Sébastien Délire (*1974), artist on strike since he started the D&T Project gallery in September 2010 with Gregory Thirion (*1978), who has himself turned down a museum curatorial position to concretize the project with D. Why so? You might ask. A dream comes true. They would reply. The two met in a party in 2009 and shared their echoing dreams, a retreat followed to work out the concept of the project, then months to hunt a space, and another six months to renovate the space all by themselves… “The first test of our compatibility”, they said. Since then, the two can’t be separated.With their particular background in art, the gallery proposes a strong curatorial stand point – politically engaged, thought provoking, never pleasing… A recipe for commercial failure or a strategy for a new art market logic? The young generation has something to say.
Selina Ting [ST] : D&T, why a pas de deux?
Gregory Thirion [GT] : Because we are complementary and we wouldn’t have set up the gallery without the other. For the last 10 years, I had worked in galleries and museums. I had the idea of setting up a gallery long time ago, but it was only when I met Sébastien in 2009 that the project could be realized. Sébastien was an artist. He understands better the sensibility and demands of artists and I am learning all these from him to take better care of the artists.
Sébastien Délire [SD]: And I am learning the métier of gallery with Gregory. As an artist, you always want to go further, to be more radical, but then of course, there is the reality of maintaining a gallery, that a gallery may not be able to meet an artist’s demand.
ST: Where is the limit for you as a gallery?
GT: Let’s say, we don’t like to create conflicts with the others, so we work with artists who share our vision. That’s our limit.
SD: But we always try to give the freedom and possibility to the artists. For example, our first exhibition in the gallery was a solo show of Gianni Motti and there is only one piece of work in the show, First Step in Belgium (2010). It’s was Gianni’s first trip to Belgium and when his plane landed, we waited for him in the airport to have his first step molded and then cast in bronze. Gianni was being very supportive and generous with us. We wanted to be the same with our artists, and even more generous when we can.
GT: Evidently, there is a financial limit. As a young gallery, we won’t be able to support artists’ high production costs and studio rentals, etc. So we prefer to work with artists who are autonomous, like what Gianni said in an interview of having “minimum investment for maximum effect”.
SD: We are from the generation of 1970s. We are very much influenced by the ideas of conceptual art, the value and sacralization of art. In the 1970s, the relationship between galleries and artists was more relaxing and easy. Things happened naturally, ideas came up, projects improvised and done… Today, the mentality is no longer the same.
ST: How would you describe your gallery’s vision then?
SD: Our idea is to be in our time but keep a root in the conceptual tradition. We are thinking of a gallery with a vision of the world, of the society and of the political system.
ST: In the last 2 years, there are around 10 new galleries set up in Brussels. There are also big galleries setting up a satellite space here. How do you differentiate your gallery from the others?
GT: We don’t have any strategy to differentiate ourselves from the others, that’s for sure. But we are the only young gallery that focuses on curating thematic exhibitions.
SD: As I just said, we grew up with conceptual art in the 1970s, we have a lot of respect for our pioneers such as Bernd Lohaus of Wide White Space Gallery, collectors such as Herman Daled, curator Harald Szeemann with whom I got the chance to work with. These people opened our minds and eyes. Now, time has changed, we are not just in conceptual art but in the art of our time. That’s why there is a line of thought in our exhibitions that closely links to the actuality. This makes us different from the others.
ST: Are there galleries that you feel artistically close to?
SD: I think Gallery Meessen De Clercq. Though we don’t have the same vision of art, I think our ways of working are closer. Olivier Meessen is an art historian, he has a very strong curatorial statement in his exhibitions and his shows are very well constructed. This doesn’t just give a strong content to the gallery programme but also to the art. Perhaps that’s the missing element in some galleries. Jan Mot Gallery is very conceptual and there is a strong logic in the programme. Jan Mot has an international recognition for his work and we are very proud of having a gallery owner like him in Belgium. For us, we are interested in well-curated thematic group shows and we publish newsletters, texts for exhibitions, etc. to document the activities and the artists’ work.
ST: In Frieze 2011, you presented a project by Elena Bajo, The Pervasive Element, which is a roll of used cardboard for building the Frieze art fair and a pile of printed free handouts resembles The Times newspaper. That’s very audacious!
SD: We love the artist and we want to promote her work. She’s going to do a great project for the gallery in May 2012.
