DSL Collection: Chinese contemporary art



Recently I found very interesting collection created in 2005 by Sylvian and Dominique Levy. Dominique and Sylvain are collectors of Chinese contemporary art. Sylvain is a visiting professor of Art History and Management at the University of Shanghai and guest lecturer at various leading universities.

Dominique and Sylvain are members of the International Committee of Tate Modern. Their private collection, the “DSL Collection” (www.dslcollection.org) ranks among the most important and innovative in the world.

This gorgeous collection focuses on Contemporary Chinese Art.

Currently, the collection comprises major works of 200 contemporary Chinese artists.

Thank you for giving me permission to share some information from your book on my website.

DSL COLLECTION

“A collection is the work of a person. It is its limit and its greatness.

It has to awaken the curiosity and the emotion.

It is an artistic adventure.”

Monique Barbier-Mueller

The concept of an adventure is very much key to the spirit of DSL collection – from the artworks that we collect to the way we share the collection through digital technology – everything is aimed at bringing different and memorable experiences for people to connect with art. For this reason, we have chosen to present this second edition of the DSL collection book in two formats – a digital version for an interactive experience, and a printed edition.

To enable our readers to fully appreciate and experience the diversity in China’s contemporary art scene, and more importantly, to create their own adventure, we have decided to “curate” this 2nd edition, arranging our artists and artworks according to their specialities and positioning them in different chapters, similar to a series of rooms in an exhibition. Our aim is not to be an encyclopedic collection, but just to open a few doors to China’s contemporary art scene.

As a start, Chapter 1 focuses on the earlier generation of contemporary artists, those who were already active around the Chinese Avant-Garde Exhibition in 1989. Caught amidst one of the most turbulent periods in China’s modern history, many of these artists had to create outside the formal system, or “machine”. The next few chapters are arranged according to regions – Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. We dedicate a chapter to new media artists and end with a survey of the latest generation of Chinese artists, many of whom are relatively unknown in the West.

At the end of the book, you will find a certain number of tags that enable you to watch the videos of the collection or to experience the virtual exhibition curated by Martina Köppel-Yang. This catalog has been produced with the aim of sharing, as much as possible, the adventure and esprit of DSL collection.

– Helen Ho


With their thoughtfully researched Chinese contemporary art collection accessible online and promoted on Facebook, Sylvain and Dominique Levy redefine collecting for the digital age.

Extracts from article by Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop

(Published in BLOUINARTINFO.COM, Asia Edition, September/October 2013)

“We started as a young couple, going to flea markets and buying works to decorate our house, primarily 1940s furniture,” Dominique says. “Neither of us came from a family of collectors, though we had an eye trained for beautiful things.” Their aesthetic training was centered largely on fashion. Dominique’s mother, Rose Torrente-Mett, founded Torrente, a French haute couture, and ready- to-wear label, and her uncle, Ted Lapidus, was a highly influential designer in the 1960s. Sylvain used to run French fashion house Caroll before turning to real estate development.“ After the first furniture, we started worrying about the walls, and I remember the first painting we ever bought was a beautiful sunset by Dupuy Godeau, not the best artist, nor his best work,” she recalls, laughing.

In the early 1990s, the couple started buying Western contemporary art, with works by Robert Rauschenberg, Manolo Valdés, and Antoni Tàpies decorating their home, but they concede there wasn’t a cohesive approach to the budding collection and the works were bought “more as trophies.”

“We only started to collect seriously with contemporary designs in the mid-1990s,” says Dominique.

“We had friends who owned the Gallery Kreo and at the time, pieces by Ron Arad and the Bouroullec brothers were really accessible. No one wanted them. That’s when we started to buy, not just to decorate our house, and we had to take up storage space. But when you’re no longer constrained by space and size, that’s when you can really have a lot of fun.”

The couple eventually turned away from the design. “It became too hot and expensive, and you had to be put on a waiting list to get a piece, and frankly I prefer to play golf than have to do that,” explains Sylvain. Their flat is still a treasure trove of 20th-century design with a range of interesting pieces, including a 1998 Zenith chair by Marc Newson, a 2001 Grappe carpet by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, and Ron Arad’s 1996 round bookcase and 2001 Pappardelle chair in bronze.


