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8 essential highlights from BRAFA 2023

BRAFA has made an emphatic return to Brussels for its 68th edition, taking back its traditional January slot and re-asserting itself as one of the world’s great art and design fairs.

The approach to BRAFA’s new home at Brussels Expo is something of a palate cleanser, sitting as it does in the gaze of the Atomium – one of the continent’s weirder buildings, rising evocatively out of the mist on the day we visit – and next door to the Palais des Exposition, a concrete precursor to the Brutalist reconstruction of the city that swept away much of the Art Nouveau legacy that forms the theme of this year’s fair.

Inside, BRAFA demonstrates a confidence that has perhaps been missing from other global fairs over the past year. In his opening comments, BRAFA’s General Secretary Christian Vrouyr reinforced that BRAFA is “always the same, but always different” – underscoring that a sense of continuity and heritage is as important to the exhibitors and visitors as change and innovation.

The Art Nouveau theme is lightly felt, yet where you do encounter it – such as the 1897 doors from the Grand Hôtel à Bruxelles at the King Baudouin Foundation or the Eugène Vallin seat at Galerie Mathivet – they are beautiful examples. Elsewhere, 20th-century art and design dominate, though laced with strong strands of antiquities, contemporary art, Oceanic and African art – such as the spectacular Didier Claes gallery of tribal art.

Here are eight galleries, largely on the design side, whose work caught our eye this year:

Galerie Pascal Cuisinier

With their tight focus – French designers from 1951 to 1961 – Galerie Pascal Cuisinier is the kind of booth you go to fairs to encounter.

Founder Pascal Cuisinier explains to Effect that the gallery specialises in the generation of creators that came after Charlotte Perriand’s generation: “They finished their studies in 1949–51, and then they began to produce, imagine, invent new furniture and new ideas for the apartment. These were the best of their generation, and the most important during the Trente Glorieuses” – the 30 years of growth in France following WWII.

Galerie Pascal Cuisinier at BRAFA 2023, with the desk by Joseph-André Motte on the left - Effect Magazine
Galerie Pascal Cuisinier at BRAFA 2023, with the desk by Joseph-André Motte on the left

This generation later went on to do private residential projects, and then grand public projects like airports; but it’s the early years of creating furniture for a new market that interests Cuisinier. The most famous is Pierre Paulin – whose 1958 Lady’s Desk is a svelte, stylish crowd-pleaser.

Paulin’s fame rested largely on his later designs for Artifort, such as his iconic mushroom chairs; but as with all of these creators, the pieces Cuisinier collects are rare early works, with perhaps a maximum of ten pieces in the world.

The other members of this generation were Joseph-André Motte – whose fabulous chrome and rosewood desk is on display; Alain Richard – with a dazzling Rio rosewood sideboard – the only one ever produced; Robert Mathieu, whose early 1950s lamps are on display alongside the book Cuisinier has written on the designer’s work; and a one-of-a-kind absolute knockout of a salon set by Antoine Philippe and Jacqueline Lecoq.

Rio rosewood sideboard by Alain Richard at BRAFA 2023
Rio rosewood sideboard by Alain Richard at BRAFA 2023

“From a market perspective, this generation is really interesting,” says Cuisinier, “because it’s the beginning of this market. They are starting to grow, and the prices are great. So it’s a very good investment.”

Gokelaere & Robinson

French gallery Gokelaere & Robinson brought a heady mix of Brazilian and Italian mid-century design to Brussels – and while the entire stand is an elegant walk through the greatest  designers from those two countries, some are genuine showstoppers.

The Gokelaere & Robinson stand at BRAFA 2023, with the 1953 Piero Fornasetti Uccelli folding screen in the centre

Firstly, there’s the 1953 Piero Fornasetti Uccelli folding screen in near perfect condition. Heavily trailed by BRAFA in the lead up to the fair, it really does live up to expectations. The gallery’s Aymeric Miouze tells Effect: “The genius of Fornasetti was to create extremely modern pieces while reconnecting with the rich Italian heritage. This folding screen is one of the striking examples of his playful yet sophisticated work, halfway between tradition and modernity.”

