The art advisor Laurence Dreyfus travels the world in her quest to discover and nurture emerging talents, exhibiting them in unusual temporary spaces – she is the face of the next generation of art world tastemakers.
“I’m in between collectors and galleries but with an independent point of view,” explains Laurence Dreyfus of her role as an art advisor to cultural institutions, companies and private collectors. Yet the fact that her job – which is something of a modern phenomenon in the art world – is often used as a stepping stone to become a gallery owner is of no interest to Dreyfus: “Because I have the distance and have a rhythm that is not hectic I have the possibility make my own selection and to choose like haute couture.”
Indeed, selection is key to Dreyfus who is also a freelance curator. And at her annual selling exhibition that takes place during FIAC, Paris’ leading contemporary art fair, her two roles collide. Now an established part of FIAC’s VIP programme, Chambres à Part sees handpicked collectors invited to view Dreyfus’ latest artist discoveries in an unusual setting. For its fifth edition, that setting is the Imperial Suite at the recently opened Shangri-La hotel and the art being championed offers a dialogue between the Asian, in particular the Chinese, and the Western art scene.
The emerging talents for which Dreyfus is renowned for sourcing on her constant travels this year include the elegant photography of Liu Yue from China, the comical tapestries of Eko Nugroho from Malaysia and the mixed media works of Charlotte Cornaton from France. These are shown alongside more established names such as Zhan Wang, Zhang Huan and rising Chinese art star Yu Hong.
Dreyfus offers insight into this new wave of Chinese contemporary art,: “I feel that the next generation is different to that of 10 years ago because they don’t need anymore to provoke or resist on the political aspect”. It is gems of observations such as this that brings elite collectors back to Dreyfus in search of enlightening art advice. But she is more than a teacher, pushing buyers to refine their taste to the next level. As always, Dreyfus explains her value most succinctly: “I like to bring the collector to a point of avant garde.”
What is your definition of luxury?
Luxury for me is essential and is the time you take for yourself to see what you really like. It is also to give pleasure. I try to give people pleasure both visually and with the place that I choose to exhibit.
You are something of a leading name in Paris art circles but have resisted from opening an actual gallery – why is this?
It’s a conscious decision. The work I’m doing to support the artists that I follow for a very long time and that I feel close to is very complementary to a gallery. What I like and what I need for my profession as an art advisor is to be independent. My background as an art curator gave me the possibility to have this distance. If I had a gallery I would not have the possibility to think, for instance, of what is abstraction art in American, in Europe, or wherever. What I do is a kind of haute couture advisory to select according to the place and to think of what I believe in. I prefer to be really focused on choice rather than on consuming. If I was in the gallery position, I’d be in the consuming position. I prefer to be in the thinking position. At the end of the day, the artwork according to me is forever, or to enjoy for a few years, not for the immediacy.
To be an art advisor is a very modern notion. What does your job actually entail?
Firstly, the role of an art advisor is to know the collector that I decide to work with. To take time to feel in a psychological way what they like and what they need, and how and where they are in the cultural aspect – if they are mature for some works or if they are at the beginning or middle of a collection. My role is to give them the best advice according to their personality and age. That’s the reason why I adapt myself and am very flexible but at the same time I’m straight forward in my vision because I am travelling all around the world to look for what is really interesting art through art fairs, studios and exhibitions. I’m someone who absorbs and focuses on the desire of the collector I advise. It’s a combination of not scaring them and bringing them to a point that is more avant garde. Today the art world is totally international, I give keys and because of those keys, they can open doors and can open their mind and they learn.
Facilitating the breakthrough of emerging artists is a passion of yours – do you see yourself as also providing an advisory service to young artists?
Yes of course. That’s the reason that my work is very close to the gallery. When I follow the artists that I discover, I can share with some galleries that I think their work is very beautiful and interesting. My role is also to bring some artists that I discover to galleries. I have to open their eyes to discover artists that I believe in. It’s about helping the young emerging art scene which is absolutely magical.
Spotting new talent is something that you are renowned for. What is your strategy to discover and nurture new artists?
I don’t have a strategy to discover. It’s really about love and about the emotion I feel when I arrive in the studio and meet the artist. Or the sensation I feel when I arrive back home. I don’t like to feel an urgency to discover. I like to be surprised by artists.
Which emerging artists from this edition of Chambres a Part are you most excited about?
I think Yu Hong, a young Chinese painter who did the two gold paintings in the show, is amazing. I discovered her in Beijing in her studio and I fell in love with the way that she draws and paints the personage. All her works are absolutely interesting and strong. It’s about the happiness and the future of China today. I would also say tha Charlotte Cornaton is a ‘coup de coeur’ because she’s very clever. I feel she is part of a very good new generation emerging in France because she is mixing different media. My other coupe coeur is Eko Nugroho from Malaysia. He daws on embroidery with social characters, a mix of figures and comics. If I could have something for my house, the work of Liu Yue is meditative. His photographs are mysterious and you don’t know what they are. In 10 years these artists will be considered part of the Chinese history of art.
A light sculpture by Olafur Elisason is part of the show – why did you place that in the shower of the Presidential Suite?
Because I couldn’t find any other place and I love the décollage!
This edition of Chambre a Part focuses on Asian, particularly Chinese, artists. What differences do you notice about the new second wave of contemporary Chinese artists?
I feel that the next generation is different to that of 10 years ago because they don’t need anymore to provoke or resist on the political aspect. Of course, there’s still Ai Weiwei but I feel that the second generation of artists between 30 and 40 years old have the experience of the oldest but are more peaceful and secure in what they are doing. When I discovered them, I discovered artists who really know how to paint, who know the excellence of what is drawing or painting a figure, which I think in Europe we have lost a bit. I feel that they absorb the past to transform the contemporary. They are not afraid now, not doing what is expected of them, they know themselves. The future of contemporary Chinese art is at this moment.
Your annual exhibition Chambre a Part works very well and there is a trend towards temporary exhibitions in spaces such as this – why do you think they are so popular?
What I like is to give a complementary feeling to the fair, which is an insecure place. It’s very crazy. I don’t like to spoil my eyes. My eyes are very important because they are my emotion and what I like is to share that with friends and with the people who over the last five years have followed me in this very specific environment. This year is extremely beautiful and magical. Also, I like to be generous and to share these spaces that are otherwise closed to people.
Laurence Dreyfus Art Consulting
Chambres à Part runs until October 23 at the Shangri-La Hotel, Paris, and is by invitation only.