Le Consortium

The new issue of Catalogue is now up, and there's a lot of interesting stuff there. Thomas Hirschorn, Simon Starling, a survey of contemporary artists working in Morocco... and an interview I did with Franck Gautherot from Le Consortium in Dijon.

Franck Gautherot

Dijon’s Le Consortium is a burning core of artistic experimentation and investigation – the list of international and French artists who have shown there in the last thirty years bears witness to the unflinching vision of its curatorial team, comprised of Franck Gautherot, Xavier Douroux and Eric Troncy. Cindy Sherman exhibited at Le Consortium in 1982, Hans Haacke in 1986, On Kawara in 1990 … Gautherot tells the story of a venue for which nothing is forbidden.

How did you meet Xavier Douroux?

In the 70s there were a number of us ex-students in Dijon with a growing interest in contemporary art. Serge Lemoine was teaching history of art at the university at the time, and he used to invite many artists and critics to give lectures. We started by filming interviews with these people. In 1977 we founded a non-profit organisation called Le Coin du Miroir and started putting on shows in a small space above an alternative bookshop. There was a lot of tension with the people who ran the bookshop, and with the public who thought that contemporary art was just a bourgeois hobby. We were just starting out, we didn’t know much about contemporary art ourselves and having to come up with arguments in support of what we were doing, as we were doing it, was really useful.

Which artists were most important to you at the time?

The 1920s, constructivism, concrete art, American minimalism and conceptual art – these radical, often foreign, schools of thought. At the same time, we were showing Christian Boltanski, Annette Messager, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Urs Lüthi … We hated surrealism and Supports/Surfaces. And the French free figuration movement, which to us was an absolute disgrace. For a long time, we suffered for being this independent. People used to say that we were foreign agents … It took a long time before exhibiting international artists in France was accepted.

How did the Consortium itself come about?

The bookshop closed down in 1981 and in 1982 we rented out an old shop. There was a neon sign outside, and so we decided to keep it and the name it bore: ‘Le Consortium.’ One of the guys who had been working in the bookshop left for New York and came back a bit later with a punk group – they didn’t have a name, only a sign: a circle with an X. They stayed in Dijon for a while and we did a concert and an album with them. That guy went on to organise the first European tours for guys like Afrika Bambaataa. He then became a journalist and most recently took onLes Inrockuptibles – a French equivalent of Dazed and Confused. His name is Bernard Zekri and he was in that bookshop – he saw his first contemporary art shows with us! It was a fertile time in Dijon with a lot of cross-pollination. The Consortium became Xavier and I, and an artist called Eric Colliard. We carried on working together until 1995, when Eric was killed in a car crash. Eric Troncy then joined us in 1996 as co-director and Seungduk Kim followed in 2000 as associate curator and director for international projects.

I find it telling that you had such strong links with punk and rap – movements that are as fiercely independent as you are.

Music was really important to us and it’s true that we had that same DIY approach. At the beginning we had this stamp that read ‘THE ART GANG’ and we’d stamp everything with it. People thought we were kind of radical. It is a punk thing to say ‘We don’t give a shit and we’ll do whatever we want.’ And we come across this same idea all the time. When we met Yayoi Kusama, her credo was: ‘I have done and I will do what I please.’ Ignoring obstacles, just going straight ahead, regardless. You construct yourself in opposition to things.

How do you navigate the space between commercial galleries and public institutions?

From the outset we decided that we would allow ourselves to do whatever we needed to do. However the fact that we had a collection and that we sometimes sold works didn’t go down well, especially with commercial galleries. It wasn’t until we were invited to show our collection in the Dijon/Le Consortium.coll: Tout Contre l'Art Contemporainexhibition at the Pompidou Centre in 1998 that things began to change. For us, it was always about looking at and building things. When you do a show, you have to decide who you’re doing it for. One option is to work for the audience – to show the state of things as a journalist might. We weren’t interested in doing that – we were our own audience and if other people found what we were doing interesting, then great, but it didn’t change anything if they didn’t. Most art centres became public institutions, a kind of municipal service provider. And they were funded as such, whereas we had to fight for every last cent. This meant though that we were never dependent on anyone else. And we’ve always wanted this. Politicians like this, for obvious reasons, especially in an economic downturn when there’s no money around. And it keeps us free.