“The flat is very much a reflection of our life as collectors and our personal taste, which is very eclectic,” Dominique says. “This is not a show flat—the children used to sit on this Ron Arad chair, and all the furniture is there to be used.”

Their current passion for contemporary Chinese art started in 2005 when the couple visited Shanghai and met Lorenz Helbling, founder of ShanghART Gallery, and also toured artist Ding Yi’s studio. They quickly started to acquire works by Zhou Tiehai, Zeng Fanzhi, and Zhang Huan. They also bought works by Yang Jiechang and his wife, Martina Köppel-Yang, after meeting them in Paris and started to focus on the young Cantonese art scene, from the Big Tail Elephant Working Group to the Yangjiang Group.

Few collectors have published their own collecting manifesto, but the dynamic French couple has. They’ve also embraced 21st- century technologies—not only to digitize their collection of about 200 artworks to make them available to all on the Internet but also to create iPad apps and reach out via social networks like Facebook with pages in English and Spanish. That’s not to say they’ve eschewed traditional media; they’ve published books in English, Spanish, and Chinese.

Philip Tinari, director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, notes that the DSL Collection has been a “very public advocate for the field in general, as well as a pioneer in trying to apply the Internet and social media to the running and promotion of a private collection.”

“They have collected some of the most important figures of the Chinese avant-garde over the last three decades and have been generous lenders to exhibitions around the world, including at UCCA,” he says, noting that the collection is rooted in the “same basic understanding of contemporary art history as other major collections,” including those of Uli Sigg and Guan Yi. “While it is smaller than these other collections, DSL manages to feel alive rather than archival in its selection of particular works.”


Sylvain points out that over the years the couple has had different

approaches. “Previously, it was a more traditional approach to collecting with no real coherence: we would buy an object because we liked it,” he explains.

“But when we started our collection on contemporary Chinese art we deliberately decided to do things differently because from the start we knew we wanted to open the collection to the general public using the Internet and social media.”

For the Levys, it was extremely important that their collection had, as Dominique puts it, “a soul, as well as an image,” which they thought could only be created by following rules such as keeping the collection relatively small and within certain limits.

“It must be the niche to give your collection a clear image,” Sylvain adds. “We wanted to work on big formats because Chinese artists have always liked to express themselves via those.... The difficulty when you start collecting is to have access to quality, and if you focus on big formats, there are very few people in that sphere, and you can have some beautiful pieces. Of course, we can’t have them in our living room, but the day we decided to have a museum-like collection, we had gone beyond buying art to decorate our walls.”

“By limiting ourselves, we know we have to be much more careful in our selection, take the time to research and select each artwork,” says Dominique. “Early on we also decided that if we’d made a mistake we would be able to let go of the work. There are a lot of collectors that are in an accumulation phase, especially with Chinese art, because they want to open big museums.

Our approach is very different.”


The Levys believe that a collection should be first and foremost a private story, “our own story as collectors, as well as the meetings with different people,” Sylvain says.

“Each of the artworks is a bit like the words that help us write a story, our story,” he adds. “Some are stronger than others. The idea is to create something that has a real soul. We can collect works by artists completely unknown, but these represent, for us, something very interesting in the story we’re telling.” The result is a highly personal, scrupulously crafted collection—though the Levys joke that despite similar tastes, curating doesn’t always come easy. “That’s the interest of this adventure; it has taught us to compromise, which is a very good thing for a couple,” Sylvain quips. “I guess I am the adventurous madman and she is the reason.”

LESS IS MORE

A collection just limited to 250 works.

Works come in and go out to continuously regenerate the collection.


A BOOK

This book reflects the desire of the founders of the DSL collection, to look systematically at the collection they are creating of contemporary Chinese art. Beyond a simple idea of accumulating works of art, it is their wish actively to conceptualize the collection, treating it as an ongoing project with the ability to further the field of which it is a part. This book offers an opportunity to consider the DSL collection from its beginnings to its current stage, and to think about the road ahead in awareness of the contexts surrounding and influencing it, and upon which it has the potential to exert an effect. In so doing, this book may present more questions than it is able to answer; at the heart of the exercise is active engagement with the question of what it means to be an art collection in the 21st Century.

By Iona Whittaker


Information for the article respectfully taken from www.dslbook.com/dslbook/

To learn more about collection please visit: http://www.g1expo.com/v3/dslcollection/

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