Sylvain and Dominique Levy
Today I would like to share the interview with the founder of the DSL Collection.
DSL Collection is one of the major Chinese Contemporary Art collection in the world. It was created in 2005 by Sylvain and Dominique Levy.
While much commotion has been made over the apparent maturation of the Chinese contemporary art market, Sylvain and Dominique Levy have amassed a fortune of contemporary cultural treasures from some of China’s most prolific contemporary painters, sculptors and photographers, featuring works by leading figures like Ai Weiwei and Zeng Fanzhi as well as younger artists such as Song Yuanyuan and Zhao Zhao. DSL Collection also owns the world’s first VR museum, DSL Museum, which has gained widespread recognition from the art world.
How would you describe in a few words dslcollection?
Today technology is increasingly more embedded with our daily lives Consequently dslcollection is an ongoing cultural and entrepreneurial project that embodies a family adventure and a collection of art and science. It acts like an organization designed
to search for a model emphasizing on nimbleness. We do not want to be just a smaller version of the present museum’ s model.
Could you tell me when dslcollection was starting, did you always wish to show your collection to the public? What inspired you to create dslcollection ? We started dslcollection in 2006 after a trip to Shanghai. It was the first time that we decided to open our collection to the public. It changed the way we collect. For example opening the collection obliges us to fix new metrics of success not only related to numbers, but on the quest of being authentic, influential, close to people and to be relevant. Embracing a human-centered mindset in museums prompted us to advance concepts of empathy and connection as integral elements to our collection’s values and culture. What inspired us? We believe that art is one of the mirrors of a society. Chinese contemporary art is radical — not only relative to an inward-looking Western canon, but also to traditional Chinese art history, its sensibilities and methods. Chinese contemporary art confronts both. We collect Chinese contemporary art not as an identity but as a matter of subject. It is provocative, challenging, and deeply rewarding.
JI AIL, Untitled, 2007–2008
What considerations guide you to make a purchase?
dslcollection is focused on the acquisition of monumental works with powerful visual effects. The choice of monumental works is linked with the idea of viewer contemplation and immersion.To use a concept dear to German aesthetics: A great artwork is a total work. dslcollection is a collection of artworks not artists. If a work is considered breathtaking and meaningful, it will be collected. Artworks also in the collection may be characterized as disruptive, hard to explain, seductive, beautiful, unique and challenging. dslcollection has conceptualized the building of the collection by limiting the number of works to 350 works, adding and subtracting 10% of the works every year to constantly keep it contemporary. An organic collection that consistently renews itself by a self- imposed limitation vigorously edited to reflect the changing times and tastes of the owners. It follows also the “ Non Finito Spirit” of Michel Angelo and Rodin which is about unfinished works and the refusal of the sole quest of perfection. A collection can also be explained by its missing.
Gao Weigang, ‘No Way!’, 2013. Installation view. Courtesy DSL Collection and the artist
You have been collecting works Chinese contemporary artists since 1980’s. Since then, China has had a period of growth, a period where the market was stagnant and a period where there was a market bubbled. Moreover, expectation of the Chinese art
market has changed. What is the major difference between when you first started collecting artworks from Chinese artists and now? How do you view the current Chinese artists of 2019? What do you think is the state of the current art market?
In an epoch defined by the spasmodic search for the new, today’s “in” is almost certainly destined to become tomorrow’s “out” and transience permeates each aspect of life. One should never forget that while contemporary art no doubt reflects the current time but also reflects the past and China has a very ancient culture.
To assess the present moment, we collected artists reacting to and/ or against in this newly global world, populated by an overload of facts, fiction, avatars, and artificial intelligence. We explore more than their art, looking into their history, their habits, their families,
As for the Chinese contemporary art market it is still in a work in progress. But history teaches us that art follows money and power. That’s why Chinese culture and its market have a bright future.
GE GUANZHONG – RED SOIL
How have your tastes changed since you started collecting?
We approached collecting more than thirty years ago through classical art and then design. Our tastes have changed a lot. In the beginning we were attracted by the sense of beauty in an artwork especially through the medium of painting. Today more and more we have emotions with more conceptual works. The market value of an artist has never been our primary metric to collect a work.
What advice would you give to aspiring art collectors?
