Antwerp artists get into the gallery game


With the port city’s three main art institutions currently closed, two new artist-run spaces are filling the gap, and showcasing new ways of viewing art

New momentum

Antwerp art fans have had a packed diary of late. With the recent launch of C A S S T L and Pinkie Bowtie the following day, the city’s gallery scene has a new momentum that has been the talk of town.

C A S S T L is an acronym for the space’s three founders: Luc Tuymans, his wife and fellow artist Carla Arocha and her collaborator Stéphane Schraenen. C A S S T L ’s super sleek white premises, located just north of the city’s Mas museum, have housed Arocha-Schraenen’s studio for the past year, and the street-front room naturally suggested itself to exhibitions.

On the recent opening night, guests played with Antwerp artist Filip Collin’s new Puzzlebox. A former printmaker, Collin had sought to bridge 2D and 3D worlds by rendering drawings of Antwerp’s Botanical Garden as bright puzzle pieces to be reassembled in multiple ways.

Come and Play With Filip, currently on view at C A S S T L, is his first solo exhibition. C A S S T L  has six shows planned this year, with the upcoming No Pressure set to showcase art from the founders’ own collections, including work by the late, great Robert Mapplethorpe.

Playing it by ear

“The title of the second show could be the leitmotif of the whole endeavour,” explains Schraenen. “It’s not a gallery. We’re not representing any artists, we’re not selling. It’s mostly for the joy of showing things.”

And there’s no fixed programme; events can happen on a weekend or weekday, and last an hour or a day. “It could be an evening where someone comes and reads from their new book, or where designers come and show their fabrics,” says Schraenen.

The main focus is our own practise, but we often collaborate, so it won’t be about navel-gazing

- Peter Fengler of Pinkie Bowtie

Antwerp is home to numerous progressive art spaces, from well-established non-profits like LLS 387, to new enterprises like Pinkie Bowtie and NICC. Founded in Antwerp but presently based in Brussels, NICC advocates for artist rights and recently renewed its Antwerp efforts.

“It really shows that there’s a vacuum,” says Schraenen. “Institutions and other commercial places have another agenda. Artists doing these things are freer and can work without all that pressure. I’m not against museums and commercial galleries, but there’s also another way.”

Pinkie Bowtie’s opening manifesto made much the same point, referring to the temporary closures of all three of the city’s key art institutions – contemporary art museum M HKA, fine arts museum KMSKA and Extra City – as a ripe time for forward-thinking artist-led enterprises.

Set on Wolstraat in the city centre, opposite artists’ watering hole Café De Kat, the gallery represents the work of three figures synonymous with Antwerp’s underground: Vaast Colson, Dennis Tyfus and Peter Fengler.

Stronger together

“Pinkie Bowtie came about because we wanted to communicate our artistic practice to an international audience,” explains Fengler. “The three of us have worked together a lot, running other platforms and publishing work in print. While our individual work has its own particular presence, our spirit and approach are very compatible. Joining together will multiply our potential.”

The venture, which houses an exhibition space, archive and a shop, was conceived as an experiment in new models of artist representation. Opening show The First Annual Report, which included just a handful of works by the trio, was all about planting their flag.

“The main focus is our own practise but the fact that we often co-operate and initiate all kinds of activities means that it won’t be about navel-gazing,” says Fengler. “Showing what surrounds us is a logical part of it, too.”

Given the synchronicity of the C A S S T L and Pinkie openings, journalists were quick to talk of rivalry; but Schraenen just wasn’t biting. “It’s exactly the opposite,” he says. “We’re really good friends.”

And competition? “It’s a misconception that comes from imagining that we run a [commercial] gallery. Besides, the more galleries there are in a town, the better it is for those galleries.”

Photo, from left: Vaast Colson, Dennis Tyfus and Peter Fengler of Pinkie Bowtie
©Charlie De Keersmaecker