Founded in 2005 by Paris-based couple Sylvain and Dominique Lévy, the DSL Collection is one of the rare Chinese contemporary art collections in France.
Whilst only ten years old, the DSL Collection is an assemblage of 90-some Chinese contemporary artists, featuring works by leading figures like Ai Weiwei and Zeng Fanzhi as well as younger artists such as Song Yuanyuan, Jia Aili and Zhao Zhao. Here, we speak to Sylvain about the importance of having a digital presence in the art world and how the growth of the Asian art market.
You were first interested in collecting contemporary European artists, when and why did the shift towards Chinese contemporary art happen?SYLVAIN LEVY
After collecting contemporary Western art and design for twenty years, in 2005 we decided to focus only on Chinese contemporary art. This happened after a visit to my brother-in-law in 2005 who lives in Shanghai. Ever since China became a superpower it has changed the face of the world, and now, technology is changing the face of the human world. It is for these reasons that we decided that the collection should embody these two tectonic changes.
What do you look for when collecting? Is there a particular style or era that you tend to gravitate towards?SYLVAIN LEVY
Our acquisition strategy is not focused on the reputation or fame of particular artists, but rather on the artworks themselves as we believe that art is a world of feeling and sensation. Our definition of “great art” is something uncomfortable, hard to explain, seductive, beautiful, unique, demanding and challenging.
Do you live with the artworks you acquire? Do you have a certain type of art that you prefer in your home?SYLVAIN LEVY
Not exactly, we have decided to build a museum-type-collection which means that we are able to collect different types of mediums that mostly cannot fit in a house. This is made up of 45% paintings and about 35% installations, with the rest consisting of videos, photos and sculptures.
What was the reasoning behind making the DSL Collection open to the public?SYLVAIN LEVY
Firstly we thought that it could be interesting to share our Chinese adventure. Secondly, art needs an audience. We started out from a museum approach – meaning that we are collecting a wide range of media including painting, sculpture, installation, video, and photography. To adopt this kind of approach implies that you must make the collection accessible to the public, as well as documenting the featured works.
Each year you sell pieces from the collection to make way for new works – can you tell us more about this tactic and the reasons behind it?SYLVAIN LEVY
Guided by a general quota of 350 pieces, the collection ebbs and flows, continually expanding with new acquisitions and shrinking by editing others out. It is an organic process in which the collection is continually building, sculpting, gathering and defining itself against the dynamic entity that it wishes to reflect in the contemporary arts of China.
As well as having an actual space, the DSL Collection also has a strong digital presence with your online platform cum virtual museum, an iPad app, 3-D films and the digital DSL magazine. Why is it so important to you, as collectors, to use the internet as a platform to showcase your collection?SYLVAIN LEVY
Opening a space is a gesture of generosity and a way to serve the community, but of course it also means to invest a lot of money and energy. We haven’t the resources to do it in a proper way and there is also the question of long term sustainability. We are also interested in the idea of “to collect contemporary art we should use contemporary methods” as living in a culture being redefined by the way it consumes, where apps are as important as objects, and where it is now vital for any new art “business” to establish a memorable and distinctive identity/image in the shortest time possible, you cannot avoid using and engaging with the digital world. We also want to build and broaden the range of audiences who experience the collection.
Does the Asian art market differ from the European art market, and if so, how?SYLVAIN LEVY
I think that the big difference is about the maturity of the Asian Art Market. Do not forget that in China the first auction house, China Guardian, was only created in 1993 which – when compared to Christies or Sothebys, who have both been around already for many centuries, – is still very young. Another difference is the size of the market especially the contemporary art market, which is smaller in the East. Saying that, things move very quickly in Asia and I would not be surprised if in just a few years it catches up.
The Paris art fair ASIA NOW specializes in showcasing the best of the Asian art scene. Why do you think it makes sense now in the current market to have an art fair like ASIA NOW? Does it match with what you expect from an art fair or does it bring something new to the table?SYLVAIN LEVY
Most of the people in the West are only connected to Chinese contemporary art through the art market and more specifically, through the auction houses. If you visit most of the Western art fairs there are only a few galleries exhibiting. ASIA NOW is a boutique fair which presents diverse and high-quality galleries from all over Asia and it is a great opportunity to discover and see what’s happening in Asia in terms of creativity.