Chasing the Future
DSL Collection – Paris, France
The history of China is filled with epochal changes compressed into shockingly brief timelines. The country’s relationship to contemporary art is a case in point. In an interview with Ashton Chandler for the website, Art:I:Curate, the co-founder of the DSL Collection, Sylvain Levy, remarks that “Chinese contemporary art began in 1980”. Rather like Philip Larkin’s reflection on the charmed year of 1963 in British culture, the year 1980 in China appears to be regarded as a year in which a new way of viewing the world crystallised for a generation of Chinese artists. Levy has dedicated the ensuing decades to chronicling and exhibiting works that have emerged from this originary period through to the present. He and his wife, Dominique, administer one of the most diverse and forward-looking private collections of contemporary Chinese art in Europe. The DSL Collection is, in many ways, as unique as the works that comprise it. What makes the DSL Collection remarkable is that not only it engages the robust diversity of Chinese contemporary art, but also how fully its founders embrace the centrality of circulation and fluidity in making their collection available to audiences throughout the world. This is in part due to the Levys’ integration of digital culture into the distribution and display of the works they collect.
Levy has spoken, in an interview with Lara Sedbon, of the importance of reaching what he calls the “new eyes”, the generation born into the aesthetics of digital imagery, whose brains are “moulded by moving images” and whose “eyes are shaped by saturated colors”. In order to reach these new eyes, and the eyes of older generations curious about or fascinated with contemporary Chinese visual culture, the Levys have overseen the creation of a digital museum to house the works of the hundreds of artists who feature in the collection. To visit the online space is a dizzying experience. The gallery consists of digitally rendered concrete walls along a seemingly infinite plain. The walls look like something between a bunker and a maze built on a stretch of chalky, white ground. The walls rise beneath a sky that is bright but clouded, rather like an unpredictable day by the sea on the British coast. The works on show in the temporary exhibition include a piece by Hipic, a collective of artists exploring the ways images are collected, branded and distributed using digital technologies. Their work in the current exhibition features a grainy image of three running men. Their embodiment has a precariousness that contrasts starkly with the wall on which the work “hangs”; it’s stolidity only highlights the image’s ephemerality. Also currently showing is a piece by Huang Yong Ping entitled, Un immigrant sans papiers, an installation integrating elements of sculpture and taxidermy which explores boundaries that are both physical, and conceptual.
The collection is expansive, but, like the country from which its works derive, it is always changing and being redefined. The Levy’s frequently rotate works into and out of the collection, a collection that has included more than 200 artists since its inception in 2005. Speaking to Artsy, Levy stressed “relevance” as a key consideration in the composition of the collection, but he has also been at pains to stress the diversity of the culture of contemporary China and the need for artistic projects like the DSL Collection to reflect this. Currently, the collection includes superstars like Cao Fei whose searing, absurd Rabid Dogs (2002)—among three of her video works in the DSL Collection—expresses the contradictions and vibrancy of contemporary China with a lurid elegance, as well as younger figures like the young curator and artist, Hu Weiyi. Despite being somewhat older than other collection incumbents, the legendary veteran of provocative Chinese art, Tang Song also features. Though no single artist or collection could truly encompass the totality of contemporary Chinese art, in its depth, and its dedication to constantly renewing itself, the DSL Collection, more than many others at least offers a more detailed glimpse of a country whose culture is increasingly influencing global artistic trends. In one sense, the openness and accessibility of the DSL Collection’s virtual museum illustrates one of the most salient truths of contemporary art: if one opens one’s eyes, China is everywhere.
William Kherbek is the writer of the novel "Ecology of Secrets" (2013, Arcadia Missa) and "UltraLife" (2016, Arcadia Missa). His art journalism has appeared in a number of publications in the UK, US, Germany, Switzerland and Romania.
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