"Making art and being an artist is a philosophical task than merely producing objects."
Gilles Fuchs in his office, December 2010. Photo by Ding Yang for InitiArt Magazine. ©InitiArt Magazine, 2011.
The French collector and winner of the 2003 Montblanc award for cultural patronage, Gilles Fuchs, chairs the missionary ADIAF (Association of International Diffusion of French Art) for the promotion of contemporary French art since its creation in 1994. The Association is also the founder and presenter of the Prix Marcel Duchamp (presided by Mr. Fuchs), which has for aim the promotion of young talented French artists or residing in France. In the last 10 years, the most prestigious art prize in France has nurtured 43 young artists.
The interview with Gilles Fuchs takes a wider perspective to have Mr. Fuchs to share with us his decades of observation from the centre of the French art world and from his support in the promotion of French art.
GF – Gilles Fuchs
ST – Selina Ting for initiArt Magazine
On ADIAF and Prix Marcel Duchamp
Selina Ting: The name of ADIAF sounds like a state organization representing French art and also the Marcel Duchamp Award presented by ADIAF is by now the most recognized prize in the French art scene, but ADIAF is in fact a collectors’ association initiated by 5 individuals, including you, Catherine Millet [Founder of Art Press magazine] and Daniel Templon [collector / gallery owner]. Is ADIAF kind of community equivalent of the CulturesFrance or the French equivalent of the British Council?
Gilles Fuchs: I don’t think that we are interfering with what the State does. But there was
a common idea when we started the association in 1994, that most of the art was gathered under the hands of governmental institutions, and was often qualified as “official Art.” So we wanted to promote French art through the eyes of collectors. Collectors’ approach to art differs from the institutional discourse which is more intellectual and historical, whereas the collectors are often more emotional and instinctive.
Nevertheless, It’s a long tradition in France that the State has an important role in art. Our kings were patrons of art, not as the Medicis who were art lovers and liked to be surrounded by artists. The French kings had a highly political attitude and wanted to promote French creation, not just art, but artifacts.
“France, Mere des arts” (France, Mother of arts) wrote the poet Joachim du Bellay [(1522 – 1560)].
ST: Yes, the French court was famous for the great influence and dynamics in dictating the taste, not just for art but for every aspect of life.
GF: Yes, the general creation in France. Also, it’s interesting to mention that France was the country that initiated the Ministry of Culture. Now many countries have a ministry of culture but it was started by General Charles de Gaulle and André Malraux [in around 1960]. Malraux was not just a minister, but a spokesman for French art and culture .He was not only a great writer but also an “art historian”. So all to say is that, the State is doing their job, and we are doing other things with other perspective.
ST: Do you adapt a formal structured programmation?
GF: Yes and no. We don’t have a formal structure but we do organize yearly the Marcel Duchamp Award, with the Pompidou Centre. We also exhibit French artists in international art fairs and international museums such as in Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Japan, etc. This year we showed in the French Pavilion during the Shanghai Universal Expo.
Cyprien Gaillard, winner of 2010 Marcel Duchamp Award. Presentation by Gilles Fuchs, President of ADIAF and Alfred Pacquement, director du Musée national d’art moderne, President of the Jury (© Jennifer Westjohn).
ST: Is the Marcel Duchamp Award funded by the Association?
GF: Yes, both individual collectors and enterprises such as Artcurial, Lombard Odier, Hermes Foundation, etc.
ST: How was the international reception of French contemporary art at that time when you created ADIAF and the Marcel Duchamp Award?
GF: ADIAF was created in 1994 but became really active since 1998 when we started curating shows and presenting French artists abroad. Then the Prix Marcel Duchamp was created in 2000. As you know, French art was very dominating on the international art scene until the 1960s. Since then it slowly disappeared .We wanted to give a more dynamic view of what was and is now happening in France. At the same time, the art world was becoming more and more a matter of private enterprises, we wished to emphasize the role of the French private collectors.
On Contemporary French Art Scene
ST: What about the criticism that French museums are conservative in their taste and choice of work? That they don’t take risk when it comes to contemporary art?
