Only a few days to go before the opening of the 69th edition of BRAFA Art Fair from Sunday, January 28th to Sunday, February 4th, 2024 at Brussels Expo in Halls 3 & 4

Words Emanuela Zini

BRAFA prides itself on being one of the highest-quality international fairs in Europe. Its taste for excellence is evident in the selection of exhibitors. This year, it will be welcoming 132 galleries from 14 countries, offering a range of specialities from Antiquity to Contemporary art.

Among the many exhibitors who will take the stage at this 69th edition, we interviewed Boris Vervoordt.

Boris created the Axel Vervoordt Gallery in 2011 in a historic space in the centre of Antwerp. He chose to the gallery in the same exact place where his father had mounted exhibitions for Uecker and Jef Verheyen in the 1970s.

The first exhibition, and those that followed, linked this new start to the company’s long history with art and its original home in the Vlaeykensgand. This continued a path of more that 40 years of working closely with artists.

Kanaal overview from Canal
Kanaal overview from Canal

The gallery expanded to Asia in 2014 with a space in central Hong Kong in the Entertainment Building. In 2017, the Antwerp gallery moved to a new space at Kanaal, opening with a monumental retrospective of Kazuo Shiraga.

Kanaal takes over the red brick warehouses and concrete grain-storage silos of a former distillery and malting complex, built in 1857. Vervoordt enlisted Belgian architecture practices Bogdan & Van Broeck, Coussée & Goris and Stéphane Beel and the French landscape designer Michel Desvigne to mastermind their adaptive reuse into a 55,000 sq m ‘city’ in the countryside.  

The additional exhibition spaces have been designed by Axel Vervoordt and architect Tatsuro Miki. Kanaal project – an ambitious cultural and residential complex has finally opened to the public after 18 years in the making.


Boris Vervoordt, photo Thomas Mayer

Working and living with art

INTERVIEW WITH BORIS VERVOORDT, director of Axel Vervoordt Gallery

BRAFA Art fair sees you once again in the spotlight, how do you view this important fair that has been able to transform itself over the years by welcoming contemporary art?

We’ve participating in the BRAFA since the start, 25 years ago it was even called ‘Foire des Antiquaires de Belgique’ and took place in the BOZAR. Thanks to the hard work of Béatrix Bourdon and her team this fair evolved enormously and turned into an international fair with a prestigious layout and design, an outstanding PR campaign and an international and varied list of exhibitors. The idea to mix all the different galleries and not to group them together per section, makes it enjoyable for visitors to ‘discover’ new things. Although for us we consider it almost as a ‘home game’, we always meet new clients there and it can be an occasion to meet existing clients that don’t always make the effort to come and see us in our gallery.

What artists and works will you present in this 69th edition of the fair?

As always, we will bring a ‘dialogue’ between different of items, like we would present it in our own home. This year, we will bring work of Sadaharu Horio, Ida Barbarigo, Pierre Culot, Bosco Sodi, César, Michel Mouffe and Verheyen/Van Anderlecht in combination with some historic vintage furniture by José Zanine Caldas and Joaquin Tenreiro.

Axel Vervoordt Gallery, Pierre Culot, Vase ca1990
Axel Vervoordt Gallery, Pierre Culot, Vase ca1990

Since the late 1960s, Axel Vervoordt has built up a strong reputation as an art connoisseur, collector and dealer. What is your philosophy?

Our taste is always defined by a search for harmony. We have always been searching for the timeless, to build bridges between East and West, between time periods. We want to search for the answer of where it all connects.

Kanaal proposes a unique and very diverse collection of objects including archaeological pieces, 18th century furniture, 20th century design, ZERO and Gutai and contemporary art. How do you find the balance?

There’s no limit to geography. Above all else, it should be timeless and universal. We are always looking for something different with a strength in whatever period it comes from. Each piece should still have a universal spirit, but not limited to its time. We are attracted to works that are either very architectural or very meditative, and definitely express a positive energy.

Axel Vervoordt, Pierre Alechinsky, Mémento
Axel Vervoordt, Pierre Alechinsky, Mémento

The Axel Vervoordt Gallery offers also a platform for established and emerging artists to show their work on an international level. What is your focus?

All artists we work with have a kind of a wish to make the world better. Which is an ambition that I appreciate a lot. They all work in a peace-oriented way. They are activists for peace, but they do it in a non-violent way. It is political to be non-violent. They approach this in a very strong position of being in the now and I appreciate that. We are a gallery that is the place where this can happen, and this can be enforced.

What are, in your opinion, the ways to bring new generations closer to collecting art?

Open your minds and go to museums, read art magazines, visit galleries and try to get in personal touch with artists. The artists can think out of the box and make us see things in a different way. By meeting artists, young people will see how enriching it is to live with art and how this can change your life. Collecting art can become very addictive.

BRAFA Art Fair
Brussels Expo, Heysel
Jan 28 – Feb 4, 2024