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In 2005, Sylvain and Dominique Levy founded dslcollection, a collection of contemporary Chinese art that has embraced since its inception the latest technologies. With the belief that the 21st-century collector must think beyond established boundaries, the pioneering collection can be accessed online via virtual exhibitions, programs, reading material, and VR experiences.
With more and more museums expanding their digital programming due to temporary closures during the current COVID-19 pandemic, Whitewall wanted to check in with the first private museum visible with VR. Below, we hear from Karen Levy, co-founder of dslcollection, The Art of This Century founder, and Aika co-founder.
WHITEWALL: What was the starting point for dslcollection?
KAREN LEVY: My parents have been collecting for more than 30 years. What initiated dslcollection 15 years ago, it was a visit by our family to my mother’s brother based in Shanghai. This visit ignited a longstanding passion for China and an art adventure for all of our family.
We wanted this collection to mirror, from a French point of view, the meteoric rise of the new China. We were captivated by the allure of the Middle Kingdom: an ancient civilization coupled with an immense economic potential in the 21st century.
An important decision was taken at that time: dslcollection not only wishes to provide a well-informed and rich database for specialists but also hopes to allow a broad public to have access to the fascinating realm of contemporary Chinese art.
WW: What made you interested in sharing the collection digitally?
KL: We value community engagement online and in real life and have learned that this relationship is two-way. Listen to your audience and let them drive your content. Openness and accessibility are two of our collection characteristics. Dslcollection through Sylvain Levy has built a strong community in art and tech of more than 35.000 followers on Linkedin that share the vision to democratize art.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, public engagement goes far beyond increasing audience and generating revenue. We believe that a private collection, through the very human story of its founders, makes it more accessible and empathic than public institutions. It can be a key intellectual resource during times of profound socio-environmental change. To achieve this goal, a collection has to be built in a totally different way. The focus should not only be on having the mission of amassing something but also about being for somebody.
As I believe the digital is the new way of sharing and connecting specially for corporates and luxury brands, I recently created AIKA a consulting and art connection platform specialized in digital.
WW: You created the first private museum visible with VR. What was your initial vision? What kind of stories does it allow you to tell about an artwork and artist?
KL: Born into a screen-based world, today’s new generation move in and out of the physical and virtual worlds at ease, believing that each world is “real” to them.
From 2005 we went from a website to a 2D and 3D museum. In 2012 a 3D virtual exhibition of the dslcollection curated by Martina Koppel Yang in the Grand Palais was posted on YouTube and has attracted more than 29,000 viewers.
With special glasses, like the one used to watch the movie Avatar, it was also possible to see the works in the space. After being the first collection to be on Second Life we continued to surf on the digital wave by using augmented reality and now virtual reality.
WW: You were among the first collectors to develop a VR museum two years ago. Tell us about that decision.
KL: Many works in dslcollection are literally larger than life and rather difficult to transport. Loosely based on the concept of Marcel Duchamp’s portable museum, the monumental works of art in the collection could only be readily shown in a VR museum. The viewer and artworks enter into a new relationship through teleportation. Visitors can move freely, without limitation, in terms of time and space inside the VR world, exploring artworks in close proximity and in 3D – such as the 15 x 6 m work by Chinese artist, Jia Ali. The VR environment adapts to the perspective of the beholder and every work of art becomes a central element of the reception. As emphasized by a research professor, Paul Verschure, a virtual museum complements and enhances the museum experience, “through personalization, interactivity, and richness of content.”
WW: What kind of possibilities has it opened up for you?
KL: Over the past two years, we have shown our portable museum at many different types of events. We were particularly surprised by the reactions of old people and by the young audience. In Europe, every fifth person is over 65 years old. Anything new and unusual is very much appreciated by them whose daily lives are generally uneventful. Just a simple pair of googles opens a whole new world for the elderly, sick or disabled people, allowing them to travel and experience art anywhere in the world. For the young generation, many of them are not primarily interested in art per se, but they feel a connection through the use of gamification art contents.
WW: As pioneers in this digital space, what do you think of the art world‘s response at the moment to offering digital access during this current global crisis?
KL: No one could have predicted, or even imagined, how contemporary would be impacted by this global crisis.
The art world has responded quickly but also lately. If we agree that we live in a liquid world, then the art world has to constantly be a reflection of the constant state of becoming that we all must face. It has to become more agile.