A century of Belgian art at the Frissiras

With the unification of Belgium in 1830, a centuries-long artistic tradition that reflected the north-south division of the country continued its splendid course under a rapidly changing cultural and national consciousness. Since then, Belgium has produced some of the most eminent names of Western art. Is there a connection between the country’s unification and the art it produced at the time? And has Belgian art produced a distinctive style since then? These are some of the questions indirectly raised by «A Century of Belgian Painting: from Félicien Rops to Jan Fabre,» an exhibition curated by Michel Draguet, a professor at the University of Brussels, and organized by the Frissiras Museum. More of a general, mini-survey of Belgian art during the past century than a conceptually intricate exhibition, «A Century of Belgian Painting» leaves the above issues open and intentionally stays away from any nationalistic claims. Its objective is to draw connections and influences within Belgian art and to show the strands that were picked up from one artistic generation to the next. The exhibition’s title, although ambitious and all-encompassing, is more symbolic than literal. Drawn from private collections, the exhibition’s paintings trace the course of Belgian art from Félicien Rops, an artist who primarily worked as a printmaker and was one of the key figures of Belgian symbolism and art nouveau. Rops is considered an influence on James Ensor (works by Ensor are also included in the exhibition): Both artists were part of «Les Vingt» avant-garde group during the last part of the 19th century. The next strong moment in the Belgian avant-garde is marked by surrealism: Two paintings by René Magritte and an ink and gouache drawing by Paul Delvaux are among the exhibition’s highlights. A work by Pierre Alechnisky, one of the leading figures of the postwar Cobra movement (formed by a group of expressionist painters from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam) provides, together with other expressionist works, a sense of Belgian art’s seminal role in the development of postwar abstraction. From late 20th century art, the exhibition has picked out works by Jan Fabre and Panamarenko. The great conceptual artist Marcel Broodthaers is not included in the exhibition, but his significance is examined in Michel Draguet’s essay printed in the exhibition’s supplementing catalog. The exhibition is on display at the Frissiras Museum (3 & 7 Monis Asteriou, Plaka, 210.323.4678) through June 30.