Archive for the ‘Belgium’ Category

Bram Bogart at Vigo Gallery

September 20, 2017

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It feels a long time since I wrote about something other than food on here. Not because I’ve been culturally droughted of late, I’ve just been writing other things. I’m also preparing a fairly chunky piece recommending membership of the London Library in the semi-flippant style of my Southwark Jury Service post.

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An old-fashioned desk in the London Library. I think someone stole my laptop?! Just kidding.

So this is a quick post to recommend the Bram Bogart show at Dering Street’s Vigo Gallery. This isn’t the first time that I’ve written about Vigo; due to a family connection it’s a gallery whose fortunes I follow more closely than most. However, that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t flag up things that they do that I think a wider public might enjoy. As I’ve said before the private galleries of London are an intellectual resource that is underused by those not in the art world but who have an interest in culture.

And the Belgian artist Bram Bogart is a case in point. Bogart developed as an artist after World War Two and was part of the move of Arte Povera (which reminds me I should get to the Estorick sometime) towards simplicity of colour and radical interventions on the plane of the canvas. While some, like Fontana, went in for slashing the canvas in order to break the surface Bogart treats the canvas as a basis for sculptural creations, pushing the paint out towards the viewer in a more extreme version of, say, Van Gogh’s heavy impasto.

The works collected in the two rooms at Vigo come from a later stage in Bogart’s career when he had moved away from the minimalist colours of AP and embraced vibrant colours, mixing paint with glue to achieve billowing effects on the canvas. If you visit the show, and I hope you will, you’ll be met with a riot of colour that would elevate even the lowest spirits crushed by a combination of a rotten global outlook, the cruel chill of September in London and the very hell that is trying to walk on Oxford or Regent Street.

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Bram Bogart, ‘Zonzucht’

You can see the sculptural aspect to his work in the above photo but as ever I advise you to see these works in the flesh if you can. Taking photographs of paintings really is the most redundant thing in the world. If you want a record of something write about it, or pull a more professional image down from the net for your personal use. Unless you want to illustrate a hurriedly written blogpost of course! But do go to the Vigo if you can, they have an excellent booklet to accompany the show which talks far more articulately about Bogart’s work than I can!

#Art #London

Review #6 Café Den Turk, Ghent

February 2, 2017

The oldest bar in Ghent (reputedly) Café Den Turk was our choice for a quick lunch after the excellent MIAT textile museum. My worries about it being a tourist trap were soon allayed. The rest of the clientèle were a mixture of locals and visitors and the bar wears its history lightly.

The barman is a star; as a non-Dutch speaker I found the menu slightly impenetrable but he was happy to help out and did so patiently. A plate of cheese with a few slices of bread and the local Tierentyn mustard was very good, as was a selection of cold meats which he was right to flag up as less of a meal, more of a beer chasing snack.

One Leffe and an Orme later I was ready to face the trip to Brussels. This was the perfect place for a winter’s afternoon of conversation and to recharge one’s batteries.

9/10

#Food #Gent #Ghent

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

Resto #5 Belga Queen, Ghent

February 2, 2017

We booked up the Belga Queen on the recommendation of our HoWest chums and they didn’t disappoint. The photograph doesn’t quite capture the apparently perilous degree to which the exterior of the building leans out from the perpendicular. This rickety mediaeval façade conceals a hi-tec interior that is all dramatic walkways and romantic lighting. We were directed to a window table with a view of the canal, smugly walking past less fortunate diners.

The restaurant sells itself on the use of local ingredients, many of them homegrown. For starter I went for a shrimp croquette – a nice crispy cone with squishy fishy goodness within. Main of turbot was a generous lump on a bed of greens and a rich sauce. The service was excellent, with our waiter having both the look and demeanour of Alex out of Hot Chip. The only disappointment was a rather bland ice cream for dessert served with the local jelly-babyish sweet.

The wine was Belgian and went down well enough, though to be honest having invested quite heavily in the local ale in the afternoon my palate wasn’t in the most refined state.

For a romantic evening this was a good find and the evening got even better once we’d found the Hot Club de Gent where they were playing some seriously good jazz.

8/10

#Food #Gent #Ghent

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

Review #7 A La Mort Subite, Brussels

February 2, 2017

Like the Café Den Turk À La Mort Subite is the kind of historical location that could, if it chose, go down the route of celebrating its own celebrity by going easy on what made it good in the first place and turn itself into a Belgian theme park. And like the CDN it is to its great credit that it doesn’t. 

