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Contemporary Chinese Art- another kind of view

DSL Collection

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online since  2012-11-04
DSL collection by Mathieu Borysevicz

"The ideal collection should be nothing less than a theatre of the universe... keys to the whole of knowledge...."

- Samuel Quiccheberg


The predecessor to today’s modern museum was the 16th century 'Cabinet of Curiosities' or Kunst-und Wunderkammes (containers of art and marvel).  These cabinets were halls stocked full of personal oddities and artifacts that provided fodder for 16th century fascination, rumination and education. The Cabinets were the product of their age- the age of exploration, the Renaissance- a period of rapidly expanding horizons fueled by the unabated pursuit of knowledge. Human exploration hasn’t ceased since the Renaissance, and as mankind continues to push the limits of what is possible, manifestations of human achievement remain persistently awe inspiring.

Today as our horizons morph into hitherto unknown configurations the practice of collecting continues to reflect this dynamism. Whereas in the age of Wunderkammes systems of classifications had yet to formally emerge, today specialized interests have divided collections into the minutest possible phenomena. Yet often these collections, no matter how broad or focused, are difficult to access and seemingly uninspired. Private connoisseurship and public censorship sees items hoarded away for personal pleasure or mired in a bureaucracy that ultimately ends up stumping the intuitive nature of collecting itself. However there are some collections that continue to reflect mankind’s brazen exploits into the unknown. Indeed, some collections continue to reflect the original exploratory and marveling spirit of the Kunstkammer - The DSL Collection is one of the 21st century’s prime examples.

China Contemporary

During the last decade the market for contemporary art has unexpectedly soared, bringing with it unforeseen possibilities for both artists and the entire system that supports them. This has been even truer for the genre of contemporary art from China where this once unknown arena with a mere thirty years of history has forcefully captured the world’s attention and shows no intention of letting go. Today galleries, museums and publications throughout the world regularly flaunt Chinese artists. Unfortunately, as the market has flared up, the Chinese art phenomenon has manifested itself in the public’s eye more as an auction house wonder than as a critical force.  Consequently the appetite for collecting “Chinese contemporary” is often tempered by market speculation and shady dealings. But unlike many of the other collectors whose investments tend to be in the market tested but critically defunct oil painters of the early nineties, the DSL Collection focuses its interest in works that are not only difficult to position over a couch but pack a serious critical punch. In light of current auction-house spectacles it is easy to forget that the history of China’s contemporary arts was fueled by avant-garde practices that pushed the limits of social acceptability and tradition. With several loose thematic focal points to guide them DSL has taken brave strides in amassing significant installation, sculpture and time based works that define the driving force of China’s artistic vanguard.


One particular focal point of the DSL collection is the trajectory of the art scene in the southern province of Guangdong. Starting with seminal installation pieces made during the early nineties by The Big Tail Elephant Group’s members- Xu Tan, Liang Juhui and Chen Shaoxiong- the collection proceeds onwards to highlight both the early exploits of Zheng Guogu, his later formed Yang Jiang Group and the works of Cao Fei and Yang Yong. Through these works this, often overlooked yet important, region’s contemporary history is spelled out piece by piece. Lin Yilin’s Standard Series of Ideal Residencies, 1991 for example is from Big Tail Elephant Group’s first public exhibition. This exhibition not only helped to set Lin Yilin’s own creative tone but the tone of the region itself. Individually these artists have made deep impressions upon the international art world but there hasn’t been such a concentrated collection of these works before. DSL in a pioneering spirit provides an encyclopedia of the actual objects that helped to shape the Guangdong scene. Another area of the collection’s focus is on the time-based works coming out of Yangtze River Delta. Works by Yang Fudong, Yang Zhenzhong, Zhang Peili and others attest to the strong video art legacy of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou.

Not only does the collection contain many works by the founding fathers of Chinese contemporary art like Wang Keping, Xu Bing, and Gu Dexin but also works by the most promising artists of tomorrow like Xu Zhen, Liu Wei and Kan Xuan. There isn’t an aspect of China’s contemporary art history that goes unrepresented in this collection.                                 

Collection within a collection

The main function of the original Cabinet of Curiosities was to provoke a sense of wonder in the viewer. While DSL has many focal points, the collection itself tends to avoid classification, opting instead for broad, instinctual themes about contextual influences, choices of medium and emotive conditions. Most importantly the DSL Collection is one that is entirely open and freely accessible to the public anytime, anywhere.

The DSL website is the collection’s main portal to the public. This fully staffed art center is bi-lingual and easily navigable. Here navigation happens along several intertwining axes of open-ended ideas. Besides from the usual conduits of artist, medium and dates this site has subjects such as positions and memories or dreams and aspirations. These informal categories point visitors in general directions.  Visiting this site becomes an art in itself where one is guided by his or her own whims across a grid of some seventy-five artists and a hundred and twenty works of different media. Here a viewer browses through the artworks as if on a journey. At each stop commentary, critical writings, facts and candid photos of the creators inform individual works. Through the browsing process one begins to amass their own collection of favorite items. Control is leant to the viewer allowing each visitor to come up with personal selections that foster new relationships between objects. On the museum tours, scaled down versions of the original artworks are carefully installed in a virtual white cube. Here an imaginary space, almost identical to what one would expect of a blockbuster museum show, comes alive with video playback and blow-up wall text. Online gaming and art going are happily married in this extra-dimensional, two-storey museum. As art works become de-materialized the audience becomes avatars, losing themselves in this labyrinthian cabinet. But here the collection is yours. It is an open, resourceful register of contemporary Chinese art that allows the viewer to exercise his own tastes and criteria.

This online experience reflects the nomadic nature of the actual collection. Already housed in two continents, DSL seeks even further exposure. In order to present an under recognized face of Chinese contemporary art DSL is promoting the website and collection by forging links with relevant websites, blogs and forums and by advertising in various publications. Furthermore the DSL plans to produce exhibitions of its works in traditional venues and to make the works available for curators and museums. Guided by a general quota of 120 pieces the collection ebbs and flows, continually expanding with new acquisitions and shrinking by editing others out. It is an organic process, in which the collection is continually building, sculpting, gathering and defining itself against that dynamic entity that it wishes to reflect- the contemporary arts of China.  In the wondrous spirit of the Wunderkammes the DSL proudly presents the vanguard achievements of our time.

Mathieu Borysevicz 2.08