Today opens the country’s largest art gallery: what’s Xavier Hufkens’ formula for success?

Exactly 30 years ago, Xavier Hufkens settled on Rue Saint George in Ixelles, today the building has grown into an impressive gallery space that can compete with colleagues in London and Paris. Since 1992, the Brussels district has also attracted many more gallery owners, thanks to Hufkens’ pioneering work and stubborn persistence.

That’s nice, is not it when the culture can?

“It’s nice that something has happened in this neighborhood,” Xavier Hufkens told VRT NWS at his brand new office. “There are now many young galleries, but also restaurants and cafes; In reality. It’s great, isn’t it, if culture can do it? “

Business from father to son

Xavier Hufkens comes from a Limburg entrepreneurial family. His father Guy Hufkens was chairman of NV Hufkens Immo and vice chairman of Limburgse Reconversie Maatschappij, his brother Frédéric Hufkens is CEO of AS Adventure. Art was not so high on the family agenda, but 16-year-old Xavier Hufkens already had a clear plan: to open his own gallery.

“Of course my dad once in a while said I was crazy,” laughs Hufkens. “When he saw, for example, the exhibition of Félix González-Torres with piles of sweets in the room. ‘What are you doing?’ He asked me then. But I had fantastic parents standing 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 gallery in a backyard at Parvis de Saint-Gilles when I was 22 years old. Then you are ruthless. You have to be like that to start something like that. ”

Art was a way for me to understand the world

Hufkens started on his own in Brussels, away from the artistic scene in Antwerp: “I did not want to move, I love this city. I am 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 back then. But I will never put the business before the artistic. Never. “

World-renowned artists

Last year, during the whole pandemic, Brad Pitt settled in Brussels to visit his good friend Thomas Houseago, who is an American artist represented by Xavier Hufkens. And the list of (inter) national artists is impressively long.

“My father always said, ‘You must not change the people you love.’ Roni Horn, Thierry De Cordier, … ”

“Artists have to trust you 100%, otherwise it does not work. I do not look for headwinds, but I get it automatically. For example, if you choose a young artist who has not yet been discovered by the world. It takes some time. Then the gallery is important to protect the artist and give the opportunity to develop. I see my mission at that moment as a kind of hen mother. I am a gallery owner to be free, to be able to make my own choices. I think that you can not get a gallery to take if you allow choices to be forced by others. “

The largest gallery in the country

Since 1987, Xavier Hufkens has grown into a company with a team of about 25 people. In terms of area, this is the country’s largest gallery with 827 m² of exhibition space. Many colleagues dream of an international adventure, but it does not happen soon, says Hufkens: “I have always been in Belgium. There are galleries that open a department all over the world, but I want to be present myself. Of course I have it. still have ideas and projects, but they do not necessarily have to do with upscaling or even more gallery space. We have three locations down the street, that seems to be enough for now. ”

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

The books in the boss’s office are not there yet, the walls are getting a final coat of paint and hard work is still going on in the garden, but otherwise the new building is ready to receive the first visitors. An important moment for Hufkens: “The building is fantastic, but it is only a building. It does not live without art, but it does not 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, art and people. ”

I am a gallery owner to be free, to make my own choices

“I’m not often proud of myself, it’s not in my nature,” concludes Hufkens. “I rarely have the impression that we are there, but this time I am very happy. This feels good. ”

Work by Christopher Wool, exhibited by Xavier Hufkens until 30 July.

the gallery Xavier Hufkens opens its doors from 5 pm to the opening of the exhibition with work by the American artist Christopher Wool. Several exhibitions will follow in the autumn, including new work by British artist Antony Gormley.

The opening exhibition can be visited free of charge until July 30 from Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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