My dining partner wasn’t so sure but a glance at the header photo to this post will show you why sudden death is still keeping it real. They have a homemade dog bowl and they’re prepared to use it. 


Not only that it avoids the linguistic divide in Brussels by addressing potential canine customers in a neutral language. 

ALMS has a glorious interior that retro stylists would kill to steal. We were sat next to an aging picture of an aging jacques Brel (not every Flamand’s favourite Belgian I know but I remain a fan) with a view the length of the room. There was a good mixture of locals and tourists with the emphasis on the former. Service is formal but in a good way – I respected the waiter’s right to take his fag break before he brought us our bill in part because he looked like the late Gordon Kaye but mainly because he’s a pro and has his rights.

The food was hearty – a cheese omelette with the longest slice of bread I’ve ever seen for my fellow diner and a straightforward croque for me. Gueuze with that was very nice and did the trick before we strolled off to see Neil Hannon. Next time member ill take my dog.

9/10

#Food #Brussels #Bruxelles

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

Review #8 Mub’Art, Ghent

February 2, 2017

The last of our eating places of a very high quality weekend was the surprise package. To borrow from Rumsfeld (who seems strangely less crazy than once he did, that’s the power of 2016) Mort Subite was a known known, Belga Queen was a known unknown and Den Turk was an unknown known. Mub’Art, however, was an unknown unknown since we hadn’t even known it was there before we went to the fine art museum in Ghent.

Well, the museum set us up for a fine lunch. I’m a pretty seasoned gallery goer but out of all the cities I’ve been to over the last few years Ghent has one of the finest. It has just the right amount of world class things (Bosch, Breughel, Rubens being the obvious ones) mixed with famous locals (Ensor, Spillaert) and then a whole raft of new to me things like the Belgian impressionists (on whom Seurat seems to have been a tremendous influence, among others). 


Added to this you have an expertly curated room on the Dutch golden age which mixes championship quality painters (Hals and Maes apart) with period objects to contextualise the art that they produced.

And then the star of the piece, but catch it while you can, restoration of two panels from the van Eycks’ Ghent Altarpiece happening right before your very eyes. We had visited the original in situ in St. Bavo’s but had to rub up along people with audio guides and little genuine interest in the work beyond ticking off a list of things to do in Ghent. So finding an empty corridor from which to watch the craftspeople at work on sprucing up the knights was an unexpected treat.

So I was already well disposed to the museum when we took a punt on the restaurant. Museum restos are always a risk – too formal and they don’t work for the cross section of galley visitors. Too canteeny and you feel that you might as well have taken your own grub and eaten on a bench.

Mub’Art gets it just right. The food is seriously good cooking but with a popular price, while the service is friendly yet consistent with giving you the feeling that you’re definitely out for a meal. Attention to detail on the design of the room was also noticeable, in fact that was something that was true in most of the places we visited.

We took the set menu. Soup to start was a warm, thick chicory broth – quite filling! But not as filling as the chicken vol-au-vent which was a chicken on chicken attack of meatballs and stew with a dainty piece of pastry perched on top. Salad and chips alongside were beyond my compass but I manfully consumed the main event with relish. 

A Rothschild Sauvignon at €27 was a bargain and the whole lot came in at under forty quid each, which isn’t cheap if you’re on a budget but is good value if you want a treat. It was the perfect end to an excellent trip.


9/10

#Food #Gent #Ghent

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

James Ensor at the RA

November 30, 2016

A neglected show in London at the moment, being somewhat overshadowed by the Abstract Expressionists in the same venue, is Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tuymans. I deliberately spell out the name in full since this show is much more than a retrospective of the career of Ensor. In fact the title itself doesn’t do full justice to the range of art on offer since it misses out another artist whose work is on display, Léon Spillaert.

And it was Spillaert who really grabbed me on the first walk around. His self-portrait is obviously Munch-ish but also has its own weird loneliness that looks forward to Edward Hopper. While his portrait of Andrew Carnegie is one of the most chilling I’ve ever seen. An eyeless and soulless Carnegie stares from the canvas in a picture of utter malevolence that no amount of philanthropy could subvert.

But Ensor is the star. Ensor who starts out like an Anglo-Belgian Sickert, all still brown interiors, and then explodes into colourful surreal genius. This is symbolised for me by his own self portrait.