GF: People say this because they don’t really know the French institutions. We have a very particular structure: besides the State museums and the regional municipal museums (Louvre, Orsay, Pompidou, CAPC, etc.), we also have State institutions called FNAC, FRAC, DRAC, etc., which are extremely experimental. They build a national collection which doesn’t exist in any other countries, and they are showing it not only in museums but also in state buildings such as embassies, Ministries, City Halls, etc.
ST: Do you mean the decentralization that started in the 1980s?
GF: Yes, in the 1980s with Jack Lang, but the National Collection existed in France for centuries. There is a French rule that museums can’t resell their works. The reason is that the taste changes with time, every epoch has its own aesthetics, and for the French institutions, it was essential to keep the memory of our patrimony. This has created an exceptionally important national collection, which the French people are very proud of, and sometimes makes people forget the new experimental acquisitions.
ST: So what you are saying is that the French institutions are very experimental or as experimental as the other countries. Then what about the complain among the young French artists saying that the institutions are not supporting them enough, that they have to establish themselves outside the country before they are being invited to have a show in a French museum?
GF: I think this also is a stereotype. Most artists selected for the Prix Marcel Duchamp had exhibitions in French art centers or museums. Sâadane Afif, Tatiana Trouvé, Thomas Hirschhorn, Claude Closky, Laurent Grasso, Mathieu Mercier, this year’s winner Cyprien Gaillard, all made their names through well-established institutions all over France. As a matter of fact foreign artists also come to France and establish themselves in France, some of them even succeeding in getting grants from the French government to put up shows in their own countries!! So I think this complain is psychological and not scientifically correct.
©Gilles Barbier, Concert autistique, 1999. 10 fur masks, son track, various dimensions. Private Collection. Photo: Denis Prisset. Presented in Exhibition De Leurs Temps(3) - 10 years of creation in France – Prix Marcel Duchamp, Musée d’art moderne et contemporain à Strasbourg.
ST: Do you think this attention to young artists is relatively recent?
GF: Yes, but it’s the same everywhere. When I was young, there was no museum of contemporary art. I was living in the south of France and I had to come to Paris to know what was going on in the art scene. In the last 30 years, we built a lot of museums and art centers. These smaller spaces are doing a lot in promoting young artists, but then of course, you are not invited to Pompidou Centre the next day of your opening in a regional art centre.
ST: But the image of Pompidou Centre is still very authoritative… It’s still about Paris and Pompidou Centre.
GF: Because it’s the most important contemporary museum in the world, perhaps only comparable to MoMA, and also because France is still very centralized. CAPC in Bordeaux is a major museum for contemporary art, so as MAC in Lyon or Grenoble, Strasbourg, Saint Etienne, etc. But Bordeaux or Lyon is not Paris. Just like Liverpool can never be London. …
ST: Though the biennale is there.
GF: Italy is different because it’s a relatively recent unified country with several major cities. New York is different as well and doing a show in LA is equivalent to a show in New York.
On International Reception of French Art
ST: What about the other complaint that it’s always the only few artists such as Daniel Buren, Sophie Calle, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, that are representing the country?
GF: It is again not totally correct. The choices of the French artists for the Venice Biennale, as for the other major international exhibitions, is wide: Fabrice Hyber, Jean-Marc Bustamante, Claude Lévêque, Jean-Pierre Raynaud, Annette Messager, etc., even the Chinese born artist Huang Yong Ping represented France in Venice in 1999 with Jean-Pierre Bertrand. Next year it’s going to be Christian Boltanski. But is it more conservative than when USA chose Bruce Nauman or Louise Bourgeois? The question to ask is why Boltanski is not as well known as Bruce Nauman internationally? Is it only a matter of financial influence?
What’s important to know is not which artist is in the French pavilion, but who is chosen in the international shows, such as Documenta. The question we have to ask is why Documenta or the International Pavilion in Venice did not select more young French artists? But they are always choosing from two types – either artists from very influential countries or artists from emerging countries that you don’t really know. Do you know who changed the usual attitude regarding the emerging countries?
ST: Are you thinking of Jean-Hubert Martin and his show Les Magiciens de la Terre?
