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Today opens the largest art fair in the country: What is the formula for Xavier Hufkens' success?

Today opens the largest art fair in the country: What is the formula for Xavier Hufkens’ success?

Exactly 30 years ago Xavier Hufkens settled on Saint George Street in Ixelles, and today the building has grown into an impressive gallery space that can rival his colleagues in London and Paris. Since 1992, the Brussels district has also attracted many gallery owners, thanks to Hufkens’ pioneering work and tenacious perseverance.

It’s nice, isn’t it, when culture can do that?

“It’s good that something has happened in this neighborhood,” Xavier Hufkens told VRT NWS in his new office. “Now there are a lot of youth galleries here, but there are also restaurants and cafes; real life. That’s great, isn’t it, when culture can do that?”

Business from father to son

Xavier Hufkens comes from an entrepreneurial family in Limburg. His father, Jay Hofkens, was Chairman of the Board of Directors of NV Hufkens Immo and Vice President of Limburgse Reconversie Maatschappij and his brother Frédéric Hufkens was CEO of AS Adventure. Art wasn’t high on the family’s agenda, but 16-year-old Xavier Hufkens had a clear plan: to open his own gallery.

Hofkins laughs “Of course my dad sometimes said I was crazy. When he saw an exhibition Felix Gonzalez Torres, with heaps of candy in space. Then he asked me “what are you doing?” But I had wonderful fathers who stood behind me, and you need that.”

“Art was a way for me to understand the world by looking at art and talking to artists. In 1987 I started my first exhibition in a backyard in the Parvis de Saint-Gilles, when I was 22 years old. So you daredevil. You have to start something like this. “.

Art was a way for me to understand the world

Hufkens started alone in Brussels, away from the art scene in Antwerp: “I didn’t want to move, I love this city. I’m Belgian and this is the capital, so it seemed obvious to me to open here. Brussels is also easier to reach for foreigners. And I already had a certain drive and ambition.” At the time… But I would never put work before art.

World famous artists

Last year, Brad Pitt settled in Brussels during the pandemic to meet his good friend Thomas Hosego This American artist is represented by Xavier Hufkens. And the list of (among) patriotic artists is impressively long.

“My father always said, ‘Don’t change the people you make you happy.’ This applies to friends and employees but also to artists. There are many artists I’ve worked with since the beginning: Anthony Gormley, Ronnie Horn, Thierry de Cordier,…”

“Artists have to trust you 100%, otherwise it won’t work. I’m not looking for a headwind, but I get it automatically. If you pick a young artist the world hasn’t yet discovered, for example. That takes time. Then the exhibition is important, To protect this artist and give a chance to evolve. I see my mission in that moment as a kind of hen mother. I’m an exhibition designer to be free, to be able to make choices. I think you can’t have an exhibition that can do if you allow others to force choices.”

"maman", one of the famous works of Louise Bourgeois, exhibited in 2006 in Ostend.  The artist worked for years with Xavier Hufkens.

The largest fair in the country

Since 1987, Xavier Hufkens has grown into a company with a team of about 25 people. In terms of space, this gallery is the largest in the country, with an area of ​​827 square metres. Many colleagues dream of an international adventure, but that won’t happen soon, says Hofkins: “I’ve always stayed in Belgium. There are galleries opening a section all over the world, but I want to be present myself. Of course I still have ideas and projects, but It doesn’t necessarily have to be about scaling up or even more gallery space. We have three locations here on the street, and that seems like enough for now.”

Front view of the recent renovation of the Xavier Hufkens Gallery by Robbrecht & Daem © Kristien Daem

The books in the president’s office aren’t there yet, the walls are being painted final and the garden is still hard at work, but the new building is ready to receive the first visitors. An important moment for Hofkins: “The building is great, but it’s just a building. It doesn’t live without art, but it doesn’t live without people either. This is a place where everyone is welcome. I look forward to seeing the building with visitors, young and old. These are the three important elements: architecture and art.” and people.”

I’m a gallery to be free, and make my own choices

Hofkins concludes, “I don’t take pride in myself often, it’s not in my nature. I rarely get the impression that we’re there, but this time I’m very happy. It feels good.”

The work of Christopher Wall, on display at Xavier Hufkens until July 30.

exhibition Xavier Hofkins Opens from 5 pm, for a vernissage of Exhibition with works by American artist Christopher Wall† More exhibitions will follow in the fall, including a new work by British artist Anthony Gormley.

The inaugural exhibition is free to visit until July 30, Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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