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Her vivid eyes are trained to see not only art pieces but new talent. She’s got the eye for it. With a mixture of Spanish and French 'touch' she is today a true New Yorker. She rules her life with the force of those who believe in what they do and has perfectly succeeded in the land of opportunities. She left Paris after completing her studies in philosophy at La Sorbonne and a few years later opened her own art gallery in Chelsea. Since then, Josée Bienvenu has been developing a highly focused program with an emphasis on drawing and the relationship to time, as she strongly believes that drawing is the most conceptual medium and the only way to think without words or numbers. She is so right!

In the last 10 years the world has changed radically. How did these changes affect your initial plans for the gallery?

When I opened the gallery the art market was on an up wave with a new generation of galleries emerging and multiplying in Chelsea, the new centre for contemporary art at the time. There was a lot of excitement; it was also the beginning of the art fair boom with Art Basel Miami inaugurated in 2002 and the dozens of satellite fairs popping up soon after. Since then, at every level, art fairs have affected the way art is produced, presented and sold. This explosion has been a revolution based on technological mutations hard to anticipate 20 years ago.The online world has allowed multiplying the possibilities of exposure and diffusion in the art world, making people able to send images and information almost instantly, or to ship and set up and art fair or a biennial with 2000 artists in a few days. The music industry was also transformed by technology through the internet. Record sales went down dramatically and the focus of the industry migrated to live performance. The revolution hasn't been so radical for the art world because the digital doesn't seem to be a sufficient support yet for the experiences associated with the visual arts. The relationship between viewer and space doesn't translate to the computer screen, nor does the ownership of a unique and original object with a particular aura.

What is the essence of an artist?

Maybe the natural ability to connect to the artificial, to create parallel universes. In a very ADD world, artists are fascinated with facts and things that are irrelevant to the rest of us.They are able to discover attitudes never seen before and capture them with indiscretion. Part of the essence of an artist I think, is to not be able to not be an artist: an irrepressible need to do it, a true vocation.

Your gallery represents emerging and mid career international artists. Why is that?

Because it is very exciting to discover new artists, promote them and accompany them as their career develops and because the art world is now totally international. I work with artists from Brazil, Spain, Japan, the US, Guatemala, Colombia, England, France, Uruguay etc. My focus is more aesthetic than geographic although I have been working with more and more interesting artists from Latin America over the years.

Do you have a special intuition to choose your artists?

Yes, I am interested in artists that question the world in a certain way, conceptually but through visual means. When I find this seamless adequation between an idea and its visual incarnation, I get very engaged with the work. I am drawn to artists who invent parallel realities and articulate a visual language, usually abstract but not necessarily, and with some humour somewhere.

How do you work with them?

I have a different relationship and way to communicate with each artist depending on their personality, our way of working can vary a lot from very familiar to very formal. Some require more attention than others, some welcome my input and some don't. I see the relationship artist/gallerist as a partnership, a team where we work together towards the same goals.

How can you tell that the work of an artist is ready for a show?

When it starts becoming easier and easier for me to articulate and write about what the artist is presenting to me, when I start thinking about it a lot, when the artist is ready to let the work leave the studio and then the project is shaping up into an exhibition.

Who are some of the artists that have literally grown up with you these years?

Marti Cormand, Marco Maggi, Dario Escobar, Stefana McClure, Yuken Teruya, Julianne Swartz. We are from the same generation give or take a few years. I also work with Juan Manuel Echavarria, Sergio Sister and Artur Lescher, established figures in their respective countries. Lately I have incorporated two young artists, Ana Bidart and Adam Winner, both will have their first solo show this year. I am also working with Elena del Rivero, an artist I hadn't worked with since 2004 and we have decided to work together again. She's originally from Spain and has lived in New York for the past 30 years. Her work seems to be extremely relevant today.

You have just inaugurated a series by Luis Camnitzer, Uruguayan conceptual artist, writer and curator. What can you tell us about this particular show?

