The DSL Collection and Its Namesake Chinese Art Connoisseurs
“The art world needs to make full use of the internet and social media to make artists and artworks more visible…and to introduce art to the younger audience.”—Sylvain Levy
Sylvain and Dominique Levy, the husband-and-wife collectors behind the DSL Collection—comprising about 200 works by leading Chinese avant-garde—sit at the precipice of the online art movement. Holding to a “bricks and clicks” principle, the couple has made their collection of Chinese contemporary art available online (including on Artsy). Learn about the Levys “less is more” approach with the DSL Collection, their engagement with the online space, and what they’re hoping to see at the inaugural Art Basel Hong Kong.
Artsy: How did you begin collecting Chinese contemporary art, and how would you describe the concept of your collection?
Sylvain Levy: We created DSL Collection in 2005, with a particular focus on Chinese contemporary art. When Dominique and I went to Shanghai for the first time in 2005, we felt that there was another logic there, something that speaks of a very schizophrenic attitude towards economic development. The city embodies a ceaseless pursuit of the “superhuman” that redefines traditional definitions of sustainability, scale, and speed. These feelings were really inspiring and we wanted to find art and artists that express the relationships between contemporary art production and society. We visited many artists’ studios and became friends with many of them. What we found from our discussions is the incredible level of energy and dynamism among the Chinese contemporary artists. And this has continued to this day, with the current generation of artists.
A key concept of the collection is our limited acquisition policy. Based on the idea of “less is more”, we cap the number of works in the collection to around 160-200. Whenever we decide that a work is no longer relevant, we take it out of the collection and add new ones. This way, we make sure that the collection stays fresh and regenerated. It is very much an organic process, where the collection is continually building, sculpting, gathering, and redefining itself against the dynamic world of contemporary art in China.
Another distinguishing feature of the DSL Collection is our strong online presence. Rather than relying on “bricks and mortar”, we follow the principle of “bricks and clicks”. We are constantly trying to find new ways to share the collection, through social media such as Facebook and Linkedin, as well as our virtual exhibitions. We were also one of the first private collections to develop the iPad app. All of this reflects our vision for a nomadic collection.
Artsy: What kind of trends do you currently see in the Chinese contemporary art world? What have you found most exciting in Chinese art during the last few months?
SL: I don’t think there are any definitive trends in terms of artistic production, but I do notice a great diversity in artists’ choice of media and subject matter—much more so than in the Western contemporary art world. There is a greater sense of adventure and creative exploration. Another observation is that the new generation of artists, most of whom were born in the 1980s, is quite different from the previous generation. They are eager to express different ideas and concepts. In my opinion, contemporary art in China is a lively “work in progress”.
Artsy: Can you talk a little bit about the importance of online arts and the synergy of arts + technology? How do you see the future of the online space for art?
SL: Today there are so many different ways of connecting people with art—through the established institutions like museums, galleries etc., as well as through the digital world. It’s not a simple question of just being online; what’s more important is how we use technology in a relevant way to reach out to a wider audience. The art world needs to make full use of the internet and social media to make artists and artworks more visible…and to introduce art to the younger audience.
Artsy: What are you hoping to see from Chinese galleries at Art Basel Hong Kong?
SL: Art Basel HK is interesting because you can see in the same space the best of Western and Asian Art. Consequently it will allow me to better judge Chinese contemporary art in terms of quality and price.
Artsy: What artists should we be watching right now?
SL: With DSL Collection, we always look at art from a more macro view; that is, we focus on the total composition of the collection, rather than on individual works or artists. For us, the artworks in the collection represent the language that is used to tell a story—our story. It means that when we decide that a work is relevant, we collect it without being influenced by the name or status of the artist.
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