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Text by

Anne-Claire Schmitz

De Avonden – Les Soirées


Discreetly announced through e-mailings, always taking place in Belgian bar at 20h30, De Avonden offers an informal setting to encounter and engage with inspiring personalities and their reflections on the current artistic field.


De Avonden was initiated in the year 2000 by a small group of artists including Luc Grossen, Emilio Lopez Menchero, Koen Theys and Dimitri Van Grunderbeek, who had the common goal to give a voice to both artists and cultural agents at large.


De Avonden emerged from NICC-Bruxel, the Brussels-based antenna of the Nieuw Internationaal Cultureel Centrum (NICC), and Brussels 2000-European Capital of Culture, which was a timely framework that provided the necessary support. In addition to the informal discursive evenings organized in the context of De Avonden, NICC-Bruxel launched a similar project titled Télé-NICC. This one-minute television broadcast was conceived and developed by artists of CC-NICC, a container located on the Fontainas square that housed artistic actions and interventions.


The spirit behind NICC-Bruxel, and by extension that of De Avonden, is one where the artists act not only as makers, but also as organizers, producers, curators and critics. Unfortunately, after the end of Brussels 2000, NICC-Bruxel did not succeed in maintaining its initiatives apart from De Avonden. Consequently, it lost its funding, and starting from 2005 Etablissement d’en Face projects has integrated De Avonden into its program and budget. From its inception, it was clear that De Avonden would take place in the historical Greenwich café, considering it was the place where its initiators first met and continued to discuss NICC-Bruxel’s activities. During these meetings, they noticed a set of green curtains that divided the main café with a smaller back room. Until a few years ago, the series of talks has been known as ‘De Avonden at the Greenwich – Behind the green curtains’.


This situation came to an end in 2007, when a new owner decided to undertake a complete renovation of the Greenwich at the expense of the local art community and chess players that frequented the place. Yet the organizers of De Avonden had the desire to perpetuate the initiative within the same vein. That is to say, in a casual, everyday environment where people could meet and exchange ideas for one evening. It was therefore essential that the talks took place in the vicinity of a bar, as opposed to an institutional context.


For a short while, the talks were then moved to café Le Laboureur nearby the Brussels South railway station. In 2008, De Avonden finally found its new home in the small room above the Daringman café, also known as chez Martine.


Simply put, the talks organized by De Avonden address diverse subject matters while always taking place in a familiar setting, one in which there is little to no distinction between the lecturer and the audience. As such, it is a platform for public discussions that often expand beyond the moment of the talk, in an intimate setting, with a beer or two.


Without the confinement of academic discourses, the speakers are free to express their appreciation of and interests in various artists, ideas and works, in any way they desire. Yet the legacy of one key figure in particular is recurrently revisited: every season, a lecturer is invited to share his perspective on the inimitable Marcel Duchamp, an artist that defies definition and as such still generates both a lot of animosity and fascination. In the past, De Avonden has hosted scholars Hans De Wolf and Elena Filipovic to speak about Duchamp, and will soon welcome Thierry de Duve.


Another recurrent interest of De Avonden lies in artists’ publications. A great deal of attention has been devoted to this particular genre in Belgium, which explains why the organizers invited a wide range of publishers, such as Yves Gevaert, Michèle Didier and Seth Siegelaub.


Lectures are furthermore presented by artists and curators. A particularly memorable conversation, conducted between Tate Modern director Chris Dercon and the Brussels-based British artist Simon Thompson, gradually revealed the speakers’ divergent expectations of art institutions.


Most recently, on a warm September evening, Matt Mullican gave a three-hour long lecture-cum-performance, generously illustrating the development of his artistic work to a crowded and clammy room by means of drawings, slides, and videos.


Over the past twelve years, De Avonden has welcomed an exceptional series of speakers, including Koen Brams, Kasper König, Vaast Colson, Keren Cytter, Olivier Foulon, Wilfried Huet, Frederik Leen, David Maljkovic, Rita McBride, Lucy McKenzie, Jean-Luc Moulène, Marc Nagtzaam, Honoré d'O, Falke Pisano, Armando Andrade Tudela, Phillip Van den Bossche and Philippe Van Snick, to name only a few. Yet in the invitation letter, the intention behind the talks has been formulated to each and every one of them in the same way:


Dear …,

As you might already know, we would be thrilled to host a night with you in Brussels. Since quite some years now, we have organized a lecture program out of pure interest and on a voluntary basis. Our evenings are set in the backroom of café "Daringman" which is a small bar in the center of Brussels.


We do not focus on a specific topic but ask artists and art professionals to speak about and discuss their work, working methods or recent projects. The atmosphere of our venue is quite familiar and has something of a conspiracy, at best. Usually we have 30 to 60 people attending an evening. Each lecture is set on a Friday Night, starting from 8:30 p.m.

….


We do have some budget which is unfortunately rather limited. We can offer you a small fee and can book you an overnight hotel in the neighborhood. We would love to invite you for dinner on the night of the talk and drinks are on us, of course.


With kind regards and we look forward to hearing back from you.

Every evening has been documented through recordings and videos. Although this material has, according to the organizers, no specific interest except that of leaving a trace of something that has happened, it undeniably constitutes a precious archive for future reference.


Info & subscribe:

info@de-avonden-les-soirees.be


Based on the accounts given by Koenraad Dedobbeleer and Dimitri Van Grunderbeek.

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