It is a new series of shows called Present, inaugurated in September in the project space of the gallery. Every five weeks, I invite a curator, an artist, a friend, someone I admire and feel an aesthetic connection with, to present someone else. Luis Camnitzer presents Kerstin Perrsson a young Swedish artist that he introduces as a "conceptual realist". A sculptural object, hybrid of found and made, is the centerpiece of her installation. It is surrounded by 36 drawings – portraits taken at ten-degree distance – that make us turn around ourselves and not around the model.  It is a very simple, straight forward and yet mysterious installation. Present is also like a present, for me: I get exposed to new artists by people I have been following and trusting over the years, it is a gift  and a complement to the program in the main gallery where each show is the result of a long time collaboration with an artist. The current one is Alma Ruiz presents: Diana de Solares. Alma Ruiz is the senior curator at MOCA in Los Angeles, she's an expert in the Central American art scene and she introduces Diana de Solares an artist from Guatemala who created a beautiful installation including sculpture and paintings on paper.

You are also exhibiting for the first time the exceptional photographs by León Ferrari. The exhibition includes twenty unique vintage photographs from the 1970s and the 1980s. What is the importance of this work?

I am very honored to be able to present this exhibition. I was able to organize it thanks to my friend and collaborator Alexis Fabry who has been working closely with the Leon and Augusto Ferrari Foundation in Buenos Aires, to bring this body of work to the public for the first time. Ferrari started taking photographs of his own metal constructions after he flew to Brazil in 1976 and continued to make them throughout the 1980s. The photographs document the angles and the ideal distances, in his eye, to observe his works. It is the fixation of a viewpoint, the way Ferrari enjoyed the most to relate to his own drawings and sculptures. It is an artist's vision of his own work, a second look, a manual in transit.

The gallery is located in Chelsea, a neighbourhood that has changed drastically since you opened. What were at that time the pros and cons of creating an art district in the outskirts of Manhattan? What are the pros and cons of the art district today?

A neighbourhood with many galleries is super convenient to keep updated: in a few blocks you can see most of the shows you are interested in and then stumble upon some others you didn't expect. It has the advantages of an art fair, the easy exposure and circulation among hundreds of galleries, but in a much better context than the small booths of a fair, Chelsea galleries are usually beautiful spaces. The downside is the shopping mall effect where all the shows become a fog and start feeling alike after a few blocks. The streets used to be vacant and quiet, now the neighbourhood is a huge construction site. You go away for two weeks, you come back and there's a new condominium tower at the corner. The zoning laws have changed recently, developers can buy air rights and many beautiful industrial buildings are being torn down and replaced by new luxury towers and not always with the best architecture.

Will we experience a new “revolution” in regards to the artistic language?

There is already a revolution in the way one relates to the artistic languages. There are hundreds of artistic languages and dialects and we are free to walk around, iPhone in hand, we decide to stop and focus on what we are interested in and take a snap shot to then immediately have access to a lot of information on the artist. The challenge is to distinguish between what's fresh and what's refried.

Are there any emerging artistic styles that the public is not aware of?

There is an incredible dissemination of subjects and objectives. The big novelty is that everybody has the tools to zoom in and focus in depth if they get interested in a specific artist, region or type of work.This pulverization of the attention is not compatible with the notion of a dominant style. We are witnessing an unprecedented expansion of the ability to focus in depth and the capacity of dispersion at the same time.

What would you suggest to someone that wants to begin a private collection? How do you start?

By visiting 529 West 20th street or our gallery web!
Seriously, if I lived in a big city, I would start by going every week to see gallery shows as well as museum shows. If I lived in a smaller place with not too much to see, I would travel to art fairs and start looking without buying for the first six months. I would supplement with some homework, reading magazines or on line, the Artnewspaper, Artforum etc… After a while some direction would emerge and that's when I would start making the first purchase that will lead to the second. Then naturally some affinities would appear with certain galleries, I would start trusting their vision. Looking at art is a form of workout, a workshop in perception in a way. Some people like to exercise on their own, some prefer to hire a personal coach or go to classes. There are professional art advisers that can help start the process of a collection. As a dealer, I love working with good advisers, they can provide a real education to their client, in art history, in how to buy and develop their collection. The good ones see everything and are very knowledgeable, they also provide their client with a level of access to the gallery they might have taken much longer to reach on their own. Some of them provide classes and take groups to galleries and trips to art fairs which can be a fun way to start exploring the art world.

