Interview with Vincent Honoré by Lorena Muñoz-Alonso
Lorena Muñoz-Alonso: You are moving premises from the increasingly buzzing Fitzrovia area to Mornington Crescent, near Camden. Can you explain why and what changes we can expect?
Vincent Honoré: Our Fitzrovian space was an experimental space, where we were able to try lots of different exhibition approaches and different formulas. That space was also key to building a stable community around the Foundation. The new space is a way of continuing that in a much more confortable way; especially in terms of space, which will allow for many more initiatives and displays to happen simultaneously. I also believe that the mood and size of the space will fit the new avenues we have been developing for the Foundation much better. As I want to activate more works from the collection, a new move is for the foundation to work on the concept of the museum, and to propose our own model that will integrate our past history. A museum cannot be treated as a communication tool. It must be a production site. I had discussed this a lot in the past years with artists and curators, I discussed it recently with Simon Starling for the exhibition we did in France and with Christian Bernard the director of the MAMCO in Geneva. I see many museums turning into communication tools or “mass medias”: a model we need to resist to. A museum should be a production site, a museum should be a house of leaves: not a factory, although we should be able still to physically produce works and objects, at least to acknowledge physical labor, but a site for culture where we produce or co-produce exhibitions with artists or external curators and our audience. A site where we should not simply describe a context but where we could create our own context, participate, position ourselves as visitors and research art. A site where we should promote exhibitions as experiences, not as didactic presentation of items, but as activation of thoughts, in which a visitor is active as a co-producer. The museum should not be a space, it should be a site, a presence. The museum as a house of leaves should be impossible to measure. As a production site it should be a museum in permanent reconfiguration, a productive machine creating exhibitions as prototypes and not as pre-modeled formulas. This museum should be a hybrid presence resisting “institutionalization”. The museum as a house of leaves should then be all at once a gallery, a laboratory, a studio, a workshop, an academy, a theater, an opera, a fiction: an experience. We will produce debates and conversations: for instance, I decided the museum should host some labs. The Labs are invitations to researchers. We offer a space/office in which to work, with the possibility of testing new ideas. Each participant is independent: the outcome of the research does not have to be presented at DRAF in as much as DRAF is not responsible for the research. The aim of the Labs is to open DRAF to different sensibilities, cultures, methodologies and dialogues, so that the Foundation always remains in contact with different realities. It completes the programme of guest curators called Curators’ Series that I will continue by inviting Mexican curator Pablo Leon de la Barra as our guest in 2012. We will also produce a solo exhibition by Benoit Maire in March 2012. I commissioned Ruth Beale to create the furniture and the programme of a new space, partly a library, partly a meeting room, where I want to activate a programme of talks, conversations and screenings. That’s our proposal for a museum, a house of leaves that adapts itself to the heterogeneous and constantly changing needs of contemporary art.
L M-A: There are other private collection-based foundations in London, most notably Anita Zabludowicz’s 176. What makes DRAF unique? (At this point, Fatos Ustek, one of DRAF’s guest curators intervenes)
(Fatos) Some other foundations here in London work mostly around their collection, inviting young curators or schools to explore and experiment with it. DRAF’s position, on the other hand, is based on seeing the collection as an “organic body”. We use the collection as something alive, not rigid, and not too defined. It’s very open and it contains different constellations within, which makes it more unpredictable and experimental. Having said that, DRAF’s new space will have an art hub, a school, several exhibition spaces and programmes, which won’t necessarily draw from the collection at all.
(Vincent) There are some common points that we have with 176, like providing opportunities for young artists and curators or inviting them to use our resources (both the space and the collection). But DRAF is not based on a collection; the collection as such doesn’t exist. It’s an “uncertain” collection that keeps changing and evolving. I think its rationale is more based on a “collecting activity” where we are responsible for a series of “systems”, those being a group of art objects, their history and the narrative these objects generate. Other systems we are responsible for are, of course, the artists and our audience. This is one of DRAF’s angles. The other angle of the Foundation is of course, curating.
L M-A: There is a clear interest in the curatorial, but what about critical writing? There doesn’t seem to be that much support for that kind of production of critical knowledge…
VH: I totally agree with that, and fostering critical writing is something that we have been thinking about a lot. In fact we are thinking of building a communal a library in the new premises, open to researchers, writers, artists and curators that will be able to use the resources independently from the Foundation. We are also launching a new programme that we have termed “labs”, whereby we will lend some spaces within the Foundation long-term for writers and researchers. We are envisioning the new Foundation as a production site of sorts, where we will integrate different forms of production and processes in different stages. We are also thinking about developing a school, where we will invite artists, curators, writers and thinkers to explore the idea of “de-learning learning”, to perform a “co-production” of knowledge between teachers and students, horizontal and rhizomic.