Has working as a small group been a strength for you?

Yes, it’s a strange kind of arrangement that’s been working for about thirty-three years. And no one really understands it. We don’t speak much – we bump into each other from time to time, but we don’t have meetings to make decisions. If one of us has an idea, they know the others will agree to it.

How do you build up lasting relationships with artists?

If someone comes to us with an idea, they can be sure we’ll listen to whatever they have to say, and artists have always understood this. They have led us to doing things we’d never really planned on doing, such as setting up the Presses du Réel publishing house in 1992, or the film production company Anna Sanders Films in 1997. When Eric Troncy joined the team in 1996, he brought a new generation of artists with him, including Liam Gillick and Philippe Parreno, who organised a group show entitled Moral Maze. Save for a few names, the roster of artists in that show reads as a list of today’s stars: Maurizio Cattelan, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Douglas Gordon, among others. A number of group shows served a similar purpose for us in forging our identity. Our first exhibitions, such asMise en Pièces, Mises en Place, Mise au Point in 1981 with, among others, Daniel Buren, Niele Toroni and Sol LeWitt, allowed us to figure out our relationship to conceptual minimalism – to come to grips with it in order to move on. The artists who came with Eric were younger than us and we needed to understand what they were about and where they were coming from. We discovered we had connections, a shared admiration for people like Michael Asher or Dan Graham.

Somehow you seem to be more like artists than like other art centres …

Well, we try, but it gets more difficult with age … Art gives you tools that allow you to understand, if not to appreciate, a whole raft of things. That said, there comes a time when being able to say whether something is any good is more difficult.

Didn’t you always find that difficult?

No, because things were – or at least seemed to us to be – set. With time, you become more attentive, whereas in the beginning you need to make hard and fast decisions. And then later on you realise that there were things you missed – Martin Kippenberger, for example. The Lynda Benglis exhibition we did in 2010 brought home to us once again quite how much the 70s had been rewritten by the white American male. Artists like Benglis were exhibited but somehow they weren’t seen, because they were more on the periphery. And it’s only now that we’re realising how important they were. If someone had told us, 15 or 20 years ago, that we’d be working with Kusama now, we’d have laughed in their face.

Your new building, the Usine, will open to the public in May 2011. Can you talk about that new space?

Architecture has always been a way for us to challenge ourselves. Shigeru Ban is the architect working on the refurbishment of this old factory, following plans drawn up by the Swiss architect Rémy Zaugg. Part of it is this ridiculously huge white cube. We needed something that we couldn’t quite handle, from the start. And it will be a challenge for the artists we invite to make work there too. There will be other spaces given over to Pierre Huyghe for his association des Temps Libérés, which he founded in 1995, after theMoral Maze show. We’re also going to host the Paris-based graphic designers M/M’s archives, as well as our own collection. We are donating the latter to the city of Dijon but will be able to carry on using it. For the opening, we’ll have a new work by Kusama, a piece by Richard Prince, a work by Cattelan will be reinstalled and other things. Making this space work is a big challenge – who knows, we might not be up to it. But as long as we’re having fun …


Overduin and Kite, Los Angeles

I did an interview with Overduin and Kite a while ago. It wasn't published, but here it is. I'm really looking forward to going to LA one of these days to meet them and see their space. Our exchange left me intrigued and curious.

