Small, landlocked Luxembourg is the richest country in Europe. He has big plans to develop an artistic infrastructure to match

While most art fairs have reduced the number of exhibitors and events this fall, one has done the opposite. The young hybrid art fair and exhibition program called Luxembourg Art Week (LAW), which took place from November 12 to 14, has grown with each edition since its creation seven years ago, with the exception of an online exhibition only organized last year. And its growing international reach gives the country’s rapidly developing arts ecosystem a spark of influence, after decades of being seen as a cultural “desert.”

With the highest GDP per capita in Europe — in large part thanks to a thriving financial sector boosted by massive tax benefits for businesses, as well as its proximity to France, Belgium and Germany — it can be surprising that the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is lagging behind the artistic world. But despite its advantageous situation and its wealthy inhabitants, it would still be premature to speak of a cultural Renaissance, or even an artistic pole, in Luxembourg. And no, there is no tax benefit to buying art in a wealthy, landlocked country. Criticized as an offshore tax haven for multinational corporations, locals are quick to point out, with obvious satisfaction, that they do pay a regular sales tax on art purchases. So what exactly is happening in the developing arts landscape of this tiny country of nearly 1,000 square miles? Will it become the next Basel? Artnet News spoke to several key players in Luxembourg to find out.

As the fair’s 80 dealers (up from 65 in 2019) prepared to make wine and dine for VIP collectors at this year’s gala on November 11, rigorous yesterday-to-today comparisons were among the topics. favorites of the evening. “When the fair started,” recalls Audrey Bosuyt-Mahy, co-founder of the Luxembourg gallery Zidoun-Bossuyt, “people were so unaccustomed to the concept of an art fair that they asked us if things were right. for sale.

Now, with more collectors coming from neighboring countries (around 75 percent of the preview visitors were foreigners), the gallery has sold just about all of the pieces on its stand, between € 2,000 and € 200,000, including a large diptych by New York-based artist Wangechi Mutu. “Every year the fair gets better and in 10 years the art scene has changed here. We are starting to talk about Luxembourg abroad. It’s a bit like Brussels was 20 or 30 years ago, ”added Bosuyt-Mahy.

Luxembourg Art Week opened its doors with 80 exhibitors this year.

“There has been a very positive development” in the Luxembourg art scene, said Alex Reding, founder of the fair and owner of the Nosbaum Reding gallery. “It’s not yet Paris, but we don’t have to hide behind other places. We have reached an international level for a city of 100,000 inhabitants near Brussels or Cologne, ”he added.

But Reding said the fair’s current size is good, however, and he doesn’t want to grow beyond that. Located in a temporary 5,000 square meter space in the city center, the event is “similar in size to Art Genève, which is in a city of nearly 500,000 inhabitants,” he explained. Plus, more established art fairs nearby already provide plenty of choice for local art lovers, virtually every week.

But Luxembourg has a wild card up its sleeve. It regularly attracts hundreds of thousands of daily commuters from neighboring countries, as well as skilled residents from abroad, who have settled there to work in the financial and legal sectors (the EU Court of Justice is based in Luxembourg). In 1981 the country had a population of 365,000, but with the highest growth rate in Europe of around 2% per year, mainly due to immigration, it now reaches 640,000 inhabitants. About 70 percent of the capital’s residents are now foreign-born. The country is responding to the demographic boom with major urban development projects, and the arts have become an important ingredient.

“Once you get a more cosmopolitan mix of a population, it generates a different kind of appreciation for culture,” said Suzanne Cotter, outgoing director of MUDAM, Luxembourg’s only contemporary art museum, which has opened in 2006 and was designed by Pritzker Prize. winner lM Pei.