L M-A: How will the collection be represented in the new space?
VH: The collection will definitely be much more present in the new building. I didn’t want to launch the Fitzrovia space with a great accent in the collection because I was a little afraid that –knowing a certain kind of media excitement with collections and collectors–, the project could be pigeonholed as a kind of show-off, vanity project, which of course wasn’t the case. I didn’t want to send the wrong signals about DRAF. But now we are mature enough to display the collection more prominently and be rightly understood. The collection, which is rich and diverse, which is independent like the Foundation, and keeps growing, will be treated as a resource collection. It had been a resource for other museums, when we lend Rosemarie Trockel at Wiels, Paula Rego to the Reina Sofia or Ellen Gallagher to the Tate Modern to name a few. Now, this resource will become much more public. I wish to research more the collection and activate works. But the way I want to do it is not to address the collection as a single entity, but more to address individual works: as I use to say, I will not show the collection, but I will activate works from the collection. For this, I will open a new programme called Study, a series of focused case-studies of works. It involves a single work, studied in depth, from its techniques, origin and history, to its position in the artist’s oeuvre and contemporary art debate. The work is displayed on its own, in an isolated space. Nothing else is displayed on the wall so we have a direct encounter with the work and only with the work. The research is accessible in a file. We will start with a painting by Victor Man, followed by a sculpture by Carol Bove and a performance by Bruce McLean. I also wanted to have a space, that even empty, would still acts as a museum; I decided to display (semi)permanent works from the collection, or to commission new works for the building. Works from the collection will be activated and researched at all time which will not prevent us to commission solo exhibition or group shows made of works not included in our collection.
L M-A: What is the ethos of the David Roberts collection?
VH: For us, there is no such thing as “a collection”. When you think of a collection you tend to think of a defined body of works whose acquisitions has followed a certain structural logic or a group of items one owns. We do have a collection, indeed, but it is an uncertain one because we purchase works that go in very different directions and that find a subsequent balance between each other. We are not collecting by gender, medium, geographic area, age… It feels like an organism that is growing under its own rules, and very actively. I discussed the concept of the collection with many directors, especially Pierre Bal-Blanc and Christian Bernard. My point is that we don’t own works, we are responsible for works. From this, we can be responsible for years or simply days. Meaning, when a work is lent to us we are then responsible for this work as much as for the works in the collection. The c ollection is then an unstable territory.
L M-A: How involved are you in the acquisition process? Are you an advisor as well as being the curator?
VH: No, I am not (laughs). I am not an advisor and the collection was not conceived as any kind of investment, economically.
L M-A: Sure. I was wondering rather whether you are a consultant, a guide in that process…
VH: There are two ways in which works are purchased in this collection. One, David purchases works on his own. The other, we discuss certain major acquisitions, landmarks for the collection. Sometimes we take a long time to make these decisions, and we don’t follow trends. Again, we are not showing what we collect and we don’t collect what we are showing. Although there are some bridges between these two stands, sometimes.
L M-A: Following on recent shows based on big private art collections, like the Dakis Jonannou’s exhbition at the New Museum in New York or the Dimitris Daskalopoulos’ show at Whitechapel Gallery in London, I was wondering whether you might have had any offers from museums to show the collection as such?
VH: We are working on that. We have received two offers and we need to meet to discuss them. It’s a tricky one, because we have fundamentally been avoiding the stamp of the collector, focusing instead on the artworks, so we will see what happens. We are quite keen on respecting the artworks. The way we see it, we don’t “own” them, we are “responsible” for them, which is quite different. For instance, we lend a lot of works and we refuse loans to private commercial spaces. Every loan we do has to have the artist approval, so they are only shown in exhibitions they are happy with.
L M-A: David Roberts is quite an elusive character… What can you tell me about him?
VH: I don’t know anything about him! (laughs) I think it’s important to detach the Foundation from the person. But I can tell you that the Foundation is charity and that we want to be called DRAF, to try to avoid the person reference. And I think that’s also the reason why we invite independent curators to do shows with no obligation to use works the collection if they don’t want to. And what I can tell you about David is that he is really keen on setting an institution that resists institutionalisation.