Over the last decade, Brussels has evolved into one of Europe's biggest contemporary art destinations, and while its vibrant, international scene is worth discovering all year round, September holds a special place in the city’s cultural calendar.
Every year since 2008, the Belgian capital’s art spaces align their calendars for Brussels Gallery Weekend (BGW), a four-day art marathon heralding the opening of the new art season that is filled to the brim with openings, artist talks, guided tours, performances, kids’ workshops, and screenings.
This years’ offering runs from 7 to 10 September, and with 45 galleries participating in this 16th edition as well as a rich off-programme including artist-run spaces and institutions, the event can be a challenge to navigate, which is why we’ve rounded up the shows we deem unmissable.
Until 14 October
Despite its international success, Xavier Hufkens, one of Belgium’s leading galleries, remains fiercely dedicated to its home town. Instead of branching out abroad, it continues to expand its local activities, most recently with an ambitious extension juxtaposing an elegant 19th-century townhouse with a minimal, concrete annex. It’s an absolute must-see, both for art and architecture aficionados. Hufkens opens the season with one of the country’s most prominent artists, Thierry De Cordier, who has represented Belgium at the Venice Biennale and is especially known for his dramatic seascapes. This solo show, his first at the gallery since 2011, unites works spanning from 1983 to today, none of which have been shown previously.
7 to 10 September
For the sixth time, BGW shines a light on young, upcoming Brussels-based artists who have not yet found gallery representation – an endeavour that remains one of the biggest challenges faced by emerging artists. This year’s edition of Generation Brussels is curated by Belgian art critic and curator Sam Steverlynck, who took inspiration from celebrated Spanish-Mexican film-maker Luis Buñuel. The exhibition title, Cet Obscur Objet du Désir (or That Obscure Object of Desire), references Buñuel’s acclaimed eponymous movie from 1977. A leading figure in surrealism, Buñuel weaves absurd, strange and unsettling elements into his films. The same can be said about the works by the eight exhibited young artists, whose creations share a certain ambivalence.
Galerie Nathalie Obadia
Until 21 October
Hoda Kashiha, one of the most prominent figures emerging from the Iranian art scene, studied art in Tehran and Boston. After her stay in the United States, she moved back home, and it is this unique perspective of both worlds that informs her intriguing paintings. Using a colourful pictorial approach influenced by cubism, cartoons, and American pop art, she addresses serious topics such as the sociopolitical situation in her native Iran and related questions about oppression, gender and identity. Mixing tragedy and comedy, personal experiences and historical references, Kashiha’s works also deliver a message of hope and freedom. Another World is Waiting for Us presents a series of recent works that the artist produced in her studio on the outskirts of Tehran.
Harlan Levey Projects
Until 16 December
Founded in 2013 on the ground floor of an Ixelles townhouse, the gallery opened a new space in a renovated warehouse extending over 250 square metres in 2021. It’s situated in Molenbeek, a neighbourhood that has been attracting an increasing number of artists and art projects with its spacious and affordable former industrial buildings. The gallery’s programme is research-based and often politically charged, which its opening show, A Thousand Pictures of Nothing, perfectly demonstrates. It features video sculptures and films by Belgian artist Emmanuel Van der Auwera, whose oeuvre intelligently scrutinises contemporary society, questions our visual literacy and reflects on the impact of emerging technologies. The exhibition extends into the artist’s studio, which is attached to the gallery.
Until 30 September
Stems Gallery, run by siblings Pascaline and Guillaume Smets, is a great place for discovering emerging artists and has a clear penchant for contemporary figurative American painting. Fittingly, it kicks off the new season with More About Everything, a solo show by Minnesota-born artist Shaina McCoy. She draws inspiration from her family’s photo archive, basing her colourful, captivating paintings on intimate moments from the past. Devoid of facial features, which are replaced by dynamic, richly textured brushstrokes, McCoy’s dreamy pieces activate one’s own memory while revealing the often-overlooked diversity and complexity of Black experiences. The gallery recently moved into a large new space in the former canteen of the Solvay laboratories.
Sorry We’re Closed
Until 28 October
Brussels-based artist Eric Croes has made a name for himself with his colourful, playful ceramic sculptures, often in totem form and bristling with a multitude of symbols, meanings and stories. His new show at Sorry We’re Closed springs from his childhood fascination with starry skies and faraway planets, creating a mystical cosmos between heaven and hell that defies the black-and-white notion of good and bad, vice and virtue – revealing life in all its complexity. While each vision has its own floor in the gallery, they’re not only connected intellectually but also through a flight of stairs. The exhibition title, La Nuit est une Femme à Barbe (or The Night is a Bearded Woman) is a testament to the hybrid nature of things, reminding us that every interpretation and every mystery is multifarious.
Galerie Christophe Gaillard
Until 28 October
Brussels’ art scene continues to grow. Like many other international galleries, the Paris-based Christophe Gaillard chose the Belgian capital for his first outpost abroad. Assembling 15 of the gallery’s 35 artists, the inaugural show, Signatures, gives an introduction to the gallery’s overall identity. Works by established artists such as Franz West feature next to artists who have never exhibited in Brussels before, such as photographer Marina Gadonneix. The gallery is situated in an elegant mansion strategically located across from Brussels’ museum for modern and contemporary art, KANAL-Centre Pompidou, currently covered by a gigantic mural but set to open in 2025. “The idea of being in a place ‘in the making’ and actively contributing to its growth appeals to me more than simply setting up among other French galleries already established in Brussels,” Gaillard is quoted as saying in the press release.
Until 13 October
Alice Gallery, nestled in a hidden alley in the centre of Brussels, has a soft spot for (former) graffiti artists and those who combine codes of contemporary art and subcultures. Accordingly, Brooklyn-based artist Paul Wackers not only creates paintings but also outdoor murals, and spray paint plays a prominent role in his process. While his pieces are inhabited by mundane everyday objects – from bookshelves and pottery to window sills and house plants – they are anything but banal, using a mixture of styles from impressionist, minimalist and expressionist, to trompe l’oeil and cartoon. The Window Goes Both Ways is his fifth show at the gallery, presenting Wacker’s personal version of still-life art.
Until 23 December
Greek gallery Bernier/Eliades, founded in Athens in 1977, opened a space in Brussels’ Chatelain district in 2016 as a platform to experiment, take risks and show younger, emerging artists. This September, it opens the season with Pivot, a solo show by Misheck Masamvu. Born in Zimbabwe, educated in Europe and currently based in Harare, the pioneering artist examines and comments on the sociopolitical realities of his home country and raises the question of how to preserve dignity in a state of political turmoil. Masamvu’s practice includes sculptures, drawings and richly textured paintings blurring the boundaries between abstraction and figuration. One of the most significant Zimbabwean artists, he represented his country at the 2011 Venice Biennale.