I am always reluctant to give advice because a collection is a personal adventure and all the reasons that make someone collect have to be respected. To collect, you must first be a humanist
Be close to the galleries and the artists and especially support your own art scene. Do not be afraid of making mistakes. Do not regret the works you have missed.
Try to build a singular collection. A collection needs a vision and time. A collection should strike by its density, the message that it delivers on ourselves, on an epoch. A collection must be strong, disturbingly unconventional.
The worst is immobility, it is not to evolve. Taste, curiosity, intelligence must continually guide the collector to new shores and experiences
The most important: Make yourself happy: Collecting can give an ordinary person an extraordinary life.
It has been two years since the launch of the virtual museum. How has it evolved and how are people reacting to it? Has “dslcollection ” met another big change in the last two years?
Born into a screen-based world, today’s new generation move in and out of the physical and virtual worlds at ease, believing that each world is “real” to them. The digital tools have opened alternative realities which are as important as the reality. From 2005 we went from a website to a 2D and 3D museum, and in 2012 a museum on Second Life and now augmented reality and virtual reality. We were among the first on to build a VR museum two years ago. As emphasized by a research professor Paul Verschure, a virtual museum complements and enhances the museum experience “through personalization, interactivity, and richness of content.” Therefore, the artwork ontology, perception and dissemination are being renegotiated with the use of virtual reality. We have been showing our portable museum in many different types of events. We were surprised by the reactions of old people and by the young audience. As for the old people already in Europe every 5th person is over 65 years old. The new and the fresh is very much appreciated by them whose daily lives can be quite uneventful. It opens a new world where with a mask. It allows seniors, the sick, or disabled people to visit exhibitions in New York, Paris or Shanghai. As for the young generation who is not interested primarily by art, they can connect with it through the use of gamification art contents. Financial sustainability is one of the most important challenge for a collection or a museum. Among other potential benefits from a global online presence, VR can stimulate new financial models of museums and artists. It has been proven that a web-based content might generate significant income. Hence, the distribution of VR content through third-party websites, as the music industry capitalizes on iTunes and YouTube, could also have the same positive impact on future revenues. According to the Music Consumer Insight Report 2016, 82% of YouTube visitors use it for listening to music and 48% of internet users pay for music in some forms. We believe that digital distribution could help museums to find new sources of economic and cultural value, generate diversified revenue and become sustainable. We have also commissioned two works using VR from two different artists. Today dslcollection has a strong reputation in the art world as a pioneer in the use of technology to experience art.
How has the art industry changed with the development of technology? What are some areas art collectors should be interested in?
In an era where the human being is transformed by science and especially by the digital world, the enjoyment of static collections is as important to most people as the enjoyment ofthe experiencing artworks. The context in which we are living today has drastically changed the way people connect with art. As found by Culture Track, visitors are spending an average of 15 seconds in front of an artwork, 81% visiting museums for fun. It is the Kusamafication Phenomenon. We have entered in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. According to Craig Zamary “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is the newest chapter in our human history that involves unlocking the unused potential of our brain through uses of artificial intelligence, digital, virtual, big data and a system that introduces a new story of our future to enable different economic and human models that will change the way we exist forever.”
What are you especially excited about the art scene in the next 12 months? As usual I am waiting for a new encounter with a work or an artist that will inspire my life.
As a private collector, your dream was to exhibit your collection. Now that “dslcollection ” has grown, you must have a bigger goal. What is your dream? dslcollection wants to establish a model that makes collecting art continuously active and meaningful, always moving with the shifting times.These times can be characterized by diverse challenges: Volatility, complexity and uncertainty. Agility and bravery are ways to respond to these times. it must constantly create openness to others, questioning society and the circulation of ideas
The collection should fully be managed according to its resources and realities. The technology is now in place to allow smaller entities to compete with, and to complement larger institutions, without the bureaucracy or need for large financial investment
To remain active in the contemporary context, we have to engage in a manner that is both timely and timeless. To pursue timelessness alone would mean existing only in the traditional sense of a collection: accumulating works and maintaining them in a static manner, irrespective of shifting concepts and new developments. To be only timely would mean becoming ephemeral or subsumed in what is an increasingly crowded competitive milieu. Cultural institutions of the future will be mutable, physical and virtual entities, evolving from places of art storage and preservation to sites of ongoing knowledge production and exchange. But one has to always remind of how close opportunities and risks are in our current world of globalization, digitization and acceleration. But one should never forget: Art history is brutal: very little will remain.