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A pretty straightforward depiction save for the at-the-extreme-end-of-dandyism hat. Calm eyes offer a challenge. Do you take this seriously? Well, do you? I think you should. The question I kept asking myself was, who was he making these images for? What market was there for skeletons eyeing chinoiserie? Or for a pair of skulls fighting over the carcass of a herring?

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One of them sporting a bearskin. It has the horrific absurdity of a Goya witch.

And Tuymans is no passive curator. He has inserted works of his own which echo and talk to those of his compatriot, such as his ‘Gilles de Bindes’ which refers back to a beautifully plued real life carnival hat displayed in the opening room and whose ancestor Ensor included in his own picture of carnival.

But the work which I enjoyed the most was the opening film. Rarely do I have the patience for video art but this film, a fake of Welles-ian genius, depicts a party on the beach at Oostende. Despite the inclement weather it made me want to visit Belgium as soon as possible.

But for a month or so more you can see Belgium in all its quirky unexpectedness in just a few rooms at the Royal Academy. Much more interesting and surprising than the overblown yanks below, who seem the most humourless bunch of po-faced canvas wasters set against the deftly humorous savagery of Ensor and his confrères.

#Art #London #Ensor

Cris Brodahl

March 24, 2016


For Magritte, Simenon, Franck, Merckx, Scifo, Delvaux, Brel, Montevideo and the good people of Kortrijk.

Tuesday saw a walk on the theme of the Blitz with some students that finished in an old home, The Approach Tavern. The Approach was itself blitzed during the war and has the photographs on its walls to prove it. Further, the barman told me, its landlord not only carried on living on the premises, once the rubble of the top storey had been cleared away he continued trading the very next day. Which you might say perfectly encapsulates the ‘Blitz spirit’, a much abused term but in this context surely appropriate. I commented as I ordered a pint of Ordinary, London has always been a very thirsty city.

On our walk from the City to the East End we had passed through Bank station to see the photographs that recorded the damage done when it was hit by a HE bomb in January 1940. Being paid to be loquacious as a guide I nevertheless thought it was wiser to let the images speak for themselves at this point, commentary being unnecessary given what happened this week.

Despite having been a regular of The Approach in the 2000s, when my children went to school around the corner, I’d never been to an exhibition in the gallery on the first floor – I always had an exactly FT crossword and pint-sized gap in my day. So it was serendipitous in the light of the events in Brussels that the first time I should visit, at the insistence of a friend I’d met for lunch, it was a Belgian artist whose work was on display.* Her work reminded me of why I love Belgium, why I love Brussels and why I want to go back as soon as I can.


Like all good art the work of Cris Brodahl is not flattered by being photographed. This is why those photographing hordes clogging up the galleries of the world who see without looking are to be pitied and disparaged. The illustration above is more to underline a point about how the work in this show needs to be seen as a whole rather than as a collection of individual canvases. It is a suite, like a suite of music (emphasised by the spare title of each canvas). The shifting colours and interventions in the structure of the frame act as variations on a theme and I think would be far less effective if seen in isolation. Which is a good argument for going to see them now isn’t it?

The work itself, to quote the bumf, may ‘explore the hauntological’. It certainly operates in the hinterland ‘between Surrealism and Symbolism, photography and painting.’ Each is an image of a woman, a glamorous woman, one might say noir-ish, a woman whose image is cut up, obscured and stretched. Magritte obviously comes to mind but Brodahl is less quotidian in her motifs than him, her work is distinctly filmic.

They seem less portraits of an individual than expressions of a type of personality – a personality disrupted or obscured. This made me think of the Bazille in the Delacroix exhibition at the NG where the central woman in a portrait of three stares back at us brazenly, with an erotic charge that surely mostly comes from the artist’s (and his client’s) desire of what a woman should be. Brodahl seems to take that female subjectivity and look inside it and re-present it fractured by the spectator’s gaze until it explodes the traditional frame of portraiture.

Ok, maybe that’s the Ordinary talking, although it wasn’t that long a lunch. But the show made me think, and that’s what shows should do. I urge you to go to it. And then go to Brussels, or indeed anywhere else in Belgium, as soon as you feel that you can.

* Lunch was paid for at the bar and therefore not subject to the Rules of 2016. Thank heavens! I feel like I’ve done nothing but write about food (and mark essays) for the past week or so. For the record the haddock and chips were excellent. 8/10


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