Piero Fornasetti's Uccelli folding screen -Effect Magazine - BRAFA
Piero Fornasetti’s Uccelli folding screen is illustrated on both sides

Other highlights include a walnut Ico Parisi desk from 1952, exceptionally pretty, a special commission for a family; and an outstanding Joaquim Tenreiro sideboard from 1960. Tenreiro is a giant of Brazilian modernism, and this piece, with its elegant proportions and rich Brazilian rosewood, is a fine example. Originally built as a wall cabinet, it appears to float over its two narrow feet.

Also from Brazil are a wonderful pair of sofas, by Munis Zilberberg, with rosewood frames incorporating white granite side-tables.

Rounding off the Brazilian ensemble is a Sergio Rodrigues “Mucki Bench” from 1958 – a bench, though placed very effectively as a coffee table here. And of note is an unusual Gino Sarfatti floor lamp from the late 1940s in brass and marble.

Galerie Mathivet

Paris gallery Mathivet specialises in 20th-century French decorative arts; and while their focus is usually on Art Deco onwards, this year they are showing – in keeping with BRAFA’s Art Nouveau theme – a circa 1900 sofa by the French artist Eugène Vallin.

Galerie Mathivet at BRAFA 2023 in Effect Magazine
Galerie Mathivet at BRAFA 2023, with the 1900 Art Nouveau sofa by French artist Eugène Vallin on the left

“You can see some similarities with Horta,” Céline Mathivet tells Effect – and like Horta, Vallin was both an architect and a cabinetmaker. “The details are very characteristic of the architecture of L’Ecole de Nancy. There’s also a good contrast between the original frame and the modernity of the upholstery.”

Mathivet are also showing another Art Nouveau gem – a silver box by Edmond Henri Becker for Maison Boucheron. Céline Mathivet explains that  Becker can be considered as one of the most important goldsmiths of Art Nouveau, and pieces such as this, which combine silver and ivory, are exceedingly rare.


Milan gallery Robertaebasta deserve plaudits for jetting in from New York’s Winter Show and maintaining two separate, and equally fabulous, booths at each show. Gallery manager (and son of the founder Roberta Tagliavini) Mattia Martinelli has also established a sister gallery in London, and he describes one of the highlight of their BRAFA show – a 1957 library by Italian architect and designer Franco Albini: “This is the original – it is still in production, but those are with painted wood. This one is in palisander. It’s fully moveable and reaches from the ceiling to the floor – and it can also be used as a room divider.”

Robertaebasta at BRAFA 2023
Milan gallery Robertaebasta at BRAFA 2023, with the 1957 library by Italian designer Franco Albini at the back, and the Maison Jansen salon set in the centre

Martinelli also highlights another new acquisition – a glamorous Maison Jansen salon set made for the embassy of the Kuwaiti ambassador in Geneva.

New Hope Gallery

Brussels gallery New Hope has a fine selection of the two areas they specialise in – 20th century Danish and American furniture, with some excellent examples of Nakashima and Poul Henningsen.

ew Hope gallery at BRAFA 23, with the George Nakashima, Paul Evans and Philip Powell library against the central wall 0- Effect Magazine
New Hope gallery at BRAFA 23, with the George Nakashima, Paul Evans and Philip Powell library against the central wall

But of particular note is a wall unit in patinated and enamelled bronze, American black walnut and pandanus cloth, which gallery co-owner Frédéric Hanrez justifiably describes as “amazing – here you have George Nakashima, Paul Evans and Philip Powell working together, the three of them for the first time. This really is a unique piece – the three artists together in one piece. It’s a one-shot – it’s never going to happen again.”

Galerie AB/BA

This is actually two separate galleries, run as different entities by two sisters who share a stand at BRAFA. And each deserve mention in their own right.

