Brussels art scene it is also important to show its fresh artists as well. The curator of Generation Brussels’ 1st edition was Louis-Philippe Van Eeckhoutte and he has visited many studios. Every edition we make an open call so everyone can have their shot, though the final selection list is obviously much smaller. I know that since the 1st edition artists have managed to sell work. We put them in contact with the local curators, galleries and collectors and we do not take any money from them. If they sell, the money is for them. The truth is if we look back 2 years some of those artists have grown nicely in every aspect. For example, the artist exhibiting at Galerie Felix Frachon [David Tobón] this year, was part of 2019’s Generation Brussels show. I believe we also have to take on this role; we need to be involved with and supporting younger artists.

FC – I would also like you to talk about the Off programme. What is the importance of these non-commercial spaces for an event primarily focused on the galleries?

SdR – That is exactly the point! We are not a strictly commercial event. As I mentioned before we have the GB Show and Off programmes. We try to offer some visibility to these non-profit spaces because I think the Brussels’ art scene is just as well known for them also. It is a case of finding a balance between these spaces (mostly run by young artists) and the private galleries. BGW tries to be a rendezvous bringing everyone together. I don’t think the big galleries count on us to make sales, BGW is about highlighting the city and supporting the local art scene.

FC – Before the pandemic outbreak Brussels was considered one of the most exciting and flourishing cities in European art scene…

SdR – It still is!

FC – Do you think that all these years’ work may be affected by the health crisis and its economic consequences?

SdR – I believe it is far too early to say. Six months is nothing. I think it will take at least one and a half years to understand the consequences. I do know that many younger artists and non-profits are suffering, as are some more recent galleries and even some bigger ones. But the consequences will depend on how long the pandemic lasts and for how much longer the government continues to support us.

FC – Can you reveal to us some of your personal highlights from this year’s Brussels Gallery Weekend?

SdR – I have not seen the shows yet but… I love the work of Eric Croes – having myself one at home – that will be showing at Sorry We’re Closed. Daniel Dewar & Grégory Gicquel at C L E A R I N G whose work I like a lot. Lynda Benglis! [at Xavier Hufkens]. I am a big, big fan of her work. And I would say Martin Belou, it will be his first show at Bernier/Eliades and his work is really worth a look.

Oh I don’t know, it’s an impossible task to choose between one or another. I am mentioning those I know, but I am curious to see them all for myself.

Francisco Correia (b. 1996) lives and works in Lisbon. He studied Painting at Faculdade de Belas-Artes at Universidade de Lisboa and finished the post-graduation on Art Curatorship at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. He has been writing for and about exhibitions, while simultaneously developing his artistic project.

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