GF: Exactly! He was the person who opened the eyes of the world toward a different sort of art. It was a real revolution. On the other hand, I am very surprised to see that international curators don’t understand what French contemporary art really is!
On French Elegance
ST: In terms of market, is it because French art is too elegant for the contemporary taste? That the French elegancy doesn’t fit in so well the market’s taste for something raw, violent, provocative?
GF: I think that elegance and violence have always coexisted in French art, think only of Delacroix, Gericault, Courbet, etc. What’s interesting is to see the link between the violence of a contemporary artist with that of a Caravaggio, for example. There are some French artists who always deal with the idea or expression of violence. But elegance is not contradictory to violence. Rather elegance means things are measured. I personally don’t patronize elegance, but I don t like vulgarity and the opposite of elegance in contemporary art is very often vulgarity. Sometimes people said that French art is not vulgar enough, well, maybe it’s a fact.
ST: For example, we can’t imagine a French version of Jonathan Meese…
GF: No, this is quite different and is a matter of taste; the expressionist school has never been so popular in France. But I don’t think art is the place for vulgarity and excess… may be excess but not vulgarity.
ST: Is this attitude towards vulgarity shared among the French collectors?
GF: I do not know. There may be French collectors who like vulgarity. In a way, vulgarity is more accessible to young people. It’s a common easy way in the mass media to approach the younger generation. But this should not be the aim of art. Someone said that the aim of art is to make life better than art. Art is there to upgrade oneself. Vulgarity can be a teaser or a weapon to wake up people, but the strength of art is not in vulgarity.
ST: French art is very “clean”. I think a lot of young French artists are very philosophical and meditative in idea and very minimalist and concise in expression. It gives the impression that being a philosopher you have a better chance to establish yourself as a young artist. They love all sorts of cultural theories, always referring to Derrida, Foucault, and now Pierre Bourdieu, etc.
GF: Yes. It’s true that in France we have what is called a literary attitude. I think that one of the most important contemporary artists is Duchamp. Like Duchamp, French artists like to say things with very few words.
ST: Because every artist is a post-conceptualist?
GF: I think there is still a lot of influence from Duchamp. When you look at the artists who are selected into the Marcel Duchamp Prize, I would say 60% are post-conceptualists, and 40% “sensorial”, although some of them want to be both!!!
ST: Now you have 300 members in the ADIAF?
ST: Is there an estimated figure of collectors in France?
GF: I don’t know. I think there a few thousands collectors, some big some small.
ST: I know that ADIAF has a very strict selection in its membership. You have to be nominated by two members in order to be considered. What are the criteria to be a real collector?
GF: The common saying is that when you have not enough space in your own house to put up your works then you become a real collector.
ST: What about if I have a 30 square meter studio?
GF: Then you become a collector much quicker than the others!!!! It really means that passion goes beyond the fact that it will become difficult for you to accumulate works of art. I remember a Russian collector friend who had a very modest home but owned 1,200 pieces of contemporary art which she had put in every corner of her house, under the bed, the sofa, etc. It does not make them negligible collectors. The less money you have, the more discerning you have to be!
ST: What is collecting for you?
GF: Collecting is an addiction. It’s something… maybe we need Freud’s psychological analysis for that! The idea of possessing is important but also all the sensual aspects: looking, touching…caressing. But, today, it’s interesting to know that many collectors just never open their collection, the objects are always stocked away in their boxes.
ST: For pure possession.
GF: To possess, to have influence, to have a big ego or maybe they are too lazy!!!
ST: Thank you!
Installation view of the exhibition De Leurs Temps(3) - 10 years of creation in France – Prix Marcel Duchamp, Musée d’art moderne et contemporain à Strasbourg. Courtesy of ADIAF and MAC de Strasbourg.
10th anniversary exhibition of the Prix Marcel Duchamp:
De Leur Temps (3) – 10 years of creation in France – Prix Marcel Duchamp
06 November 2010 - 13 February 2011
Musée d’art moderne et contemporain à Strasbourg
FRAC Alsace, Sélestat
Click for details…