Top: Installation view, Nick Relph solo show at Overduin and Kite, Los Angeles, 2010. Above: Lisa Overduin, Merlin Carpenter and Kristina Kite at the opening of Carpenter's show at Formalist Sidewalk Poetry Club, Miami, 2010 (Courtesy of Overduin and Kite) 
Cultivating a certain mystery, in keeping with many of their artists, Lisa Overduin and Kristina Kite have established themselves as one of the most noteworthy galleries in LA right now. They opened their Sunset Boulevard space, two contiguous converted storefronts off the beaten 10-stop-gallery track, in 2007: “We both studied at Berkeley and lived in San Francisco for a while. When we met through mutual friends in LA, we knew almost immediately we wanted to open a gallery together.” Their keen instinct and daring vision was evident from their very first move: a solo show by avant-garde film-maker and artist Tony Conrad. As inspirations, they cite unconventional models – Gordon Matta-Clark's 70s Soho restaurant, Food, and Barney Rosset of Grove Press, who introduced the US to Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and Harold Pinter… The numerous shows, events and projects they’ve done since, with artists including Dan Graham, Guy de Cointet, Mike Kelley and Lee Lozano, have cemented this independent approach, while boldly asserting their position as dealers to be reckoned with. “We're definitely interested in experimentation in terms of our program but the gallery is a commercial space and we don't see a conflict there. We're happy to do everything we can to support our artists and help make it possible for them to continue to make their work.” Firmly embedded within the LA scene, they represent, among others, Barry Johnston, Stephen G Rhodes and Erika Vogt, alongside international figures including Merlin Carpenter, Marc Camille Chaimowicz and Haim Steinbach. "We're just opening a show with British artist Merlin Carpenter which features 20 near-identical abstract paintings, evenly hung throughout the space alongside Technogym treadmills. At Art Basel this year, we'll be doing a solo presentation with an artist we've just started working with, Kaari Upson. Many of our friends had been telling us we had to meet Kaari. When we finally went to her studio, we were so impressed with the scope and depth of her project. " At the heart of all they do is a love entrenched for the art they present: “We just enjoy showing work in LA that we've always wanted to see here.”


Short #2: Radiohead, I Might Be Wrong (Amnesiac)

 While 'I Might Be Wrong' might have become a live favourite with a harder edge and a racing heart, the album version retains a grace that doesn't seem to translate to the stage. The scene opens with a slow-motion, booming arpeggio, up and back down, each successive note held to form a deep vibrating chord underpinning first the guitar, then the beat and finally Thom's voice as he wails the opening, titular line, his "wrong" sustained in resonant organum harmony, before the chord fades out. The whole thing is built on a looping modular structure, with Jonny's jagged blues riff and Phil's beat pulled taut and dry, together drawing the steady straight line the track unwaveringly adheres to. Layers are constantly added. Additional percussive loops shake, slide and pull at the edges of the central beat, threatening to unravel or smother it. Various keyboard motifs thicken the whole, mirroring the rhythmic pattern of the guitar riff while multiplying the harmonics. The bass line doubles its notes, long extended droning notes soar low, the tension mounts until at 3:48 it all just dissipates, leaving Jonny to tease out a tune so soulful, so unexpected - like John Frusciante in the agony of Niandra Lades - before the beat and the buzzing gristle return and Thom swoons, high and lonesome. It is a moment of suspension you never wish to end.

Short #1: Radiohead, Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Can (Amnesiac))

So The Quietus asked me to write about two of my favourite Radiohead tracks for a piece they published today about the band beyond the hits. The piece is here, and this is the first song I wrote about.

 An anxious clanging kicks this track off, propelling it forward as if in mid-stride. The sample - a metallic drumming, with the tonal ring and off-kilter pattern of metal wires involuntarily thrust against hollow masts in a weather-beaten harbour - is overlaid with a crisp drum machine beat, all snare and mid-range. A two-tone keyboard melody appears, hanging from a middle D played over and over as the bassline follows a downward progression. Thom starts singing from the same middle note, his lyrics building a sense of time counted yet unfathomable. "After years of waiting, nothing came". The keyboard and vocal parts weave in and out of each other as a soured, grizzly guitar curls in with extended harmonium-style notes, creating an almost medieval polyphony that is poked and flicked at by clicks and cuts, static rhythms and electronic interference. Playful breaks, created with EQ changes, flashes of reverb and staggered delay, open it all out, as sampled voices sneak into the undergrowth. One growls and purrs, stuttering, the panning shifting back and forth. Another intones "please don't stop" repeatedly, like Kubrick's HAL on the verge of hyperventilation. Thom chants "get off my case" again and again. The melody returns. And then it's done. A second of quiet before the falling depths of the 'Pyramid Song'. 'Packt Like Sardines' sets the tone for an album uneasy from start to finish, holding its breath with watery eyes and Thom's own spasmodic shaking of hand.


Hannah Barry

Hannah Barry (courtesy mawi.co.uk)

I met with Hannah Barry in January for a short piece I was doing for this month's Nylon on interesting, young female gallerists. I'd met her once before at a Parasol Unit event, and found her a little intimidating. Though she comes across as somewhat austere and exacting, she is in fact incredibly warm, and generous of herself and her time. And listening to her talk about her artists, you can't escape the sheer love she has for them. It was a pleasure. The March issue of Nylon is out now – the final edit was really short, but Hannah said a lot of good things, so here below is the full interview.

