Artistic Director of La Centrale, Carine Fol presents “Private Choices”, a selection of eleven collections of contemporary art from Brussels. Conceptual objects, political pieces and even sensual images… Eleven intimate adventures running until 27 May. Interview.
La Centrale is Belgium’s hotspot for contemporary creativity. The art center is sponsored by the city of Brussels and is located in a former power station on Place Sainte-Catherine. Carine Fol, artistic director of this extraordinary place, has brought the programming here to life since 2012. An art historian and specialist in “outsider” art, for the past ten years this supercharged woman has directed Art & Marges, a singular space dedicated to the creation of asylum and to self-taught artists. Today, at La Centrale, she’s receiving an ambitious exhibition; “Private Choices”. Eleven collections of contemporary art from within Brussels… with just as many varying perspectives on the world.
‘Private Choices’, is the story of eleven adventures – sometimes intimate, sometimes intellectual, often sensitive… What’s the thinking behind the exhibition?
I wanted to show the decisive, and increasingly important role that collectors play in the field of contemporary art. I also wanted to explore their freedom with regard to public collections, with intuition being an important factor in many of the collections. I think that this exhibition, with 250 works of art, breaks down the preconceived idea of a collector – the image of a player in the art market who invests in contemporary art for speculative purposes. Collectors actually take a lot of risks, and are often very close to the artists. In Frédéric de Goldschmidt’s collection, we have Cy Twombly alongside the work of a student just out of art school, demonstrating that often gut feeling is really what informs a decision. Those decisions, as part of a museum institution, more often take place in the context of a project; the choices are part of a vision for the future. They are often less spontaneous, less inspired.
What does this tell us about the art world, but also about the world as a whole?
It tells us a lot about the world as a whole. The Nicole and Olivier G. collection for example, is a reflection of a strong social commitment. Olivier G. is a former financier who left to focus on the provision of microcredit and his choice of works tends towards very political pieces. These pieces respond to socio-economic concerns, address the issues of neo-derivatives, information, democracy and surveillance. Many here collect with an acute awareness of the world in which they live. Contrary to popular assumption, the decorative function of a piece is generally of little relevance. I could quote Alain Servais on this; he thinks that to start a collection, one must first get rid of the beauty. A collector is not shy of gravitating towards work that they do not like, addressing the notions of power and violence and even examining the paradigm of human and bestiality. The different perspectives of these eleven collections are varied, ranging from more modest pieces to the most incredible installations, with philosophical or aesthetic interests, or perhaps anthropological issues, in the background.
I imagine that you have been influenced by the “Private Passions” exhibition at the City of Paris Museum of Modern Art in 1995. Over twenty years later, what has changed?
I think collectors still have a more important role yet to play. These big names of the art trade, whether they are French or American, determine today what falls within the scope of contemporary art. This was not the case previously, and it represents a major change. Between private and public, the roles have shifted, or even swapped places. Increasingly, collectors, like Walter Vanhaerents, open their own place with the desire to share their collection. It is a fairly new approach. Previously, artwork would come to light when it was donated. Now, although some collectors want anonymity, secrecy no longer prevails and the private sphere is less private. The collector has a role, perhaps as the prescriber- often as the diffuser. It is true that the exhibition mounted by Suzanne Pagé in 1995, “Private Passions”, had a big impact on me. As did “L’intime, le collectioneur derriere la porte”, presented at the Red House in 2004 by Antoine de Galbert, where the space of the collection was represented? in a scenography. In the first exhibition, I think the human dimension, the personified figure of the collector was missing; in the second, the décor was too invasive. With ‘Private Choices’, I tried to find a suitable balance.
How was it choosing these eleven Brussels contemporary art collections?
I wanted to respect the plurality of the angles and approaches. An exhibition is always an alchemy between the choice of work – or collectors in this case – and of the exhibition space. If possible, it’s best to try to find the perfect balance between art and architecture. Here you have wealthy collectors, seeking museum-quality pieces as well as others with a more modest budget, who might be buying works on paper due to financial constraints. Then you have the psychoanalytic Galila collection, an unusual, slightly surreal collection, where valuable work goes hand in hand with the worthless. There’s also the invisible collection’ of Christophe Veys, who chose to articulate a whole collection around the eponymous novel by Stefan Zweig, which tells the story of a blind collector describing his engravings. Veys writes his own story, about an art lover who loses his money and has no place where he might live with his work – very conceptual, and closely related to the language and the demonstration – and thanks to this exhibition, this work will finally have a chance to be seen.
