BY Vanessa Peterson in Interviews | 05 JUN 24

After 4 Decades, Le Consortium Remains One Step Ahead

The co-directors of the Dijon institution reveal how their curatorial methods continue to offer emerging and established artists freedom 

BY Vanessa Peterson in Interviews | 05 JUN 24

Vanessa Peterson You launched Le Consortium in 1977 in a room above a bookshop, before later relocating to a hardware store. Your first exhibitions had a focus on minimalism and conceptualism, with works by the likes of Dan Graham, Hans Haacke and Sol LeWitt. How did these collaborations come about?

Le Consortium* My cofounder, Xavier Douroux, and I both grew up in the fan club of constructivism, minimalism and conceptual art. We would invite artists to show with us, they would talk to their friends about us, and a network started to form. On our first trip to New York in the summer of 1980, we attended many openings and studio visits. We got artists’ numbers from the phone book and used the call boxes on the street to arrange to meet with them.

abstraction recreation le consortium installation view
'Abstraction (re)creation – 20 under 40', 2024, installation view. Courtesy: © Le Consortium; photograph: Rebecca Fanuele

VP In June 2016, The New York Times noted that Le Consortium’s strength lies in showcasing young and emerging artists prior to them achieving international success, with the institution often exhibiting artists for the first time in France – among them, Maurizio Cattelan, Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman. What has been your ethos in relation to supporting artists at the beginning of their careers?

LC We’ve been lucky to have conversations with artists that led to them producing projects here. As time went by, after initially dealing more with older artists, we began to meet our own generation, including Prince, Sherman and John Armleder. Our paths also crossed with the pictures generation, the neo-geometric abstractionists and the appropriationists, as well as the romanticism of late narrative art. We were lucky to be in a backyard in a mid-size provincial city rather than in an overexposed location where artists are immediately put under the spotlight, making them cautious to risk new ideas and proposals. Our DNA was to give artists the freedom to develop what they’d like without a fixed budget.

We took the same approach with Haacke, who had never previously been invited to make specific projects in France, and Graham, who had never been asked to build a full-scale two-way mirrored pavilion. Le Consortium was not only concerned with emerging artists but also working with established names in new contexts. We were able to do this as we are a relatively small-scale institution, and our operating system is open, flexible and much less bureaucratic. We prefer this approach but, in the 21st century, things have changed, and artists now seem to operate on a bigger scale with galleries that have a much stronger presence.

library le consortium matali cresset
Le Consortium's library space designed by matali cresset. Courtesy: © Le Consortium; photograph: André Morin 

VP Could you talk about the mission and ethos of your publishing house, Les Presses du réel, and what role that plays in your overall curatorial strategy?

LC We wanted to ensure we could preserve the memory of our exhibition programme, as well as reach a wider audience, so Xavier and I founded a commercial publishing house, Les Presses du réel, in 1992. Initially, we printed catalogues, monographs and artists’ writings, but we soon expanded to architecture, design and philosophy titles. That helped develop the autonomy of Les Presses du réel to such an extent that many people now forget it’s connected to Le Consortium! We produce 60 books annually and more than 200 publishers are on distribution now. Several years ago, after Xavier’s passing, we asked matali crasset to design a bookstore to ensure Les Presses du réel had a presence within Le Consortium’s building.

VP In 1997, you co-founded the production company Anna Sanders Films with Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Pierre Huyghe, Charles de Meaux and Philippe Parreno. Films such as Blissfully Yours [2002], Tropical Malady [2004] and Le Portrait interdit [The Forbidden Portrait, 2017] have received awards at Cannes. Could you speak more about your approach to filmmaking?

LC At first, we didn’t know how to respond when some young artists asked us to set up a film production company to help them enter the commercial movie world. Ultimately, we decided to make them shareholders in Anna Sanders Films. We wanted to focus on geographies – not only in the sense of geopolitics but in terms of incorporating a broad spectrum of land and territory into films. Our projects are often filmed internationally: De Meaux and Parreno made Le Pont du trieur [The Sorter’s Bridge, 1999] in Tajikistan, for instance, while Le Portrait interdit was shot in Beijing’s Forbidden City. Cinema is simultaneously reality and fiction.

isabella ducrot le consortium installation view
Isabella Ducrot, 'Profusione', 2024, installation view. Courtesy: © Le Consortium; photograph: Rebecca Fanuele 

VP Currently on view at Le Consortium, alongside shows by Isabella Ducrot and the late Marc Camille Chaimowicz, is an exhibition that draws from Le Consortium’s collection, including works by Genieve Figgis and Tschabalala Self. This display follows on from ‘New York: The Eighties’ [2018–2020], a two-part show which highlighted the institution’s close relationship to North American artists since its inception. How has Le Consortium’s collecting strategy evolved since the 1970s?

LC Until 1998, when curator Bernard Blistène proposed we show our collection at Centre Pompidou, it had been something of a secret. However, once we had committed to the show at Pompidou, we decided to exhibit the remaining works across three venues in Dijon, one of which we titled ‘The Treasure’ because the collection is, quite literally, a treasure! It wasn’t the result of a considered plan; rather, we tend to acquire works that are specially produced for our exhibitions. We started with a black and white poster series by Hans Peter Feldmann, which we obtained for 200 francs (less than EU€30) in 1979. Since then, the collection has grown mainly through donations by artists and galleries and it now contains around 500 works that are exhibited on the upper floor of Le Consortium alongside monographs or thematic presentations.

marc camille chaimowicz a gift with love installation view le consortium
Marc Camille Chaimowicz, 'A gift, with love', 2024, installation view. Courtesy: © Le Consortium; photograph: Rebecca Fanuele 

VP The exhibition text for your current show, ‘Abstraction (re)creation – 20 under 40’, acknowledges that Le Consortium initially focused predominantly on male artists before shifting towards including women and non-binary artists as well as modernisms outside of Western frameworks. Could you talk more about the shifts and changes you have observed over the years?

LC It took us two decades, broadly speaking, to turn our eyes to the East. Male Western artists have been central for decades, even centuries. And although we invited many women artists from the late 1970s – including Dara Birnbaum, Jenny Holzer, Annette Messager, Cindy Sherman, Eve Sonneman – they were mainly from the West. Korean curator Seungduk Kim joined Le Consortium in 2000 and we have been co-curating shows and biennials together for more than two decades, which has vastly expanded our geographic perspective.

Our ongoing affinity with abstraction stems from our youth, when we spent our days in the chic villages on Lake Zurich, where we met the likes of Lucia Moholy, a photographer at the Bauhaus and László Moholy-Nagy’s widow, as well as Verena Loewensberg and Richard Paul Lohse, who were both part of the Zurich school of concretism. We also met César Domela, a member of De Stijl, at his tiny house in Paris, and the French painter Jean Hélion.

Of the works in ‘Abstraction (re)creation – 20 under 40’, 75 percent are by women and most are by non-European artists. Interestingly, we have discovered that many contemporary works of abstraction have a distinctive inner narrative. The show intentionally follows a very formalist mode of display, which is designed to let the works speak for themselves.

*Le Consortium comprises of Franck Gautherot, co-founder and co-director, and Seungduk Kim, co-director. 

Main image: Marc Camille Chaimowicz, 'A gift, with love', 2024, installation view. Courtesy: © Le Consortium; photograph: Rebecca Fanuele 

Vanessa Peterson is associate editor of frieze. She lives in London, UK.