Luxembourg Art Week, annual catalyst for the Luxembourg scene

Bernard Marcelis

Relying on an ambitious cultural environment

In addition to a financial and economic context favourable to business and enterprise - including niche markets such as the contemporary art market - one of the main strengths of the Luxembourg art scene is to propose, defend, and thus stimulate an art of today that is contemporary with the emergence of this scene in the European sphere. The prefiguration and concretization of Mudam, the birth of the Casino Luxembourg - Forum d’art contemporain in 1996 under the impetus of Enrico Lunghi - who will later become director of Mudam - and the eclectic programming of the National Museum of History and Art (MNHA) have drawn up a composite institutional landscape that has since become a reference in Europe.

We will also mention the recent creation of the Konschthal in Esch-sur-Alzette - in the context of the city's status as the European Capital of Culture in 2022 - which offers a programme of international scope, without forgetting Luxembourgish artists. This geographical cultural expansion outside the capital is not to be overlooked, just as, in recent years, the "official" presence of Luxembourgish photographic creation at the famous Rencontres d'Arles (a status that Belgium has never really managed to obtain, for instance). The existence, since 2006, of the European Month of Photography throughout the Grand Duchy's territory also contributes to the international reputation of the country. This recognition has been built up gradually since the end of the last century with Luxembourg's nomination as the European Capital of Culture in 1995 and the edition of the European biennial Manifesta 2 three years later. The country also participates in the Venice Biennale, first in a somewhat confidential way in the city centrethat did not prevent Su-Mei Tse from winning the Golden Lion for the best pavilion in 2003. Since its installation in 2019 on the historic site of the Sale d'Armi, in the heart of the Arsenale, the other must-see place of the Venetian rendezvous with the Giardini, the pavilion has seen its visibility increase and its attendance increased tenfold.

In the private sector, galleries are not to be outdone, with the pioneering activity of Beaumont, Clairefontaine, Lucien Schweitzer or Erna Hecey (and her establishment in Brussels for several years), the rise of galleries such as Nosbaum Reding or Zidoun-Bossuyt, and the arrival of the French brand Bernard Ceysson first in the city centre, then near the Belgian border under the name Ceysson & Bénétière, now the flagship of its European addresses with museum-level exhibitions. All of them defend a high-level programme, which allows the Luxembourgish artists they represent to confront internationally renowned artists. These programmes open the door for them to prestigious international contemporary art fairs and thus allow them to establish bridges with the scene that we will avoid qualifying as local, given the country's location at the crossroads of major European flows.

Galerie F. Hessler, Luxembourg Art Week 2019, © Sophie Margue
Galerie F. Hessler, Luxembourg Art Week 2019, © Sophie Margue

An ongoing development

In this favourable cultural context - both in the national and international programming of institutions and in the presence of galleries on the European scene - Alex Reding launched the first edition of a contemporary art fair in the Halle Victor Hugo in 2015. The event was then twinned with the CAL (Cercle Artistique de Luxembourg) Annual Salon and had only around twenty galleries, mainly from Luxembourg. Today, their number has quadrupled and, more importantly, the fair has become international in order to raise its level and gradually take a seat in this particular calendar. From the second edition in 2016, a VIP programme - now essential for this type of event - was set up. Meanwhile, for balance, the Take Off section was conceived with the support of the Ministry of Culture. This section is devoted to emerging galleries and various artistic associations or institutions in Luxembourg or the Greater Region (Saar and Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany, Greater East of France and the Belgian province of Luxembourg). The proposals are expanded and allow for a broader audience. The third edition, in 2017, marked a crucial milestone with around fifty exhibitors and over 12,500 visitors, still within the frame of three and a half days. This success established the fair in the cultural agenda in Luxembourg and even beyond.

In 2019, the expansion of exhibition space allowed an increase in the offer, now boasting 65 galleries. In 2020, despite the cancellation of the physical fair due to the Covid crisis, the fair managed to stand out thanks to the development of a 3D virtual tour which remains a reference in the field.

The change of scale took place in 2021, with a short move that nonetheless signifies a new momentum. The fair is now held on the Glacis Square, a strategic crossroads between the old town and the Kirchberg district and its emblematic cultural venues such as Mudam and the Philharmonie. The passersby cannot miss the architectural structure of this large white ephemeral tented venue that now houses the fair, with a comfort unequalled until now, both for visitors and exhibitors, and in a friendly atmosphere. This new exhibition space covers over 5,000 square meters and hosts more than 80 galleries, artist-run spaces and institutions, both from Luxembourg and internationally.

Given the success of the previous edition - which attracted 20,000 visitors - the current 9th edition builds upon the same foundations. The fair has further internationalized - although all the major private and institutional actors from Luxembourg are still present. Last year, they represented only 15% of participants. This inevitable reduction goes hand in hand with an equally inevitable professionalization of the selected exhibitors. In other words, last year sees 37.5%, new participants. Of course, this does not prevent the pillars of the event from still being present, whether they are Luxembourgers or assimilated (Ceysson & Bénétière, Zidoun-Bossuyt, Valerius Gallery, Nosbaum Reding), French (Lelong & Co., Laurent Godin, Eva Meyer, Modulab) or Belgian (La Patinoire Royale | Galerie Valérie Bach, Schönfeld Gallery, Maurice Verbaet, Nadja Vilenne, and Maruani Mercier). Among the newcomers who give weight to the event, we can mention galleries such as Backs\ash (Paris), Romero Paprocki (Paris), Nathalie Obadia (Paris/Brussels), Gandy gallery (Bratislava), Heike Strelow (Frankfurt), Lage Egal (Berlin), Zwart Huis (Brussels), and Montoro12 (Brussels/Rome), among others.

Petra Rinck Galerie, Luxembourg Art Week 2019 © Sophie Margue
Petra Rinck Galerie, Luxembourg Art Week 2019 © Sophie Margue

An international positioning

This international positioning with a European connotation increasingly constitutes the DNA of this (still) young event. It is gradually establishing itself as the leading peripheral fair in relation to its historic neighbours such as Brussels (Art Brussels), Cologne (Art Cologne), Düsseldorf (Art Düsseldorf), Geneva (Art Geneva), for instance. Of course, we are not playing in the same league as those of Basel (Art Basel) or Paris (Paris+ which succeeded the Fiac). The fact of betting on the Greater Region effect quickly allowed the fair to anchor itself in the international landscape and not just be a regional meeting, like those in Strasbourg (although it is also one of the three official European capitals) or Lille, to limit ourselves to France.

The principle of today's art fairs is to have a short temporality to concentrate energies, provoke encounters, and develop a more festive atmosphere, in contrast to the long-term programming of exhibitions in museums or other similar institutions. While the two do not function likewise, their approaches are complementary and contribute to a city's cultural identity and reputation, regardless of the scale. This principle is well understood in Luxembourg, and more specifically by the founder of Luxembourg Art Week, Alex Reding, who considers the fair as "a platform to get in touch with the institutional network of the city and the country". As for the preamble of this article, the Luxembourgish art market is "certainly limited but with a significant purchasing power". Local collectors, increasingly numerous, as well as several private companies with corporate collections, not to mention foreign visitors, are present to attest to this and ensure the lastingness of the event.