Beyond artworks, you care about the role of the collector. How does he influence the art market today?
I think intuition is the common denominator here. It is found even among those collectors whose approach is more conceptual or in those who choose to develop a particular theme. Intuition is a feeling beyond the rational form or idea that resonates in itself, even if the collection remains underpinned by a vision of the world. Moreover, many collectors define themselves as transmiters; intermediaries between the artist and the public, which is fairly new still from “Private Passions”. The question of traceability is also important – the idea that the collection might survive the collector. Opinions can differ wildly- some people think of their children, others consider their own demise to be the end of the adventure. Collecting, is in any case, a look on the world and at oneself. It is always reflexive. As Jean Baudrillard said, “we will always collect ourselves…”
Is this what made putting the exhibition together complicated?
It was a journey of great diversity. Of course it’s a challenging thing to organise these projects and and then put them to the test by exhibiting them to the public. I conceived the set design with the idea that I would invite every collector to attend the assembly of the exhibition. Two or three of them actually had very specific ideas. As I myself work following my own logic and intuition, I felt this process could resonate with them. To give visitors the most intimate, immersive experience possible, I also asked each of the collectors to choose a book and a piece of music- something out of their comfort zone.
It is often said that a coherent, successful collection is one that tells a story, one that manages to establish a dialogue between the works…
The same can also be said for an exhibition. I love that a story is is told with its own pace and trajectory. Here, the consistency is in diversity, in the sense that you enter a different universe each time you look at a collection. At Frederick Goldschmidt, for example, the choice of white itself, echos historical parts of the ZERO Group in an aesthetic of economy, drawing more attention to the light and textures. It’s a magnificent collection.
Having curated these collections, would you say that collectors tend to have an overwhelming passion for accumulation?
Fill in the blanks, fill the absence… The search for what is missing, Yes, definitely. With one of the collectors, the collection began after the death of his spouse, in order to fill time and space. For others, it is a search for oneself through the quest of the work, an inner journey, guided by artists through sometimes unknown lands. It is a dialogue which always involves a challenge, forcing collectors to reposition themselves continually.
One final word; Harald Szeemann is the inspiring curator behind the ‘When attitudes take form’ exhibition at the Kunsthalle Bern in 1969. Would you say that Szeemann remains a role model for you?
Harald Szeemann remains a model by his freedom, his vision on man and on art, which for him as for me are inseparable. The reflexion can never be purely intellectual, there are always some ties to reality. In any case, this is what interests me, the intimacy- some form of humanism. That’s what Szeemann came to show, beyond the categories. He did it in a chaotic way – I would call it Visual Poetry – where we felt an incredible ‘intensity’, to use a word which he used so often. Szeemann is indeed a model.
La Centrale for Contemporary Art
Raising the international profile of the contemporary art scene in Brussels, exploring new talent… La Centrale for Contemporary Art has a big job on its hands and is sparing no effort. Inaugurated in June 2006, this contemporary art centre linked to the City of Brussels is constantly evolving. Thematic exhibitions, collaborations with art schools within Brussels, interactive projects with Belgian artists in residence; it is open to everyone, both globally and locally (situated on Place Sainte-Catherine). Its site? A semi-industrial area of 1,000 m2 with two integrated satellites. LaCentrale.box, is a space dedicated to emerging talent, where an artist has a solo show which runs alongside the main exhibition and the Centrale.lab is a laboratory dedicated to artists from Brussels under the age of 35 years old. Working on the basis of an annual call for projects, it offers the opportunity for artists to design their first personal exhibition. The centre is run by DIrector Pascale Salesse, accompanied Carine Fol, the inspired – and inspirational – curator managing the artistic approach.
“Private Choices. Eleven Brussels collections of contemporary art” runs until 27th May. La Centrale for Contemporary Art. 44 place Sainte-Catherine, 1000 Brussels. www.centrale.brussels