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10 essential highlights from BRAFA 2024

One of the world’s great art fairs returns to Brussels for its 69th edition, bookending the start of the design year

If December’s Miami Art Week closes the design year with an exuberant orgy of art and design happenings, BRAFA heralds its January rebirth, with a supremely assured exhibition that is high in both elegance and originality. “One of BRAFA’s greatest assets is its eclecticism,” says the fair’s chairman, Harold t’Kint de Roodenbeke; and it’s clearly a quality they value, with a mix of galleries that presents not a monoculture but a trove of best-in-class work to sate a broad range of tastes.

One of the joys of BRAFA is that while it’s global (to a point), it’s also unmistakeably Belgian. Belgium is often viewed by outsiders as something of a charming enigma, but what is undeniable is that it’s also a design and art superpower. Albeit, one that gives up its treasures subtly, to those who look for them, rather than broadcasting them at high volume to the world. This is true of its underground dance music scene, its addictive TV dramas, its architecture, and especially – for the 200 years of its existence – its art, tapestries, artisanship and design.

For its 69th edition, BRAFA is spotlighting Surrealism – for two good reasons. Firstly, 2024 marks the anniversary of Surrealism’s official birth – the 1924 publication of André Breton’s manifesto. And secondly, it’s now 30 years since the death of the great Belgian Surrealist artist Paul Delvaux. In his honour, BRAFA has assembled – together with the Paul Delvaux Foundation as well as its participating galleries – one of the finest collections of the artist’s work in years.

Here are 10 highlights from what already feels like a vintage year for BRAFA:

Axel Vervoordt

The Axel Vervoordt booth at BRAFA 2024. To the left is one of a pair of jacaranda Brazilian armchairs; above it, a painting by Jef Verheyen and Englebert Van Anderlecht (Image courtesy Axel Vorvoordt)

Axel Vervoordt is the rockstar of Belgian design, with a global reputation as a visual artist, gallerist, curator, interior designer and dealer. His compound in Kanaal is a wonderland of conceptual art (including an installation by Anish Kapoor when we visited), and thousands of square feet of impeccably sourced design, all of it presented in the most evocative spaces – dark walls and moody lighting abound. It is a true one-off.

For BRAFA, they have taken the less-is-more approach, allowing the pieces they are showing space to shine. These include a strikingly pretty pair of mid-century Brazilian lounge chairs from the Liceu de Artes e Ofícios de São Paulo. They’re upholstered in petrol blue, which interplays beautifully with the dark jacaranda.

On the wall is a late 50s/early 60s painting by Belgian artist Jef Verheyen and Englebert Van Anderlecht. The artists collaborated on a series of paintings together called Peinture Partagée (shared painting); it’s a fascinating partnership that just works – largely because Verheyen tends to create chromatic, hypnotic planes, while Van Anderlecht plays lead guitarist to Verheyen’s rhythm section, with swooping abstractions traversing the canvas like eastern calligraphy.

Galerie Marc Maison

Galerie Marc Maison wowed fairgoers at BRAFA 2024 with a complete Art Nouveau room by Victor Horta (Photo: Olivier Pirard)

Effortlessly proving that good fairs can offer up surprises, Galerie Marc Maison has rediscovered and is displaying in its entirety a room designed by Victor Horta – one of Belgium’s most famous architects. The room is an Art Nouveau gem, with three sets of panelling in mahogany, oak and flame maple, alongside a mantlepiece, bronze lights, a radiator cover, seating and a stained glass window.

The gallery have been rewarded for their chutzpah: so popular is it proving with this year’s fairgoers that BRAFA have had to start rationing access, and museums are reputed to be lining up their offers for the room.

