LETTER FROM BRUSSELS
February 9, 2021
Tim Wouters in front of Waldburger Wouters, Brussels
In the weeks to come we will regularly share stories and interviews from Shanghai and Brussels, the main locations of ShanghART and Waldburger Wouters. We start with Tim Wouters, who runs Waldburger Wouters in Brussels.
Question: For people visiting Brussels what do they have to know about Brussels and what do they need to see?
Tim Wouters: Let me refer to a report by NZZ journalist Niklaus Nuspliger, it is a wonderful read as he adorably depicts the many spheres and the complexity of Brussels:
Niklaus Nuspliger in NZZ newspaper about Brussels (in German)
As for places to visit: Lockdown or not, I've always loved the parks in Brussels, and now that I have a dog I even go more often. Around Saint Gilles where I live you have the Dudenpark, but there's also the Wolvendael Park, and of course the Forêt de Soignes, I guess no other city has a forest so close to its city center almost. The Magritte House in Jette (not the museum), and the Constant Meunier museum are those hidden gems worth visiting, together with the Palais de Justice which is my favourite building in Brussels. Weirdly enough, I never visited the Basilic of Koekelberg, I heard there is a bar in the cellar of the church, it will be one of the first places I go when the pandemic is over. And a new Victor Horta marvel has only recently been opened for the public: the Hôtel Solvay on Avenue Louise. I can't wait to go and see that.
Q: You live in Brussels and you run Waldburger Wouters in Brussels, but you are also often visiting Basel and checking in on bürobasel. What are main differences between Brussels and Basel/Switzerland?
Tim Wouters: As for main differences, it is a cliché, but I see it this way: The organisation! Switzerland is well organised and well kept. Trains and buses are on time, cities are clean, Switzerland has a functioning government. Whereas in Belgium and specifically in Brussels – let`s put it this way – there is a tendency towards chaos and anarchy.
Q: Do you see any reasons for this?
Tim Wouters: I think one fundamental reason is the fact that people in Switzerland seem to have a certain trust and belief into government/the public body. People in Switzerland are used to take actively part in society and to contribute in building something together. So they care more about public issues and public spaces. However, Belgium has been constantly run over by foreign powers. The Romans, the French, the Spanish, the Austrians, the Germans, the Dutch… Being ruled by foreign powers, Belgians developed a healthy distrust toward government and "organisation". I think that, for example, it would be difficult in Switzerland to imagine not to have a working government for many months. But in Belgium, this happens regularly and for most Belgians it is not alarming, but rather relaxing as we are “protected” from the acts of government when there is no government.
Q: You mean the chaos can also be used as a defense?
Tim Wouters: Indeed, kind of. Overblown bureaucracy and paralysed administration might be regarded as an act of resistance towards power. On the other hand, if there is a common strong will, sometimes the governments in Belgium on all levels can act surprisingly fast and efficient.
Q: Do you see this chaotic straight also on an individual level?
Tim Wouters: Yes, I think that in Belgium, people are not afraid of chaos, they kind of even embrace it or at least they feel comfortable in managing uncertainties. Unforeseen events and chaotic circumstances also bring freedom, as they break up with the regular conditions.
Q: Back to art: What are you currently showing at your space in Brussels?
Tim Wouters: At the moment, we have a group exhibition in Brussels, "Arbeid Adelt". It is a personal reflection on labour, and how it shapes our body and mind. Flemish expressionist painters such as Constant Permeke or Gustave De Smet were the starting point for this exhibition, I've always been attracted to the ambient they created in their work. In addition, from our permanent gallery program we shed a spotlight on Mark Dion, who created a new work especially for the exhibition, which wasn't an easy catch during the pandemic.
Our next exhibition will be a collaboration with a gallery from the Sablon area, specialists in Medieval Art. Together we aim for a dialogue between contemporary and old art, in an exhibition we named "Chants of a Gargoyle".