Articles and Features

Sailing Across The New Decade

National Museum of Qatar. Jean Nouvel.
Jean Nouvel’s $500m National Museum of Qatar, completed in 2019

Sylvain Levy
by Sylvain Levy

Sylvain Levy is a collector and, along with his wife Dominique, is one of the principals of the dslcollection, a major collection of Chinese contemporary art. Founded in 2005, the dslcollection promotes the discovery and study of Chinese contemporary artistic production. It embraces innovative technologies in order to foster greater visibility and to provide the means to share the experience of contemporary culture. Openness, the nomadic and sharing are core concepts of the dslcollection.

In our efforts to make sense of the current global crisis, many have tried to compare and relate it to the previous financial crashes of 2008, 2003, and even as far back as 1929. We seem to be desperately grasping onto some semblance of familiarity to try to explain the current situation. However, there is no doubt that our everyday lives have been inextricably altered. Every day we are confronted with our very own vulnerability. It is not only society that feels shaky; it is the fragile existence of all humans in this world. 

The impact has been different for every one of us, depending on our personality, financial situation and/or geographic location. Everyone has his/her own view of the future. Will this be the new normal, or just another page in the history of mankind?

My answer will just be a personal one.

We have entered into “terra incognita” – unknown territories. Coined back in the Middle Ages, this phrase is now also used metaphorically to describe any unexplored subject. 

One benefit of the worldwide lockdown is that it gives us time to reset, and to think afresh. Clearing the mind of clutter and thinking how to live in an altered world is the task at hand. I do not want to view the future as an embellished version of the recent past, but as the opportunity to adapt and develop different ways of living. Here are some of my thoughts: 

What about the context?

We began collecting art in the Eighties. It was still very much the “Leo Castelli” model, where we would only go through art dealers, and artists made their entire careers in the same galleries; art fairs were nearly non-existent and auction houses were dedicated mostly to non-living artists. Today, collectors are simply stakeholders in the art industry where art is the ultimate luxury good, and for some, also like a future in the stock market. What is the future for galleries and auction houses when their target customers are no longer driven by conspicuous consumption? 

“Art is so much bigger and deeper than the business that supports it.”

In recent article called “The last days of the artworld” Jerry Saltz pointed out that “Of course, art will go on”. That goes without saying, since art is so much bigger and deeper than the business that supports it. There is however one key factor about the art world/market that worries me. Over the last decade or so, the art world seems to have lost its ability to adapt and to grow. Or rather, it seems able to adapt only in one way, regardless of the circumstances. That is, just growing larger and busier. Expansion and more expansion have been the answer to everything.

The art world is not just about the marketplace. We also have to re-evaluate the role of museums in contemporary society. Why should we keep spending hundreds of millions dollars on new museum buildings, only to find ourselves unable to sustain even a few months of temporary closure, and to have to sack thousands of educators and staff members?

The task ahead is to build an art eco-system that is more durable, more resilient, and more humanly habitable. In recent years, museums’ success metrics have been largely based on visitor numbers, fuelled by blockbuster exhibitions that also incur astronomical expenses. Moving forward, exhibitions should be underpinned by a curatorial imperative to humanise experimental and new media technologies, ensuring that a visit to the exhibition is an accessible, engaging and enriching experience.

The current crisis will put wind in the sails of a new museology in which service to the community is as important as the stewardship of objects. Tomorrow we should focus mostly on creative ways that artists, curators, and educators could expand the art world and make it more accessible and equitable for all.

I would like to emphasise that I am not pushing for a major revolution. In fact, I feel quite positive about this new decade; with the same spirit as Christopher Colombus in his search for new territories, but bearing in mind the importance of enriching my spiritual life with human encounters through our journey with this collection. 

Relevant sources to learn more

About Artland x dslcollection collaboration
dslcollection column by Sylvain Levy: The Virtual Museum
dslcollection column by Sylvain Levy: The challenges facing the art world today
dslcollection column by Sylvain Levy: How to add social value to a private collection?
dslcollection profile
Visit the dslcollection