Paul Delvaux

Boon Gallery brought La Ville Lunaire, 1944 by Paul Delvaux to BRAFA 2024 (Photo: © Foundation Paul Delvaux, courtesy of Boon Gallery)

In honour of the 30th anniversary of the Belgian painter’s death, Delvaux’s work is woven through this year’s show, threading the fair with a rich seam of magical realism. Three themes repeat throughout his work, like recurrent dreams: animated skeletons, naked women, and trains – whether emerging mysteriously from forests, glimpsed on distant bridges, or running alongside a terraced street. And in a thoroughfare of this year’s BRAFA, a train track disappears into the clouds.

Guest-of-honour The Paul Delvaux Foundation brought 15 works to BRAFA 2024. The railway seat is a node to one of the major themes of Delvaux’s work (Photo: Olivier Pirard)

Several galleries have brought Paul Delvaux artworks to the fair – Boon and Opera among them. And guest-of-honour this year is the Paul Delvaux Foundation, which is displaying 15 works in a dedicated space. It all adds up to a highly substantial collection which includes many of his best-known paintings – a must-see for anyone who appreciates his work.


The Robertaebasta gallery brought a 1968 Safari Poltranova sofa to BRAFA 2024, alongside a Vico Magistretti standing light, a Gabriella Crespi lamp and a pair of Gio Ponti cabinets

The Robertaebasta gallery is a Milanese powerhouse, with showrooms in London’s Pimlico Road, New York’s 200 Lexington, and no less than five showrooms in their native Milan. Their founder and matriarch Roberta Tagliavini sits resplendent in the stand’s centrepiece, a fabulous 1968 Safari Poltranova sofa, while her son and gallery manager Mattia – always welcoming and engaging – explains some of their highlights.

These include a rare 1969 Vico Magistretti standing lamp array in blown Murano glass by Vistosi – “so expensive to make,” says Mattia, “that only very few were ever made.”

The booth also exhibits a stunning pair of Gio Ponti cabinets, created in 1955 for the Royal Hotel in Naples. An exceptionally pretty 1970 Gabriella Crespi lamp in brass and perspex catches the eye, as does a grand Stilnovo chandelier overhead.

Alexander Calder

“This is the time of Calder,” says the same Mattia Tagliavini of Robertaebasta, and it’s hard to argue with that from the evidence here. If Calder was visible at last year’s BRAFA, this year, he’s unmissable, his addictive primary-coloured lines appearing on nearly every aisle. Their popularity is unsurprising – they are accessible, stylish, attractive, laden with 1960s verve, and work with nearly every kind of interior.

Maison Rapin

The Maison Rapin booth at BRAFA 2024. Above the 1962 Marco Zanuso sofa is a 1972 op-art work by Marc Cavell (Photo courtesy of Maison Rapin)

To enter this year’s Maison Rapin booth is to step into a saffron-coloured dream world. A 1962 Marco Zanuso sofa with matching chairs – in a gorgeous Arflex yellow – sets the scene. A Lampe Rocher Ambra collection by Simone Cenedese, in a glowing golden amber, is ethereal and organic. “She’s an Italian master glassmaker based in Murano,” says gallery associate director Virgile Dumont, “creating blown glass with a matte finish.”

A Robert Goosens chandelier hangs in the centre of the Maison Rapin booth at BRAFA 2024; to its right is a blown Murano lamp by Simone Cenedese (Photo courtesy of Maison Rapin)

The gallery, which focuses on French and Italian decorative arts, also specialises in some dramatic crystal and bronze chandeliers by Robert Goosens (1927-2016).  “He was a jewellery maker for Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent while also making decorative arts,” Virgile Dumont tells me. Their surreal decadence fits well with this year’s BRAFA theme. It’s an eclectic mix brimming with personality.

De Wit

World-leading tapestry company De Wit brought a 1965 Vasarely, ‘Cassiopée’ (L), and a 1550s wool and silk ‘Large-leaf Verdure Tapestry with a Bird‘ (C), among many other treasures (Photo: Olivier Pirard)

There’s something special about De Wit. You don’t need to be a tapestry aficionado to recognise authenticity, and De Wit – which has a breathtakingly beautiful campus in a 15th-century refuge house in Mechelen – has been at the forefront of weaving since 1889. They now specialise in trading, conservation and restoration (including for the V&A in London, the Louvre in Paris and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam).