When did you open the gallery?
We started in january 2008. I really fell into doing it, it wasn’t something I had ever intended to do. For about a year and a half prior to that, we made exhibitions in an old shared house. It was just a project – we converted some of the rooms into beautiful spaces where we could show works of art by single artists, one solo show per month for 10 months. 

Who were the artists you were working with at the time?
The five artists with whom we began doing this programme are still with us – Shaun McDowell, Bobby Dowler, James Capper, Edward Wallace and Christopher Green. From then on, it just continued in a natural way. We’ve added other artists over time, and we’ve started working with a number of international names. 

So it wasn’t your ambition to have a gallery, or even a curator – how did you come to art?
I had always looked at art, from a very early age. I felt it was a big privilege to work with artists – to spend your day-to-day with them, talking with them and trying to help and build opportunities for people who didn’t have them, because you believed that what you were seeing was some revelation. 

Which writers, curators, events had been influential for you?
There were a number of people. I knew what Leo Castelli had done, how he had supported artists, the patience he had, over and over again he waited for artists to come into their own. I admired Becky Parsons, Karsten Schubert and the early days of White Cube; I read David Sylvester. I remember going to the New Museum in New York when I was about 18 for a William Kentridge show [in 2001] and really not being able to forget that experience. I also remember seeing a Botticelli show at the RA [Botticelli's Dante: The Drawings for the Divine Comedy, 2001] and thinking about how that complete presentation of an artist’s work was exciting. I didn’t see Sensation, but I did see Apocalypse, and all of that was exciting too. I think I was very interested in organisations – I knew what the Whitechapel had done and how Modern Art Oxford had been one of the leading European institutions. All sorts of things like that... a big melting pot of information.

Were you interested in the production of art from the outset?
I was interested in the experience of art, and how to make that available to people. I have just been reading a lot about the de Menils, and what they did – its all about helping people really. Of course, the nuances of what help you’re giving are quite varied. Helping raise a price, helping by introducing this or that person, helping organising an accountant...

And now that you’re in it, you’re learning as you go – if it wasn’t your ambition before I guess you’d never really imagined a structure before?
No I hadn’t. You can, of course, learn by being in a gallery and then going on to have your own. But I think there’s also a virtue to not knowing and to being quite ignorant– something that isn’t like anything else. I really feel like we’re just at the beginning of it. I feel that you have to be really patient, really patient. The artists that we’ve had the chance to work with have been able to make progress. I believe that a lot of the artworks that have passed through our hands in these two and a half years will be there in 50 or 100 years, people will go to see them again. I have that feeling about them – I can’t put it into words. If you know things really well, they stay in your mind. If they have any quality of aliveness, then they’re there, and just because somebody else can’t see what the meaning or value of that thing is right now doesn’t mean that in time they wont come to recognise it. At the same time, that artist making that thing is alive, living today – and a young artist breaking ground, or proving ground, needs all the help they can get. 

You have said before that you strongly believe that not having any money shouldn’t prevent you from doing things. That seems to me such an important thing to say.
I do. I have never had any money. At the same time, I acknowledge the critical importance of having to pay the bills. You need money to be able to produce art  – and so you have to make it. I’ve always felt that you don’t need huge financial backing. Of course it would be helpful to have a fund of money. But if you don’t have that you can either say “I can’t do it”, or you say “well, how can I do it without?” All the things we’ve done have been without funding. When we started the gallery a friend of mine loaned us £1,000 to help with the first costs. But since then we haven’t any additional money put in.

That makes you strong.
It does – it certainly makes you more courageous. 

When you’re looking at artists, do you have a sense of what you’re looking for?
It is more to do with intuition. I know that there’s an awful lot out there that it would be a great privilege to work with and that other people do a magnificent job with. It’s very important to know that. I don’t look for anything in particular. I’m always trying to surrender. Ultimately the work of art is more powerful than you or me – it might still be here when we are both long gone. And the goal is to somehow do something that shows that work to people in such a way that they understand or see something new. Artists are like special messengers of information spoken in a very particular visual or aural language. 

