This year’s edition of Ballroom Project has the look and feel of a good regional art fair, now in its 5th year, Ballroom Project again takes place in the former courthouse of Borgerhout, which has an elegant, yet homey, character, making it the perfect location to enter into a dialogue with a curated group of emerging and established galleries. The project is initiated by local galleries- Base Alpha Gallery and DMW Gallery, two galleries with strong ties to the Antwerp Art platform, and is scheduled during the Antwerp Art Weekend from May 18 to 21, 2023.
This year’s version has a better list of galleries especially those from nearby cities including Brussels, Amsterdam, and London. As well as some new participating galleries include Copperfield (London), ASPN (Leipzig), and Joey Ramone (Rotterdam), as well as established Belgian Galleries Obadia, Irene Laub, and Harlan Levy Projects.
As we had stated in Part 1 of Art Fair Alternatives, the desire of galleries to self-curate themselves and their colleagues into small curated art fairs has a long and interesting history- often later adapted by larger fairs to maintain a fresh collection of new galleries to maintain their collector base. Much like the younger and scrappier Liste to its big brother Art Basel– this functions primarily as a feeder system for the larger fair, but also certain curated strategies such as a focus on solo booths or collaborations between galleries who share a certain artist or methodology.
Antwerp has an excellent gallery scene for a fairly small city of half a million and almost half the size of neighboring Brussels. Of course, Belgium and Flanders have a history of sophisticated art collectors in the region, so regional galleries are always interested in such projects- actually, I am surprised that there aren’t any Cologne galleries participating as it’s only a 2 hrs by car or train and represents and different collector base than the Rheinland base they are familiar with.
Even Art Brussels has set up shop with its own fair- Art Antwerp fair which tries to build and maintain contact with the Flemish collector base which is a bit unique and separate from Brussels. Also, Antwerp Art Weekend realised the need for an event that has more regional appeal therefore Ballroom and AAW are one and the same.
The growing ‘gallery weekend’ model (which this magazine works to support) is an interesting alternative to the art fair model, where instead of galleries traveling to Basel, Miami, and Hong Kong to meet collectors- the weekend model tries to bring local, regional (and sometimes international) collectors, into the galleries themselves offering collectors a clearer view of a galleries program.
Gallery Weekend Berlin was the first to develop the model successfully, with a huge city arts budget going to inviting international collectors to Berlin. Other weekends followed such as Brussels, Warsaw, and Beijing are quite successful and an important element of the local art scenes. Other cities have tried and failed to organize a gallery weekend (such as NYC, Los Angeles, and Vienna- to name a few), often these didn’t work because of local issues NYC doesn’t really need one, and LA is fragmented into too many areas which a quite far apart- sometimes up to an hour apart due to traffic- now with Frieze LA standing in as the ‘art week’.
CONDO is/was perhaps the most interesting hybrid version of this, though it was also hampered by Covid lockdowns. CONDO had developed an interesting group of galleries from London, Sao Paulo, and Mexico City hosting other international galleries inside or next to their own gallery programs for a short-run exhibition. Perhaps the most interesting part was its more global post-2010s inclusivity with a new crop of Mexican and Brazilian galleries. In 2023 after a 2-year disruption, CONDO resumed this spring in Sao Paulo inviting 16 international galleries to exhibit in 7 local Sao Paulo galleries- even though the new CONDO is still dependent on international galleries- the idea is that a regional version might work better in our current situation where galleries are looking to cut down on international travel and develop more sustainable practices.
Hopefully, moving forward we can start to discuss what a new model might look like- that is part weekend, part art fair, and part %&=!. and how these weekends/fairs can be innovative and sustainable.