The Tour & Taxis complex in Brussels is a huge and handsome turn-of-the-20th-century affair — swaths of brick, glass and beautifully wrought iron once built to contain the city’s customs house, freight station and more. Now given over to the 21st-century activities of retail, exhibitions and offices, it will for the first time host Collectible, a contemporary design fair now in its sixth edition, in what used to be the Public Depot where incoming goods were stored. “It’s a huge ground floor space — 5,000 square metres,” says co-founder Liv Vaisberg. “It’s going to bring a whole new energy to the fair.”

Vaisberg and her business partner Clélie Debehault established the fair in 2018 to showcase contemporary work, slotting it into the calendar just before Tefaf opens in nearby Maastricht and spreading it out over five floors of an old department store.

“We wanted to show daring, difficult young designers,” says Vaisberg, who already had experience in staging contemporary art fairs. “I knew plenty of collectors taking risks with experimental artists, especially the Flemish collectors, so I thought: why not show them experimental design?”

Two women, one dark-haired in a green dress, the other blond in a white dress, sit at a table looking at the camera
Liv Vaisberg and Clélie Debehault, co-founders of Collectible

The success of the fair seems to have proven them right. “It’s in keeping with the energy of Brussels,” says Frédéric de Goldschmidt, a member of the Rothschild family who opened Cloud Seven, a new cultural hub, in the city in November 2021. Cloud Seven is both an art gallery to show works from de Goldschmidt’s extensive collection and a co-working space. “Rents are still lower here than in Paris or London, there are still artist-run spaces,” he says. An active supporter of Collectible, two years ago he purchased a work by Arthur Hoffner at the fair, a fountain made in Sèvres porcelain and brass.

De Goldschmidt’s project isn’t the only new arrival. Among recent openings is London art gallerist Patrick Heide, who has teamed up with Paris-based Eric Mouchet and Martin Kudlek from Cologne to create Van Volxem 333, a shared gallery space. Nino Mier from Los Angeles opened here two years ago, while Objects with Narratives is a new local design gallery with no permanent physical home but a website and a presence at fairs including Collectible.

A short neon strip casts a purple light
Lamp #6 by Riccardo Cenedella © Antonio Roseti

“Geographically, Brussels is easy,” says contemporary art dealer Xavier Hufkens, who has three galleries in the city, most recently tripling the size of his site on the rue St-Georges with the architects Robbrecht and Daem. “London, Paris, Cologne . . . people come from all over. I could have expanded to another country, but you can’t be in more than one place at once, and I like being loyal to the city.” Hufkens, who has been dealing in contemporary art for 35 years and represents artists including Sterling Ruby, Christopher Wool and Roni Horn, says: “There used to be one type of collector here, who collected in a very strict line: conceptual, minimal.” Now his business is international “and there isn’t just the one art world; there are so many different strands”.

Collectible, then, represents part of this extended collecting landscape. Its main section will show some established names including Maarten de Ceulaer, Xavier Lust and the steampunk assemblage works of Lionel Jadot. But much space is given to young designers and their work, which, though sometimes a little rough around the edges, gives a good indication of current thinking and future trends.

A metal light mounted on a wall with two small integral shelves
Coniferous Sprouting I by Basse Stittgen

Encouragingly, if unsurprisingly, responsible production is a major focus, whether that means using low-impact materials or questioning the necessity of making an object at all. “It’s important to understand why we are doing things,” says Leo Orta, who has brought together work by 22 young designers for the fair’s Curated section. “I wanted to look at people finding new ways with materials and who are slowing things down. If we are going to collect things at all, what should we be collecting?” In his own practice, which has moved from design to art, he scavenges in scrapyards and talks to junk dealers. “I discuss the life cycle of materials.”

Among his choices for Collectible are Ori Orisun Merhav, who has developed a polymer from insects which she uses to make enigmatic egg-shaped objects. There is Basse Stittgen who is showing small pieces made in a new biomaterial developed from leftover products from the wood industry. (He has previously created a material from blood waste from the meat industry.) Christoph Wimmer-Ruelland takes offcuts from companies involved in cutting metal to make his jagged tables and chairs.

Pieces of furniture made from white metal grids photographed from above in a meadow
Shaping Residue by Christoph Wimmer-Ruelland

In the New Garde section, meanwhile, visitors will find a similar sensibility at Good Sessions, a gallery established digitally in 2020 by Claudine Garcia and her husband Alain Delluc. “The project is called Beautiful Garbage and will include 11 types of waste materials including climbing ropes and paper,” says Garcia. “Everything in Ebba Lindgren’s Rococo series has been made from materials stripped out of an old hotel, and Riccardo Cenedella has used old house carpets to create lamp bases, stools and chairs.”

At Salt, opened in Jaffa in June 2022 by Israeli couple Shay Alfia and Tomer Netanel Levy, both in their early thirties, work will include lights by Adir Yakobi, who uses Advil pain-relief tablets both as a material and for their narrative value. Levy’s own work is made from sheet steel, including slender metal shelves distorted into curling shapes by the application of heat.

A stool, table and mantepliece made from pinkish card
Really Rococo II by Ebba Lindgren © David Möller

“Collectible has a laboratory feeling,” says Jadot, who is one of the stalwarts of the Brussels design scene. His vast atelier outside of Brussels in Zaventem — 25,000 square metres in a former paper mill — provides studio space for up to 32 designers. “You see young people finding new ways to make objects.” Among his own new designs is a chair — once a standard piece of office furniture, now enshrouded in a cover of sheet lead. The status of his work — between function and sculpture — seems prevalent at the fair.

“There’s a lot of talent around, not least in Belgium,” says Jadot. “Maybe we don’t care about our image, maybe because this is the country of Surrealism. But it’s not about commercialism. It’s about creativity.”

March 9-12,

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