Looking through your roster of artists, you get a definite sense of a particular aesthetic, a strong vision.
Maybe it’s to do with stripping down. Things that almost seem spare, not bare but spare, calm, quiet. Things that are so quiet that they could maybe pass you by, and yet when you spend long enough with them they are very powerful. It requires a sort of meditation. Just a few weeks ago I learned the TM form of meditation which involves a constant stripping down and repetition. And I thought maybe this is what I’ve been doing. A constant repetition which leads to revelation. And maybe that’s why I’m so sure about the works, because they seem to be slowly revealing themselves. There might be something that instantly hits you and draws you back again and again – something there that you anchor yourself to. Or it might just be an overall feeling of mysteriousness. I’m very content to look at the same thing over and over again, to spend time with things. But this doesn’t only apply to the artists I work with – I do find that with lots of other artists too. 

Is it the idea of something withstanding intense and repeated visiting or investigation?
Yeah, something that is still there when you come back. Why is it there? I don’t have any works of art around in my home – I have very little furniture, very few clothes, but I do have a box of drawings and I look at them over and over. I edit, move things out, swap things around... I think I go home to sleep and let things settle then I wake up and go out into the world again. I like that process. Going back into the world, taking its onslaught and then retreating again. 

Do you internalise the art a lot?
With making exhibitions you want to make an experience that the visitor can take away with them. Someone once said to me the most important thing is when you turn your back on a work of art and you can still feel it’s there. I think it’s true. 

Do you enjoy taking part in every aspect of setting up a show?
I believe that that’s how you get great shows. I work towards the best outcome, whether that means minimal input or intense input. I would never try to impose myself if it wasn’t needed. The artist is a good judge of that. I also rely heavily on the people I work with. I couldn’t manage without them. It’s a constant dialogue – are we doing this? Should we do that? Is this the right price? Is there a better quality? Can we get it a different way?

Do you have a clear idea of where you’re headed and what you want to do with the gallery?
I don’t think I have a plan as such. I just want to make really good programmes, and to continue to grow the artists that we look after. New people come in, opportunities come up and we decide whether we can take them on or not. I have much a clearer idea of what I want to do with the annual sculpture project, Bold Tendencies, than of what I want to do with the gallery. It is now separate from the gallery because it needed to be its own thing – it’s a big public project. So there is now a curatorial committee, of which I am not a part, which votes to select the artists we commission. At the moment we are finalising the shortlist of the artists for this year’s show which will open on June 30. The show lasts for 3 months. Last year we had just over 45,000 visitors. This year, in addition to Frank’s Cafe and Campari Bar, we’re building two new buildings up there – a lecture theatre and a kiosk, by the same architects, Practice Architecture's Lettice Drake and Paloma Gormley. It’s the beginning of making it into a more permanent institution. It will also have a proper education programme as well as a dynamic schedule of public lectures, to create a real community around the project, a way for people to engage with it. We’re also currently building a library in Peckham for contemporary art monographs. We have about 25,000 books - it’s a much longer project. It’ll probably be 3 or 4 years. But years go very fast...

How did the Peckham Pavilion come about?
That was one of those crazy middle-of-the-night things. The idea was to do an exhibition in Venice. And the name just came to me, and that was that. 

And as with all your other projects, you just went ahead and did it, without backing?
Yeah. And this is also going to morph into a much bigger project, which we’ll launch the project next summer. It’s very exciting. But also, as often with completely new things, people don’t always get it for quite a long time. Sometimes you end up feeling really lonely, you’re just there on your own with all this art. When night comes and it’s quiet, you feel a tremendous solitude. 

Are there people who’ve really understood your work and supported you, as mentors?
I couldn’t even name any one person, there have been so many people who have been incredibly generous to us, old and young, across the board. People have really joined in and contributed and that’s been an amazing characteristic of everything we’ve undertaken. And that’s what art needs. People need to support each other. Of course projects like Bold Tendencies and the Venice project particularly bring this out. They couldn’t happen without a gang of people around them. But in general, in all the small, ongoing things, that support and community are vital. 

Which young artists are you really excited about now?
Everything. You can’t be specific. There are so many people doing so many things. You can’t possibly  compare or judge. You just have to watch and see how things develop.