Galerie AB/BA stand at BRAFA 2023

Galerie Berthet-Aittouares (BA) has a particularly fine work by Victor Vasarely, who is well represented at BRAFA this year. The gallery is run by Odile Aittouarès, who tells Effect that “the cinetic generation of the 1970s is coming back to the forefront of contemporary art, and Vasarely was the most important artist of this movement.”

The gallery also displays a triptych by Vera Molnar – a pioneer of generative drawing and computer art since the early 1960s, and still working well into her 90s. Odile says: “Her style is concrete abstract geometric art with a slight edge.”

A triptych by Vera Molnar , one of the pioneers of generative drawing and computer art

There is also a notable Pol Bury moving artwork from 1980: 36 triangles dans un triangle – a moving artwork comprised of individual wood triangles.

Next door, Agnès Aittouares of Galerie AB is showing Abstract Composition by Alexander Calder from 1964. Calder is another artist who is well represented at this year’s BRAFA, but in its elegant simplicity, this gouache on paper is the most striking, and the one I’d most want on a wall.

"Abstract Composition" by Alexander Calder, gouache on paper, 1964 in Effect Magazine
“Abstract Composition” by Alexander Calder, gouache on paper, 1964

Agnès tells Effect that 1964, when this gouache was made, is the period when Calder created the gigantic sculpture Les Nageoires, which is kept at the Pompidou Centre. “This gouache, with its intense monochrome colours ­– black, red and blue – and the visual power of its abstract signs, moves through space like a metal mobile. Calder’s work evokes, as it does here, a plant or aquatic world, destined to blossom in space, generating a dynamic work that is constantly metamorphosing.”

Axel Vervoortdt

Antwerp-based gallery Axel Vervoortdt has an extraordinary breadth and range, from contemporary art and mid-century furniture to antiquities – and on show is a dazzling Late Period (664–332 BC) Egyptian head – Head of a god or a royal figure – in red granite.

"Head of a god or a royal figure" in red granite at the Axel Vervoortdt booth at BRAFA 2023
Head of a god or a royal figure” in red granite at the Axel Vervoortdt booth at BRAFA 2023

Bert Melkebeek, the gallery’s art historian and archaeologist, says of the gallery’s mix of eras: “It’s always been part of our story because we like to show that if you collect art, you don’t have to limit yourself to one specific region or timeframe. Art is fundamentally made by humans, and we like to investigate the connections between different times and circumstances.”

Treasures from Antwerp-based gallery Axel Vervoortdt's 2023 BRAFA stand included a 17th century slate table from a Spanish monastery
Treasures from Antwerp-based gallery Axel Vervoortdt’s 2023 BRAFA stand included a 17th century slate table from a Spanish monastery

Another stand-out piece in their booth is a 17th-century slate table from a Spanish monastery. The table formed the inspiration for a line of contemporary tables created by the gallery – and they recently had the opportunity to re-acquire it – a short-lived reunion: the table sells to a collector just an hour after I see it.


Netherlands gallery Morentz is one of Europe’s powerhouse mid-century dealers, with their own extensive workshops and upholstery studios. No surprise, then, that the gallery’s founder Matthijs Hoveijn and the gallery’s sales director and mid-century design specialist Joost Bullens have brought a dazzling collection to BRAFA, comprising some of the best examples of the work of the titans of 20th century design.

Bullens points out a particularly fine Nakashima example – “Nakashima tables in general are highly likeable, but the Minguren II, with the oak burl top, is a very rare piece to find.”

A 1930s club chair – one of a pair by Marcel-Louis Baugniet in purple Mohair – is another piece debuting at BRAFA, along with a 1956 Vladimir Kagan recliner with retractable footrest, re-upholstered in a fabulous chevroned purple fabric that works perfectly with the teak.

BRAFA runs from 29 Januray to 5 February 2023

Read more:  Design Fairs | Design  | ArtInterior Designers I Interiors | Antiques | Vintage | Mid-Century