GT: It was a fantastic experience because six months after opening the gallery, we were selected in Frieze. I guess such thing had never happened in Frieze before. That was very impressive. Elena Bajo’s project was a great success. Now, an important gallery is running after her.
ST: That’s always a problem for young galleries. After investing years in their artists and once the artists became known, big galleries are after them.
SD: We would be happy to collaborate if huge galleries in other regions want to work with our artists. The artists we worked with never exhibited in Belgium, so we are the first to introduce them here, but no way for a Belgian gallery to pick our artists!
ST: You said none of the artists you represent works in Belgium, but there are a lot of artists working in Brussels.
GT: It’s not our choice not to work with artists from Belgium but we are still looking for the right artists to work with. Just at the corner next to our gallery, there is a whole building of artists, but most of them work with big galleries. The artists wait and see what we are doing as well. Now, they start coming to our exhibitions! And the art students, they are coming as well.
GT: Once you are accepted and integrated into the art scene, in the gallery life in Brussels, it’s fantastic. There are more senior gallery owners, like Albert Baronian who is very supportive and attentive to young galleries. The market here is always active and the galleries are always here. Everybody survives the financial crisis.
ST: Belgium has the highest concentration of art collectors in proportion to the population size and they are very active. What are your observations on their behavior?
GT: Belgian collectors are very discrete. They take time to make a purchase. They observe what a gallery is proposing and they wait to see the development of a gallery. They are very loyal to the galleries they work with. So, it can tough for young galleries because it takes time for a collector to be interested in a young gallery when they have a long-term collaboration with more established galleries. Once a collector becomes involved in a gallery, the relationship can be very interesting. We don’t necessarily talk about sells and purchases, but simply having a drink together, visiting exhibitions together, etc. That’s what we are trying to do, to establish a friendly personal relationship with the collectors instead of taking them as clients. After all, we are not just salespersons in relation to the collectors, we are also art lovers. Sometimes, the relationship becomes something else, we know that the collector is not going to buy from us, but we are very good friends and we share lots of things.
SD: There are galleries that work very closely with their collectors. They can pass directly to the sales and even influence the collectors’ decision. We are a young gallery, and we are thinking in the long term, which means, if we can transmit the message, the spirit of the gallery to someone, then, you create something for the gallery as well as for the collector, and the artists would be very happy to have their works enter in a good collection.
ST: That’s exactly my impression of the Belgian gallery owners as well. They are not pushy in selling, and they are friendly and casual. Perhaps that’s from the style of the collectors here. So, despite the time element that you mentioned, it’s still easier for a young gallery to gain access to the collectors compared to other cities such as Paris, London, New York…
GT: Yes, but our approach is not to run after collectors. Instead, we want to arouse their interest in our programme and convince them that it’s worthwhile to follow our activities. At the same time, we work a lot with the institutions. Our artists are very visible and supported by the institutions. For example, Mona Vatamanu and Florin Tudor are shown in the Mac’s now and had given conference in the WIELS with Nicoline van Harskamp (who had a also a performance in Kaaistudio). Elena Bajo has just shown in Extracity and residence in Germany, Gianni Motti is having an exhibition in BPS22, Charleroi, etc. In one and a half year, all these artists who were not represented in Belgium before had one or more events in a Belgian institution. Their works are presented in the institutional collections. Also we did Frieze last October, and in February, we did Art Rotterdam with a project by Zachary Formwalt and we won the Illys Prize in the New Art Section. This year, we will participate in Art Brussels and Loop in Barcelona. So at a certain point, the collectors would be interested to follow our program. Right now, we have a really good relationship with the public and the institutions and it become stronger with the private collectors and they started attending our events.
ST: Someone commented that Belgian collectors prefer to buy aboard instead of homely in Belgium, is it true?
GT: I think it’s true everywhere. Belgian collectors tend to buy at fairs than in galleries, but even if they buy in fairs abroad, they buy from Belgian galleries.
GT: It’s an event, a context when people share a lot of things. Belgian collectors are very discrete. They don’t like being seen buying a work at an opening, but they don’t have this kind of problem at art fairs.
SD: There is no recipe for a collector to buy a work. Everyone is different in their habit and psychology. Sometimes, they just come without warning on a Saturday afternoon and buy a piece that they have already seen during the opening. Sometimes, the purchase was made during a dinner or a drink. Everything can happen.
ST: Thank you very much!
D+T PROJECT Gallery
Rue Bosquetstraat 4,
1060 Brussels Belgium