To visit their Mechelen home is to be ensconced in a monastic environment surrounded by ancient beauty. It’s refreshing, then, to see them hanging a considerably more modern (1965) tapestry by Victor Vasarely (an artist who is a BRAFA favourite again this year). This piece slightly predates his better-known op-art paintings, though it is no less striking.

Striking in a completely different way is the 1550s wool and silk Large-leaf Verdure Tapestry with a Bird. It’s almost 600 years old, yet the condition is extraordinary, the colours vibrant, and, with its bold graphic scheme, somehow contemporary.  De Wit’s academic advisor An Volckaert explains that these large-leaf verdure tapestries and mille-fleurs are the most sought-after – their surreal and abstract character integrates them into both contemporary and classic interiors.

Galerie Flak

The centrepiece of Galerie Flak’s show at BRAFA 2024 is Katsina Calling – a collection of Katsina dolls from Arizona (Photo: Olivier Pirard)

One of the pleasures of visiting major fairs like BRAFA is encountering galleries such as Flak, where one can be presented with some of the finest examples of unusual historic cultural artefacts. The Paris gallery specialises in African, Oceanic and Native American ritual figures – and it’s an immersive and fascinating booth.

Of particular prominence is Katsina Calling – a collection, 20 years in the making, of Katsina dolls from Arizona. These also have a particular resonance with this year’s Surrealism theme: “Surrealists were absolutely passionate about Katsina dolls,” says Julian Flak. “They all had huge collections.”  Early 20th-century collectors included André Breton, Max Ernst, Claude Lévi-Strauss and André Malraux. “These all link back to the late 19th century to early 20th. They are extremely rare, and it’s a big event to have this many together in one show,” he adds.

Elsewhere in their collection, Julian Flak shows me mesmerising figures such as the Ngbaka figure from DR Congo, and the Tatanua mask from Papua New Guinea – extraordinary objects, beautifully displayed.

Gokelaere & Robinson

Gokelaere & Robinson brought a refined mix of Brazilian, European and North American mid-century design to BRAFA 2024 (Photo: Olivier Pirard)

Gokelaere & Robinson always bring a refined mix of exceptional Brazilian, European and North American mid-century design to BRAFA, with Gio Ponti, Jorge Zalszupin, Joaquim Tenreiro and Paul Evans in the mix. This year’s highlights include a monumental 1959 table by Jorge Zalszupin in Rosewood, concrete and leather. “It was made as a conference table for a company in Brazil,” says the gallery’s Aymeric Miouze. “And you can see the process of upcycling, with the leftover offcuts of Jacaranda fused together to make a cohesive whole.”

A monumental 1959 boardroom table by Jorge Zalszupin at the Gokelaere & Robinson at BRAFA 2024 (Photo: Olivier Pirard)

Elsewhere, in a booth that resembles the chicest of apartments, are a dazzling jacaranda and scarlet armchair by Jorge Zalszupin, an early Vasarely and a substantial Paul Evans sideboard.

De Brock

The De Brock gallery at BRAFA 2024 in Effect Magazine
The De Brock gallery at BRAFA 2024. (L): 1968 oil on canvas by Serge Poliakoff; (R): 2001 Günther Förg (Photo: Olivier Pirard)

The De Brock Gallery, from Knokke, Belgium, brought a fantastically well-balanced selection of abstract art to this year’s BRAFA, mixing crowd-pleasing Serge Poliakoff paintings from the 1950s and 60s with contemporary neo-Abstract Expressionist Ethan Cook works – with hand-woven canvases that form part of the composition. But the centrepiece might just be Metro 5, a two-metre-square canvas by Günther Förg from 2001 priced at $285,000 – “one of the highlights of the booth,” says Betram De Brock, who also mentions that Förg has previously achieved $1.5M at auction.

BRAFA runs from 28 Januray to 4 February 2024

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