Valérie, you now have an exceptional space in Ixelle, could you tell me about yourself, your background and how you came to create a space in Belgium, you who are French?
Passionate about art, I learned everything on the job. Indeed, I don't come from an academic background in art history but from a business school. After my studies, chance led me to work in a Parisian gallery. It was work and encounters that allowed me to open my own space. The job of gallery owner cannot be learned from books, it's very complex, it's a passion, it requires a lot of investment, empathy and psychology. You have to manage a big family on a daily basis: artists and collaborators.
Could you tell me about this place "La Patinoire Royale" that you have transformed into a space for contemporary art?
La Patinoire royale, or "Royal Skating Rink" as it was then called by the people of Brussels, was built in 1877, is in the heart of the Saint-Gilles district. The building, which originally housed roller skaters, was converted into a Bugatti garage in 1900. Five years later, it was used as a depot for the National War Weapons Factory in Herstal. After the Second World War, the ice rink was again used as a garage by the company Siemens and then, in 1975, as an exhibition space for vintage cars. In 2007, seduced by the architectural and historical strength of the place, I wished to bring it back to life, which had been abandoned since the 2000s. The architect Jean-Paul Hermant and the interior designer Pierre Yovanovitch were in charge of the renovation of the space, and it was after 7 years of work that we were able to inaugurate the place.
You seem to have a rather committed curatorial line, could you describe to me your selection process in terms of the artists represented?
It's an atypical place for an atypical programming. First of all, women artists: for example, the current exhibition “American Women” gives voice to 16 visual artists questioning the role of women and their relationship to the body in the public versus private spheres, the determination due to gender and origins, and more generally the issue of discrimination on which the journalist Gloria Steinem has worked a lot. I have also exhibited twice Alice Anderson, who explores several mediums such as wire and copper to memorize objects and places in the form of conceptual and minimalist totems. Most recently in the exhibition Sacred Gestures in Data Worlds, she adapts her reflection on memory in the context of our digital age.
Then I would say “monumentality”, for example, Carlos Cruz Diez's "Labyrinthe de Transchromie", which we exhibited in April 2019 at the gallery, then under the nave of the Grand Palais during the Biennale of the same year. There was also the retrospective devoted to the two geniuses of "spatial arrangement" - the French architect and designer Jean PROUVE and the Greek sculptor Vassilakis TAKIS (1925) - for which we reassembled a mobile home by Prouvé in the gallery. Or the creations of the Franco-Luxembourgish tandem Feipel Bechameil, exhibited three times at the gallery and whose creations we saw in Paris, in the heart of the Chapelle du Saint Esprit (75005) during the nuit blanche 2019, a large bell in polyester resin from which came the sacred music of the Seven Deadly Sins, reviewed by the Belgian musician and composer Chris Christoffels.
Finally, I am very touched by the strong aesthetic of the works. I choose to exhibit artists who transmit an emotion, and whose work is transcendental. There is a real identity in my programming. I travel, I go to meet the artists, there is a very human, even intimate relationship with them similar to a family. We choose each other, there is a common trust, we don't sign a contract. It's like with the visitors, what is key for me is to give, it's the human relationship, it's to do it with heart. I imagine that this must be felt in our programming.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for a contemporary art gallery today?
To continue to exist. A gallery is like a neighbourhood shop, we have to face the unlimited competition of a globalized market and at the same time we see a revival towards local consumption, as with neighbourhood shops... This crisis at COVID-19 will perhaps help to calm the frenzy of exhibitions and allow us to spend more time on site managing local exhibitions and focusing on discovering new artists and managing relationships with them.
Do you observe any change from your beginnings?
There are undoubtedly more galleries, more exhibitions and an even more mercantile spirit...And at the same time the great debate of "collector versus investor" is not new! We were already talking about it 25 years ago... the only difference is that today everything is going faster! With the evolution of technology and the democratization of access to information on the Internet, collectors no longer come looking for information as they now know almost more than we do. And then the media contribution of digital is crazy! When you think that when I started out, I had to bring in a professional to take photos of the works, it cost a fortune and it took you all day! Then you had to send them to the clients by post.... Today in a few seconds you have already taken and distributed the photo to thousands of people all over the world.
What do you think of the current environmental challenge?
It's an issue that concerns me a lot! We don't realize it, but it's a real threat. Obviously we need to slow down, travel less, avoid flying from one lounge to another and focus on the local!