Contemporary Art in France Finds its True North

Contemporary Art in France Finds its True North

Art collectors rarely open their homes to strangers. Even less to strangers who are looking to pull out their prized pieces, transport them to a huge warehouse, and allow the general public to file by in large numbers to enjoy looking at said prized possessions. Not only that, but they would also have to allow a photographer into the intimacy of their homes who, commissioned by the exhibition curators, would attempt to capture how and where the artwork is displayed and the role that it plays in their everyday life. Incredibly, some of these collectors said yes. Really? Yes, really. A peek through the keyhole into the secret lives of these contemporary masterpieces is the treat that awaits you when you visit the Secret Passions exhibition at the Tripostal in Lille.

Eighteen private collectors have generously opened their door to the curators of the exhibition, for them to pick and choose from among a total of 4000 pieces and carefully select the candidates that would be invited to the main party. It has not been a random selection, as the curators have been careful to invite works that were strong enough to play a lead role but also make sense as part of an ensemble cast.

After a warm welcome by Martine Aubry, Mayor of Lille, we eagerly dive in to discover the works on display. It would be hard for any artist to compete with the attention and instant recognition garnered by Julian Opi or Michelangelo Pistoletto, but in this case the path is one of wondrous discovery as Flemish artists have claimed their place among the glittering international names. On the upper level the thread turns to a vision of the American dream. Sometimes ludic, sometimes critical, the vision is expressed through artists as varied as Paul McCarthy, Wade Guyton and Mike Kelley.  It makes you smile and it makes you think.

Two discerning collectors who have contributed several pieces to the exhibition, Mimi Dusselier and Bernard Soams, are kind enough to talk to us about their passion, as we pry into why they collect and what is the criteria that makes them go for a particular piece.

In their restrained and understated manner of conversation, they explain that they make very considered choices, sometimes reflecting for months or years before committing to a purchase. They visit five or six art fairs every year. It starts with a conversation, when one of them sees or hears about something of interest. They read up on it, talk to people, visit the gallery or studio and will sometimes drive for 8 hours from Lille to Berlin just to see something that catches their eye. So what happens if they don’t agree? “We always agree!” says Bernard, with a twinkle in his eye.

They collect only contemporary art, and more often than not meet the artist either before or after the transaction. It is a passionate trail, like a treasure hunt, from one clue to the next. “People have the misconception that you have to be rich to be an art collector,” says Bernard, “but in fact some of these pieces can go for under two thousand euros when you buy them early, at the beginning of an artist’s career. Of course when the artist becomes known, then the figures start climbing quickly.”

Talking to Mimi and Bernard about their collection, and about the place that art has in their lives, gives the Passions Secrètes exhibition a whole new dimension. It is possible that a private collection becomes in itself a reflection of the collector, a sort of portrait carefully drawn along the length of a lifetime.

The Tripostal space is perfect for purpose, cavernous, neutral, industrial and generous. It was the site of the old mail-sorting facility, wedged between the two main railway stations, and has succeeded tremendously in reinventing itself into a dynamic art hub. “This is an exhibition worthy of the main capitals of the world,” says Bernard, “you could see this in London, Paris or New York, it just happens to be in Lille”. The location makes sense when you find out that in Lille and the area surrounding it into southern Belgium, there is a large cluster of contemporary art collectors.

This exhibition in itself is worth scheduling a stopover in Lille, let alone the many other cultural assets available within walking distance. If you are passing through Lille, in the northern tip of France, either by car, or on the Eurostar or the TGV, make a point to stop over. The Tripostal is adjacent to the railway station, literally steps away from your train platform, and there’s a café and restaurant on site so it’s the perfect chance to while away a few hours while you pay a little attention to your innermost secret passions.


Passions Secrètes – Private Flemish Collections
Until January 4
Avenue Willy Brant, Lille
Open Wednesdat to Friday 12pm to 7pm – Saturday and Sunday 11am to 7pm – Closed Monday and Tuesday
Walking distance from TGV and Eurostar station
+33 (0)3 28 52 30 00

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