Sol LeWitt said: Successful art changes our understanding of the conventions by altering our perceptions. How would you define successful art?

I agree. The same reality looked at from a slightly different angle becomes a completely different one. Successful art makes you switch the angle to discover a new reality and the act of enjoying the surprise is the aesthetic experience.

Is the art world itself oriented to the social elites, or have the social elites kidnapped artistic forms for themselves?

Probably both and it has been the case for centuries I think.

What can we expect to discover at Josée Bienvenu Gallery in 2015?

Right now and upcoming at the gallery: London based US born artist Dylan Stone will present a monumental watercolor Barbara and David Stone’s Videos, LPs and Books, a portrait of his parents through their collection.There will also be a day long performance where he will sit at a sewing machine, making cotton shirts for the public. Then, New York based Irish artist Stefana McClure will create a "Blind Shopper" installation, a bodega full of perforated objects and plants. Yuken Teruya, a Japanese artist will show an installation of constellations in shopping bags that he had originally developed for the Sidney Biennial. Brazilian artists Sergio Sister and Artur Lescher will both have their second solo show with the gallery, Adam Winner and Ana Bidart the two newer additions to the gallery will have their first solo show. Marco Maggi will have a solo show in September after his installation at the Venice Biennale.

Living in NYC for many years, how do you now view France now? Is there anything at home that worries you?

Maybe I am becoming more and more liberal (in the European sense of the word) and will get into endless arguments with my mother strong believer in the "Etat Providence", but I feel that Europe resists to accept that the world is global and since you are competing with all the other much poorer countries around, it will be soon impossible to keep up the very privileged lifestyle of France and other European countries. The infamous French "bad mood" and propency to complain and protest is helping the rise of the Le Pen family, bringing out the worst in French culture. The tendency to always create complex systems of compensations, taxes and a lot of unnecessary bureaucracy makes it difficult for young entrepreneurs in France to develop their businesses.

You live in Williamsburg. What are your favourite spots?

Five Leaves for breakfast after dropping the kids to school. Bakeri also for breakfast or lunch for croissant and pain au chocolat nostalgia. Tomoko, a small Japanese/French patisserie and tea salon. Cafe Colette for lunch. Maison Premiere, always packed but delicious cocktails and oysters. Saint Anselm for dinner. Samurai Mama for noodles and sushi. Bird and Jumelle for clothing. The Farmers Market on Saturday morning downstairs from my building on Mccarren Park. The Mccaren Pool a gigantic outdoor swimming pool, free to everyone but only open in the summer.

How do you deal with being a mother of 2, travelling year round, looking after the gallery as well as having a personal life? Is there any time left for you?

It is true, there is no time left for anything and at the same time all the time is mine. Time is fragmented, intense and precious. My husband directs documentary films and TV series so he also needs to travel a lot. We try to alternate our trips and if we need to travel at the same time, we ask our family to the rescue. I have asked my mother, father or brother to come and stay with the kids and it's great to have them visit. A lot of logistics but in a way having a gallery gives me complete freedom. I only have time for myself because it is me everything I do. I chose to have a family, I chose the artists I work with, I can choose the fairs I decide to travel to or not to. If life was divided into insulated compartments: family/work/leisure time/ then it could be a depressing routine. When there is a synergy, many projects and not enough time to do them, it is exhausting but exciting and you get a feeling of intensity. I imagine every family where both the parents work in intense fields has the same negotiations and struggles.

You left Paris many years ago to try your luck in the US. Does the American dream actually exist?

I don't think there is or there ever was an American Dream… Funny expression for a country where people keep working more and more and sleeping less and less, not much time left for dreaming in the American reality. But the same American reality which can be harsh as there is no net to catch people when they need it still provides a sense of freedom, the possibility to dream of success. There is a huge sense of freedom and lightness when you arrive here or maybe this is what every emigrant feels when they move to another country, leaving behind their cultural, familial and personal baggage. From the day I landed at JFK, I got a sense of being on a long vacation. This feeling hasn't left me since I moved here twenty years ago.

WORDS
SERGI DOLADÉ – PORTRAIT
CARLA TRAMULLAS

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