The Brusseler: from Gauffrezilla to Mussels from Brussels

© Wide Vercnocke

Mussels from Brussels, Maestro Tintin, Gauffrezilla… In the exhibition “The Brusseler”, over a hundred visions of Brussels collectively pay tribute to The New Yorker, the weekly magazine that has been raising the bar on cover art since 1925.

“I have always been captivated by how a simple drawing can cut through the current of images we see every single day, how it can capture a moment, how it can crystallise a social trend or complex event in a way that a lot of words wouldn't be able to do.” The words belong to Françoise Mouly and are from a TED Talk in 2017. Her firm belief in the ideas behind them have made her one of the most influential people in the illustration and comics scene. When Françoise Mouly became art director of The New Yorker, in 1993, the journalistic institution, founded in 1925 and infamous for its thorough research papers, was in dire need of a rejuvenation cure, a touch of humour and an escape from the ivory tower.

1749 The Brusseler Ever Meulen 2
The Brusseler: Ever Meulen

Mouly, who with her husband, comics legend Art Spiegelman, had created and by then buried the highly regarded comics anthology Raw (1980-1991), brought with her a whole host of illustrator friends and set out on a mission to capture the Zeitgeist in images, to become “your window into the current moment” and to put artists at the centre of that ambition and of the cultural dialogue...setting the gold standard on illustration along the way.

What The New Yorker says and shows echoes around the world. This is evident also from a series of tributes that have been popping up since 2013. Following The Parisianer, Le Montréaler, The Tokyoiter, The Shanghairen and The Milaneser, The Brusseler is now also honouring the New York magazine in the form of an illustrated mosaic of the city.
“The Brusseler”, the exhibition at Seed Factory, brings together the work of over a hundred illustrators, each of whom produced one or more fictional covers of the equally fictional The Brusseler.

These include luminaries such as Ever Meulen and Joost Swarte, who themselves also graced the cover of The New Yorker and thus fit into an illustrious list that includes Art Spiegelman, Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, Loustal, Barry Blitt, Bob Staake, Kadir Nelson, Tom Gauld, Richard McGuire, Kara Walker, Wayne Thiebaud and Malika Favre. With images that keep their finger on the pulse of society. That make tangible what it means to ride the subway, to celebrate Valentine's Day, to belong to a minority, to mourn a cut-off breath or the constant repetition of the same suffering, to be lost for words after the collapse of two towers.

The power of The New Yorker is above all that it portrays the fever, the euphoria, the sorrow, the dismay and the absurdity of a city, a microcosm, a world. “The Brusseler” does not always reach this depth, but the absurdity, the skewed humour and the surreal atmosphere of the city it represents are unmistakably shining through.

1749 The Brusseler Johan Devrome
The Brusseler: Johan Devrome

The Atomium spheres are uncountable, the Grand Place seems born to act as decor, the beer flows in abundance. Manneken Pis welcomes James Ensor, JCVD appears as Mussels (and not Muscles) from Brussels in Laurent Bazart's design and Toots Thielemans blows his mouth organ. Stromae reveals his inner Tintin and Magritte in Johan Devrome's work, and the real Tintin does not drive to “Destination Moon” but to a red and white Palais de Justice in Serge Baeken's wonderful dissection of Belgian decisiveness.

The current moment appears in the form of polluting face masks, vaccine showers and TV viewers who fight isolation by swapping day and night. Laurent Durieux, with his Citroën garage, seems to be going back to the future in a delightful fit of futuristic nostalgia, and Teresa Sdralevich beautifully shows the city as a place in perpetual construction, an unfinished story on a human scale. Wide Vercnocke makes past, present and future all end up in the maw of Gauffrezilla, the many-headed, sweet monster called Brussels.

> 30/6, Seed Factory,

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