For a city that is mostly in the spotlight for EU politics, Brussels has a surprisingly vibrant art scene. The city’s international population, low rents and relaxed lifestyle have turned it into a creative hub for young artists, gallery owners and international art fairs.
It might not be as stylish as London or Paris, but Brussels has its own special atmosphere, which you find as you explore the galleries and informal art spaces around the city.
“Brussels has a special identity,” explains Marnix Rummens, project manager at the nomadic art organisation Workspacebrussels. “It might seem messy, but this creates a free space in which artists can work. There is no majority who controls the city, no system to which you have to conform.”
Rummens wants people to discover Brussels by looking at art in unexpected locations. “You shouldn’t just visit theatres and galleries,” he says. “You should also visit some of the crazy places.”
Here are some unusual art locations to visit during the summer.
For the past five years, the Egmont Palace has put on an art show in its stately neoclassical rooms. This year, Belgium’s foreign affairs minister Didier Reynders hit on the cool idea of inviting seven Belgian street artists to participate.
The show – titled Belgian Crew! – was put together by Pierre-Olivier Rollin of the Charleroi-based art centre BPS22. It brings some wild street art into the courtyard, staircases and glittering ballrooms of the 18th century palace.
The art begins as soon as you pass through the palace gates. Inside the courtyard, graffiti artist Axel has pimped up an official government vehicle with some cans of spray paint. Normally that sort of behaviour leads to a stiff fine and a short jail term.
Inside the building, drip artist El Nino76 has spilled a pot of paint on the grand marble staircase – modelled on Versailles. In one of the grand reception rooms, Sara Conti has created a paste-up paper collage inspired by paintings of Paradise. You also find ceramic graffiti work by Mon Colonel & Spit, whose work is handled by Alice Gallery.
Petit Sablon 8, Sablon District
Open Monday to Friday from noon to 18.00. Until 31 August.
The Rivoli shopping centre at Bascule has been transformed into an inspiring contemporary art hub where a dozen galleries display works by emerging artists. Some big names in art have taken over the abandoned shops including Xavier Hufkens and Hopstreet.
Chaussée de Waterloo 690, Ixelles
RUE DE NAMUR STREET ART
Seven street artists were recruited to bring some vitality to the Rue de Namur, where shops have been closing down at an alarming rate. The artists created striking art on high blank walls and the metal shutters of defunct shops. You can spot a bird by Antwerp artist Steve Locatelli on the wall of the Chambord Hotel, mysterious abstract art by Parole and Eye B squeezed down the narrow Rue du Baudet and strange portraits by the street artist Spear on the side wall of No. 14.
Rue de Namur, Central Brussels
BRUSSELS GALLERY WEEKEND
Find out whether Brussels is the new Berlin during the Brussels Gallery Weekend. Held over four days, the art event brings together 33 leading contemporary art galleries across Brussels. The venues range from Valérie Bach’s huge gallery space in a former ice skating rink to the modest Harlan Levey Projects hidden inside a row house in Ixelles. Most of the galleries are clustered in Ixelles along the Avenue Louise axis, making it easy to get around without a car.
September 8 to 11.