BRAFA 2024: a rich & poetic edition embracing Surrealism

by | Jan 30, 2024 | Art Fair Coverage

BRAFA is one of the must-visit fairs, and I attend every year. However, this 69th edition, themed around surrealism, celebrating the centenary of André Breton’s Manifesto and featuring the Paul Delvaux Foundation as the guest of honor, managed to surprise me and renew my sense of wonder.

BRAFA has always been known and recognized for its remarkable eclecticism, blending Old Master Paintings, German silversmithing, 18th-century furniture, objects of curiosity, ivory Madonnas, medieval enamels, jewelry, and modern works. In recent years, especially since its move to Brussels Expo in 2022, BRAFA has aimed to be more modern, featuring a plethora of abstract paintings by great masters. Is this a pity? Perhaps a little. Nevertheless, this edition captivated me with its quality and poetry. And although painting was predominantly featured, sculpture – both European and from African and Oceanic origins, both antique and modern – still played a significant role. Although in the minority, other mediums were also present, including sublime jewelry at Pauline’s Jewellery Box, ancient ceramics, particularly at Röbbig München, design pieces at New Hope Gallery, tapestries at De Wit Fine Tapestries, and of course, furniture, such as the fantastic Louis XVI mahogany quartet table at Costermans & Pelgrims de Bigard.

The exhibitors really embraced the theme and displayed a number of Surrealist masterpieces: pieces by Magritte, including a very pretty drawing at the De Jonckheere Gallery depicting a small wooden chair on a large stone chair, or the gouache titled ‘L’Ecole Buissonnière’ at De Boon Gallery. A charming study of a child by Salvador Dali was presented at the stand of Galerie Ary Jan, an impressive pair of paintings by Giorgio de Chirico at Repetto Gallery. La Galerie de La Béraudière was not to be outdone with an entire wall dedicated to Surrealism, including three small canvases by Max Ernst, and Galerie Mathivet showcased a Golden Apple by Claude Lalanne. Paul Delvaux was, of course, the guest of honor with paintings on many stands, including those of Boon Gallery, Opera Gallery, and Francis Maere Fine Arts.

Paul Delvaux- Boon Gallery

Paul Delvaux, La ville lunaire, 1944. Oil on canvas, 144 x 200 cm. Signed lower right. Courtesy Boon Gallery.

Curator’s Booth Pick

I absolutely loved Rodolphe Janssen’s booth, which was entirely built around the theme of still life. The interpretation was quite free, and the eclecticism was total, yet there was a beautiful coherence within the space. My favorite piece was undoubtedly Tom Poelmans’ ‘Surreal Serenity’ from 2024, with its blind statue, the vulture, and the eye pendant. In fact, it was more of a vanitas, featuring a skull intertwined with a snake. There was also a canvas by Belgian artist Guy Degobert, which adopted the static composition of classical still lifes but with highly realistic everyday objects. The journey continued with hyperrealism, with a very amusing bronze and acrylic banana by David Adamo. And staying on the theme of fruit, I was captivated by an ink on paper by Thomas Lerooy – ‘The Scream’ – which, in a stark contrast, reminded me of ‘Les Pommes Masquées’ painted by Magritte in 1966.

I really appreciated Janssen’s booth which, even more than usual, had that unique Belgian twist. The artworks were very varied both in their medium – sculpture, painting, drawing – and in their era, ranging from modern to contemporary, and even including the old with the ‘Nature Morte’ by Jacob Marel from 1641. Clearly, it was a must-visit for all attendees of BRAFA!

Jaime Hayon

Top left: David Adamo, Untitled, 2023. Bronze, acrylic. 20 X 15 X 7 cm
Top right: Guy Degobert, Still Life, 1976. Oil on canvas. 92 x 73 cm
Bottom left: Tom Poelmans, Surreal Serenity, 2024. Oil on canvas. 70 x 60cm
Bottom right: Thomas Lerooy, The Scream, 2024, ink on paper, 51 x 37.5 cm (framed)

Art Dealers Interviews

During my visit, I wanted to focus on the dominant medium of the fair, painting. The gallerist Sofie van de Velde, who has a namesake gallery in Antwerp, introduced me to a very beautiful collage by Severini from 1918. Galerie Bérès deviated from what they usually offer – 19th-century paintings up to the 1890s – with this abstract painting by the Korean artist Hur, Kyung-Ae, featuring an incredible effect of texture. Charlie Bailly from Bailly Gallery, upon my request, showed a vase of blue Delphiniums by Bernard Buffet, while at Galerie De Brock, Bertrand introduced me to the artist Lawrence Calver, with a large canvas from 2023.

How Much Does It Cost?

Diverse artworks that I would have loved to add to my personal collection. But clearly, I will need to save up. Indeed, to acquire the lovely gouache by Magritte, ‘L’Ecole Buissonnière’, Boon Gallery was asking for 1.2 million euros. The same price was set for an incredible bright red Fontana canvas, dotted with perforations, at the De Jonckheere Gallery stand. A bit more expensive, but what a marvel, was this large oil on panel by Roelandt Savery, signed and dated 1619, offered at 1.4 million euros by Galerie Florence de Voldère. Finally, I would have liked to give 125,000 euros to Didier Claes for this incredible Yaure Mask from Ivory Coast, which the dealer took about a decade to find in Israel.

I really enjoyed BRAFA 2024, which embraced its theme all the way to its dreamlike decor – giant clouds on the ceiling, servers in top hats, and rails leading up to the sky. It was a true journey punctuated by wonders of all kinds.

Sum it up, I'm in a rush!

  • When? | January 28 – February 4, 2024
  • Where? | Brussels, Belgium
  • Atmosphere | Elegant and Sophisticated
  • Curator’s booth pick | Rodolphe Janssen
  • Featured Gallery Gem | Boon Gallery
  • Spotlight Artist | Paul Delvaux
  • For Whom? | Affluent collectors and connoisseurs of beauty

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