Posted: January 27th, 2016 -
COLLECTOR’S INTERVIEW WITH DOMINIQUE AND SYLVAIN LEVY OF DSL COLLECTION
The DSL Collection was founded in 2005 but you have been collecting for more than 25 years. How did the adventure begin?
This adventure began when we traveled to China because my brother in law was moving there. We were totally shocked by the city and we thought that we should start a Chinese collection in order to find in the art all the energy we were experiencing there. Indeed, art is one of the mirrors of a society. Also, as you mentioned, collecting is about adventure. Collecting Chinese contemporary art means collecting works which are located 12.000 km away from Paris, in a country which we do not speak the language and where there is no strong institutional validation to support us. Don’t you think this is a real adventure?
Can you tell us more about the DSL Collection?
DSL Collection is a “family collection” which mission is to build a personal and unique collection that is contemporary not only through the collected works but also through the way it is shared with its audience. DSL Collection is more than just a collection of artworks. It is a project. We find it interesting to share with others our discovery of China and this is the reason why we have decided to open our collection. We want to reach out to as many people as possible. There are many different ways to connect people with art. Naturally the best way is to see the works in the flesh. But using technology can bring a different experience. You can reach out to: “everybody, everywhere and anytime”. With social networks, your message becomes more important because it can be shared. We especially want to speak to the “new eyes”. Today, the new generation’s brain is moulded by moving images and their eyes are shaped by saturated colours. They do not look at art the same way we look at it. We always have to take it into account if we want to be successful: who is our audience? What type of message we want to deliver? What is the best way to do it?
In 2005, you traveled to Shanghai and visited Ding Yi’s studio. This was a revelation. From then, you decided to specialize in Chinese art and your collection counts works of artists such as Ai Weiwei, Zeng Fanzhi, Wang Du, Qiu Anxiong, Lu Hao, Sun Lei, or Tie Xing. Can you explain why the focus is Chinese?
Firstly we think that a collection is strong and relevant if it is focused on a specific subject. Now, why a Chinese collection? We fell in love with contemporary Chinese art for three main reasons: As I mentioned before, I think art is one of the mirrors of society. What is happening today in the Chinese society is very impressive in terms of speed and scale and the way it transforms itself. We wanted to find in Chinese art the same energy that we found when we arrived in Shanghai. The second reason is that China is a 5000 year-old culture. Chinese artists are deeply rooted in their culture and heritage, they vividly relay history today. The third reason is that Chinese artists are also influenced by what they can see outside China. They are becoming part of a global world and this interaction between inside and outside is extremely interesting. Eventually, one cannot neglect the potential of the Chinese art market.
You are also interested in young Chinese artists such as Sheng Guougu. What do you think of the Chinese young art scene today?
I totally agree with Karen Smith when she declared: “Each younger generation brings something new to the table—they are part of the ever-changing socio-cultural landscape that is China today and their experience of the world, the influences and information they absorb is vastly beyond what most of us imagine”. This is what makes the work of the Chinese young generation interesting. However, one should never neglect the importance of the historical artists and how they are still inspiring many young artists.
Your collection is mostly devoted to Chinese art but you also collect other artists such as Bill Viola, Rauschenberg or Valdes. How do these pieces dialogue with the rest of your collection and how do you build a consistency?
We have been collecting for more than 25 years. Firstly, contemporary Western artists, then contemporary design, and now Chinese contemporary art. When we collect, we always focus on a subject, trying to go in depth, to build the right connection but also a real expertise. When we decide to stop, it means that we do not have the same passion.
When you buy a piece, what are you looking at?
If I had to summarize in one sentence what is collecting, I shall say that it is about “good works”. A good work is something that makes you feel happy or mentally disturbed. It is about the place it builds for itself in art history.
In an interview, you quoted curator Hans Ulrich Obrist mentioning “the fundamental invisibility”. How does this expression define the collector? What does collecting mean to you?
I think that a collection should be something very personal. What makes it strong is how much you can feel the collector’s soul in the collection. On the other hand, a collection is made of artworks created by human being called artists; they have to be in front. If I may make a comparison with a football team, the players on the field are crucial for the game but the coach’s role is central too.
The DSL Collection is showcased online in the form of a virtual museum where the visitor is free to navigate through different rooms and get information on each piece. This responds to an idea of accessibility to the public. To which extent do you think new media influence the contemporary art world?
I think that we are experiencing tectonic changes. The first one is the new place taken by China which is really changing the face of the globe. The second one is the digital world which is transforming the human beings. It is clear that people consume art in a very different way today and it shall continue in the future. Naturally, digital tools and especially social networks are in the centre of this revolution.
The collection is limited to 160 artworks in order to maintain it alive and in constant evolution. Do you sell your artworks and what are the criteria that make you want to sell?
Today we have 350 works in the collection but we intend to come back to 250 works. We went up from 160 to 250 works because we added two new sections: one dedicated to Chinese contemporary ink and the other to the Honk Kong art scene. A collection should also be a protean thing. It has to change, try to do something different all the time. Consequently, a collection should evolve by continuously adding or sub-taking new works. Nevertheless, there are iconic works that we shall never separate from such as works by Gu Dexin or Ding Yie. Mostly, we give away works by going back to the galleries from where we have discovered them. Also, some 15 pieces are currently borrowed and are traveling to around the world museums and biennales.
You published a book featuring the entire collection in 2011. Can you tell us about it?
The first edition of the DSL book was launched in 2011. In 2013, the second edition was a digital version that complements the physical experience of the actual book. Both projects feature the whole collection with more than 200 artists represented. The e book is divided into themes and chapters in order to have the experience of walking through an exhibition, it offers different digital tools with videos and QR codes to make it complete and unique. You can access the book with the following link: www.dslbook.com/dslbook/#1
What is the future of the collection?
Timely and timeless. This is what we are trying to achieve in the long term with the collection. It means that we want to build a strong cultural identity, a brand that can allow the transmission and the continuous activity of the collection even without the founders. As for the transmission, it will be done by our children.