With the first Brussels edition under its belt, New York born art fair Independent has officially landed in Europe. Hailed as a successful first edition, we speak to the fairs co-directors, Liv Vaisberg & Olivier Pesret, about why they chose Brussels as their European home, the difference between the two collecting scenes, and what type of collectors attend Independent Brussels.
2016 marks the first year of Independent Brussels, why do you feel now is the right time to bring Independent across to Europe?LIV VAISBERG & OLIVIER PESRET
Independent was conceived in New York in 2010 by a group of gallerists who had become weary of an outdated fair format that was no longer catering to the best interests of the galleries and their artists. The result was a consortium of ideas between peers – a fair that was more akin to a biennial than a trade show. This format proved to strike a chord with galleries. Independent’s presence in Brussels began somewhat organically as our co-founder Elizabeth Dee traveling in Belgium to visit one of her artists, and the city of Brussels offered an amazing space to host the first European iteration of Independent. Every year since we launched our fair in 2010, approximately half of our exhibitors came from Europe and it felt natural to offer a second home to them in a city that has changed over the past 8 years and is becoming a vibrant contemporary art hub.
Both New York and Brussels are known for being cities that have impressive private collections. How do you think the collecting scene in New York differs from the collecting scene in Brussels?LIV VAISBERG & OLIVIER PESRET
Belgium has a strong sense of history and pride for their collecting tradition, and they are truly accessible and supportive of the active and growing art scene. Places like WIELS are strongly backed by private collectors. During the Independent, we are fortunate to have a few excellent collectors open their doors to the public and some exclusively to Independent. In general, we have been benefiting a lot from local collectors’ support, which was a huge encouragement to launch Independent in Belgium.
Independent Brussels will be taking place at the same time as Art Brussels. How do you think this will influence the fair? Are you expecting the same collectors to attend both fairs?LIV VAISBERG & OLIVIER PESRET
Art Brussels and Independent are complementary, and we are positioned very differently. Art Brussels is a historical local fair of importance, whereas Independent is more the annual iteration of a global network of like-minded galleries. We bring galleries that have never exhibited in Belgium and who will obviously bring their own collectors. Strong collectors are thorough and will surely be interested in both fairs.
How does Independent Brussels differ from the other independent fairs out there? Why is it important that you keep independent Brussels free to the public?LIV VAISBERG & OLIVIER PESRET
We are invitational, project-based and curated, which as a result makes us resemble much more a biennale than a traditional fair. Fairs usually have a quite expensive entrance fee, which prevents some art lovers from attending. We want to reach out to the interested broad public and find it important to be free for them to come see what we are passionate about and put so much effort into crafting. It would be a shame to keep to our happy few art community.
We also aim to have a 30% gallery turnover with each edition – so every year the fair feels fresh and galleries only participate if it makes sense for their schedule and program. If one year a gallery doesn’t have content that is particularly fitting or overburdened with projects, we encourage them to “ sit one out” and they don’t have to worry about losing their seat at the table. This doesn’t happen at other fairs, where there tend to be very hard feelings if exhibitors don’t get invited back every year.
This is a huge reason why Elizabeth Dee and Laura Mitterrand decided to launch Independent in Brussels – to open up more options for our exhibitor network. Now if one year a younger gallery in Europe can’t quite afford to participate in Independent New York, we can say “That’s alright, what about Independent Brussels? What about a collaborative show at Independent Régence sometime in the next year?”
Independent “strives to re-examine the traditional methods of presenting, viewing, and experiencing contemporary art” – could you go into more detail about how the fair is hoping to do this?LIV VAISBERG & OLIVIER PESRET
We function as a network, our founders have their own full time gallery practices, and the traditional heavy process of application and selection committee did not work for a certain generation of gallerists. We are giving a lot of attention to our gallerists’ needs and to provide an curatorially driven architectural scheme to fit their presentation. For us what is important is quality, from the projects brought by galleries, the walls and lighting we provide for them, but also the overall visitor’s experience. We like to work with personalities and create relationships with partners. We can boast a great caterer .Albert, young Antwerp barristas roasting their own coffee, film and fashion florist Thierry Boutemy and also young designer Studio Kano who create soft pillows to collaborate with us.
Where do you see the future of collecting headed?LIV VAISBERG & OLIVIER PESRET
It is hard to speak about one future of collecting. We see a trend to make some collection more visible and accessible, opening their houses but also private museum, but at the same time there is still a large group of very discreet collectors especially in Belgium. It seems that their active role taking on the art scene is increasingly necessary to support artists and other type of artistic endeavours.
Are the two of you collectors? If so, what do you collect?LIV VAISBERG & OLIVIER PESRET
Certainly we are art lovers with a keen interest and devotion to the tradition of collecting. But what’s more important to us is that we are here to create a platform for others to collect. Our “collection” is simply bringing all these galleries and artists together and able to observe their work during Independent.