The country’s efforts to develop its cultural sector were greatly encouraged when it was named European Capital of Culture in 1995 and again in 2007. The area around MUDAM, known as the Kirchberg Plateau, is at the center. of the city’s urban growth. It includes the Philharmonie concert hall, which opened in 2005, a new national library, as well as EU government buildings and a business district. The Casino Luxembourg, a contemporary exhibition hall, has just opened a space for young local artists called Casino Display. Plus, a 20-minute drive south will take you to Esch, named European Capital of Culture for 2022, where Konschthal Esch opened in October. The inaugural exhibition of the contemporary art space “Ego-Tunnel” is an unforgettable immersive experience by German artist Gregor Schneider.

Gregor Schneider’s “Ego-Tunnel” exhibition at the Konschthal Esch in Luxembourg. Photo: © Konschthal Esch.

And the government is increasing its support. In 2020, the Ministry of Culture created the Kultur-lx Arts Council Luxembourg to support artists living in or from the country, through scholarships, residencies and career guidance. The council has an annual budget of almost 2 million euros, of which about half goes to artists. Meanwhile, in the southern town of Esch, 20% of the city’s budget is spent on cultural development ahead of next year’s events in the Cultural Capital, amounting to € 32 million.

Before being named the capital of culture in 1995, Luxembourg was considered “a desert where nothing was happening, and everyone would go and study elsewhere, then maybe come back,” Cotter said. “There was no real platform or visibility for the artists.

There is still no art school in Luxembourg. With a historically rural setting, a small population and a still active steel industry, the only public university in Luxembourg opened in 2003. Young people were and still are encouraged to study abroad. However, as the current MUDAM broadcast shows “Freigeister. Fragments of an artistic scene in Luxembourg and beyond, ” this means artists linked to Luxembourg tend to be very mobile and influenced by the crossing of cultures.

“With so many immigrant families who were born and raised here, we have this baggage on our shoulders to come from other cultures, but naturally to integrate. People switch easily from one language to another, ”said multidisciplinary artist Su-Mei Tse, born in 1973 in Luxembourg, to a family of Chinese-British origin. Now based in Berlin, she has a solo exhibition at Nosbaum Reding titled “Enough or alive.

“I could not have imagined staying here,” said her compatriot from Luxembourg Tina Gillen (b. 1972), now based in Brussels. “The cultural network was too small. I had to go somewhere else, I chose it, but I had no choice. Today, Gillen’s atmospheric and painted portraits of architectural forms, often inspired by films and photographs, are part of the MUDAM collection, and the artist will represent Luxembourg in the 59e Venice Biennale next year. “The artists are staying here now, and there is an art scene. There is a new generation in place that is very aware of what is going on, ”added Gillen,“ but you have to educate the public and the whole city on what contemporary art is. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Installation view of “Post-Capital: Art and the Economics of the Digital Age” at MUDAM Luxembourg. Photo: © Rémi Villaggi.

Few seem to understand this better than Alex Reding. He launched Luxembourg Art Week in 2015, in cooperation with surrounding institutions, in order to give new blood to the small network of art collectors and local art lovers in the capital. “I was motivated to create this event for these three quarters [of the city residents] who are no longer from here. Who are the CEOs of all the companies you see here… that are the engine of the modern global economy, ”Reding told a group of reporters at the fair. ” We do not know them. These are the new collectors. The goal is to know them.

But Reding and others acknowledged that Luxembourg Art Week still lacks contemporary art lovers. This absence was felt at the fair, where some galleries found it difficult to sell works above 10,000 €. Decorative pieces were safer for a public that many dealers considered curious, but not necessarily serious, to collect contemporary art, favoring impulse purchases from recognized galleries, at a lower price.

“The public here has quite conservative and classic tastes,” said Laurent Godin, the founder of the eponymous Parisian gallery. After two days of opening to the public at the fair, he was unable to sell any of the works brought to Luxembourg, including the sculptures by Wang Du, Peter Buggenhout and Sylvie Auvray, on average € 40,000 each. “It’s not a really big market, and it takes time to develop,” added the dealer, “so we wonder if it makes sense to take this time.

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