Seven of the 180 galleries exhibiting at the 31st Art Brussels fair (Apr. 18-21) were missing their works during the VIP preview. On Wednesday morning, a note posted at Horton Gallery (New York) informed visitors that "the artwork from seven (sic) New York galleries, including ours, is being held in customs. Please come back later."

Dealer Candice Madey from On Stellar Rays (New York) blamed the courier. "We lost three hours of important trading. It's the last time I use Adam Crease for anything," she told A.i.A. Wednesday, adding, "They kept postponing the time of delivery by one hour until yesterday afternoon, when we realized it was going to be too late."

Adam Crease Shipping did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Not all affected booths were empty. At Callicoon, an assistant was busy Wednesday morning tacking works on paper to the walls. "Those were some drawings that I took in my hand luggage," the gallery's Photios Giovanis later told
A.i.A., adding, "I even sold a handful of them before the shipment arrived."

Chambers Fine Art, On Stellar Rays, Callicoon Fine Arts, James Fuentes The Hole and Horton, all from New York, and Sorry We're Closed, from Brussels, were affected. Solo presentations by Polish-born, Berlin-based artist Natasza Niedziolka (with Horton) and Maryland-born, Brooklyn-based Joshua Abelow (with James Fuentes and Sorry We're Closed) had been nominated for a prize, but could not be judged when the jury made the rounds at around 10 A.M. on opening day. When the shipment finally arrived at 3 P.M., the dealers had lost out on 3 hours of prime selling time.

The empty booths did not dampen the buying spirit as collectors browsed and bought during the preview of the first Art Brussels under the direction of Greek-born, Brussels-based curator Katerina Gregos.

"I have heard of sold-out booths, but never thought this could happen to me," Barthélémy Schöller of Clearing (New York/Brussels) told
A.i.A. Two hours into the opening he had nothing left to sell and reported around $100,000 in sales, including a small collage by Harold Ancart for $5,000 and Shingle Painting (Jacobin), 2013, by Loïc Raguénès for $7,000. Along with Fredrik Værslev at Johan Berggren Gallery (Malmö), Ancart was on the wish list that Paris-based art advisor Sacha Zerbib showed A.i.A. in the first hour.

Dealer Roupen Kalfayan
(Athens/Thessaloniki) sold the entire solo display of work by Hrair Sarkissian by e-mail to a private collector in the Middle East for about $83,000 on the fair's first day. "Although it was not directly sold at Art Brussels, I am thrilled with the sale and in good spirits," Kalfayan told me. His was one of the few galleries who managed a presence at both Art Brussels and the concurrent Art Cologne fair. Hannah Barry (London) returned to Art Brussels for the second time, "not because of the sales," she told A.i.A., "but because of the people; especially the British institutions that came to the booth impressed me."

New York-based collectors Susan and Michael Hort browsed early, and Bernard Soens walked the aisles with fellow Belgian collector Mimi Dusselier, who was interested in a large untitled painting (2013) by Secundino Hernández at the booth of Galerie Krinzinger (Vienna), priced at about $25,000. Dutch collector Rob Defares touted the fair as "steadily approaching an A-category fair. It's a real discovery fair," he said, naming Xavier Hufkens (Brussels) and Martin Van Zomeren (Amsterdam) his favorite booths.

But there were also critical tones. Frankfurter Kunstverein trustee Ascan Iredi went on record calling Art Brussels "a bit weaker this year, [though] you can still find good mid-priced works."

PHOTO: A sign that hung at the stand of New York's Horton Gallery during the VIP preview last week at Art Brussels.