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Alexandre Devals

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Alexandre Devals is the -very- young director of the Venet Foundation, an open-air museum between Nice and Marseilles that opened in 2014 in tribute to the French artist Bernard Venet -known for his monumental sculptures. The place is rather exclusive and hosts unsual projects such as Frank Stella's chapel.
Artsper interviewed him to share his insights about this mysterious place.

{Artsper}: After having worked at the Department of contemporary art of Artcurial and AuctionArt, you are now the director of the Venet Foundation, what do you aim to accomplish there?
{Alexandre Devals}:This place is the result of more than 25 years of refurbishment and construction work overlooked by Bernar and Diane Venet. It is a collection built over the course of 45 years of close relationship with the artists. In minimal art, it is one of the most remarkable collections in France. The mission of the foundation is to preserve this place and its collection; and showcase the works in the best setting possible, like what Donald Judd imagined for Marfa in the United States. Our ambition, along with the Venet family, is to continue to enrich the collection and strengthen the identity of the place through quality exhibitions.

{Artsper}: Between the sublime private mansion of Artcurial and now the Muy estate, you are working in magical settings. Do you think that art needs such exceptional environment to be appreciated?
{Alexandre Devals}: You could have added the Peyrassol gallery for which I am curating exhibitions. It is another exceptional place, built by Charles Berthier in the middle of the winery and sculpture park of Peyrassol, where we are currently showcasing Frank Stella, Bertrand Lavier, François Morellet, Jean-Pierre Raynaud, Claude Viallat, Robert Morris, Carl Andre, Jean Tinguely, Niki de Saint Phalle…Museums are like cathedral, it is a way to pay tribute to artists.

{Artsper} Until September 15th, you curating an exhibition on Jean Tinguely and his collaborations with Yves Klein. Were you looking for a contrast between his “New Realism” work and the minimalism of the Venet Foundation?

{Alexandre Devals}: In our collection, we have some important pieces of the New Realism movement : Arman mostly, but also César, Christo, Yves Klein, Jacques Villeglé, Raymond Hains, and Tinguely (le lion de Belfort, as well as a candlestick offered by Tinguely to Bernar Venet for his 50th birthday). The work that we are exhibiting, Relief Bleu (1977) and Dernière collaboration avec Yves Klein…(1988) are on loan from the MAMAC of Nice and the Tinguely Museum of Bâle. The ambition of our exhibition is to show the work of Jean Tinguely -rarely shown in France over the last few years- which strongly influenced a lot of young international artists, especially his assembling, his absurd robots and his taste for immoderation. Associating Tinguely and Klein seems incongruous by all means, however Klein is an important figure for Tinguely, and they had a fruitful and long-lasting relationship that we trying to honor during the exhibition through parallel biographies. They were both anarchist too. The space of the Venet Foundation is not meant to host retrospective exhibition. Other museums do it way better. The Kunstpalast Museum of Dusseldorf will host one next year in fact!

{Artsper} How is it to direct a place where every work of art present technical challenges?
{Alexandre Devals}: Of course, it would be more comfortable to not have to manipulate small-format watercolors, but also less exciting. Each artist knows the medium he works with by heart: Bernar Venet and Corten steel, Donal Judd and anodized steel, DeWain Valentine and polyester, Larry Bell and glass… If you know the work well enough, you know how to install and manipulate it. We do when it comes to Bernar Venet’s work, but with
Jean Tiguely’s, we asked for the expertise of the Tinguely Museum and its team. When I put an exhibition together, I generally do not think about technical limitations, I prefer focusing on the work and the artist’s vision.
At the Venet Foundation, the biggest challenge we faced was probably building the Stella chapel, because it was a first. This project was accomplished thanks’ to Pierre Bourrier, the engineer who worked on it as well as several companies who took part in it. Today, Stella is so happy about it that he is working on a variation of the same piece for his retrospective at the Whitney Museum for autumn 2015. And he is working with the same team that we hired then. We can therefore consider that we have helped one of the major artists of the 20th century reach the next level of his art.

{Artsper} Bernar Venet’s work and his private collection are very varied: they include photography, furniture, drawings, sculptures, and land art. Do you think that every art form is marketable?
{Alexandre Devals}: A lot of his works of art are not meant to be sold: they were too ahead of their time and did not have a market yet, and sometime never found any. When On Kawara sends his “I got up” postcards, he is not looking to sell anything, but he is building the work of a lifetime.
The “strength” of the market is to give a numerical value to every object that people are willing to buy, but art market and art history are two different things. Sometimes artists who are of historical significance are sold for reasonable prices, whereas others, less significant, hit records.
The market is only ruled by supply and demand.

{Artsper} Do you think it is possible to sell a monumental sculpture online? Even though the experience of the work in space is fundamental, a lot of collectors already know Bernar Venet’s work and would probably be willing to buy a piece without seeing it ?
{Alexandre Devals} It is a fact. I know a lot of art dealers who have sold, and collectors who have bought Bernar Venet’s, Richard Serra’s, Tony Cragg’s, or Yayoi Kusama’ sculptures without seeing them in real. But the primary goal of galleries is not to be a mere showcasing platform but to promote and work with the artists.

{Artsper} Artpser has several limited editions of Bernar Venet for sale, as well as other artists of Venet’s collection. Is internet a useful tool to market artists according to you?
{Alexandre Devals}: Of course, today it is impossible to communicate without internet. Maurizio Cattelan says it best when he talks about the “horizontalization” of the traditional hierarchy. Today, internet offers such means of information that a successful exhibition in a small town can have more impact than a failed one at the MoMa.

{Artsper} What do you think of Artsper’s concept?
{Alexandre Devals}: I think it is interesting, because Artsper does not seek to take the place of galleries, but on the contrary, offers them more visibility. Additionally, you show some really interesting artworks on your platform.

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