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Presenting a city: Brussels and its subjective portraits

Notes de la rédaction

This is the press release related to the article from Anne Reverseau, published on February 25, 2019

The image of a “new Berlin”, as conveyed by the media, in particular by an article in the New York Times in 2015, has stuck with Brussels. After having suffered from a poor image, Brussels is now considered as a fashionable city which owes much to its connection with contemporary art, galleries, collectors and the presence of many international artists.

It is in this context that we see a rise in the number of exhibits on Brussels. Apart from the permanent exhibition spaces devoted to the city such as BIP or CIVA, there are many temporary exhibits: Silver Bliss: Portrait of a city at Argos (14 September-26 October 2014), BXL Universel, which celebrated the 10th anniversary of CENTRALE (20 October 2016-26 March 2017), the photography exhibit Bruxelles à l’infini at the same venue (26 June-28 September 2014), and at BOZAR, Bruxelles is a Plaizier on the Brussels image bank (16 June-17 September 2017). Less explicitly, Brussels was also at the centre of other exhibits, for example The Absent Museum at Wiels (20 April-13 August 2017), as well as many installations, films and live performances aimed in one way or another at presenting a portrait of the city.

Is this proliferation of exhibits on Brussels specific to the city or does it convey a more widespread trend in the art world? This is the question explored by Anne Reverseau, art historian and FNRS researcher at UCLouvain in the 132nd issue of Brussels Studies. She thus intends to lay the foundations for an analysis of exhibits/portraits of cities in general, and an analysis of the specificity of Brussels as a city being presented.

Based on BXL Universel – the first part of the trilogy of exhibits on Brussels proposed by CENTRALE for contemporary art – Anne Reverseau explores the concept of an “exhibit/portrait of a city”. The 2017 exhibit met the challenge of presenting a city by making Brussels a “creative home port”, by showing the continuity between its past and its present, and by making portraits of it which were diverse as well as subjective. The exhibit created by Carine Fol is put into perspective, both in the context of other exhibits devoted to Brussels in recent years, and of recent research on portraits of territories.

Her analysis underlines the challenges faced by any portrait of a territory: reconciling the singular and the universal, the past and the present, diversity and unity. As a portrait of a city, the specificity of an exhibit on Brussels is nevertheless to emphasise the shifting identities, flows and current events. It was an exhibit/portrait of a singular city, in particular because the relationship between urban identities and national identities is especially problematic in the case of Brussels. But also because the object of the representation itself required that the perspective of foreigners should be emphasised, as well as the notion of passing through the city – a metaphor which is easy to use in the case of Brussels, which is literally crossed by trains, with the North-South railway junction, and where a large part of the population is “passing through” or “in transit”.

Anne Reverseau, “Presenting a city: Brussels and its subjective portraits”, Brussels Studies [Online], General collection, No 132, 25 February 2019. URL:
Benjamin Wayens, Senior Editor: bwayens[at]

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