Laure Testard: You are an art historian, a gallerist, an art advisor, a collector… can you tell us about your career path in a few words?
Fabienne Levy: I started being in love with art with my parents who were collectors and who brought me a bit everywhere. After being involved with art I went to New York to study Art History at NYU and then I worked at Christie’s in the photography department. I stayed in NY and worked in a couple of places before moving to Milano where I started working as an art advisor. Because Lausanne’s curiosity always stimulated me, I decided to open my gallery in Switzerland. I wanted to do a completely different concept, something against the trend. I am interested in selling but that’s not my primary interest. I like passing messages, talking to people about art and putting back the artist in the middle of his work.
LT: Your gallery opened in September 2019, at the same time as the opening of Plateforme 10 in Lausanne. Was it intentional? Had you already thought about opening a gallery before the opening of Plateforme 10?
FL: Opening the gallery at the same time as Plateforme 10 was totally intentional. I started thinking about opening a gallery three to four years ago, but it is really when I heard about the amazing project of Plateforme 10 (3 Museums in one place, a hub for culture, I like that..!) that I have decided to look for a place. When I found the place and found out that Plateforme 10 was officially opening a few weeks after, I decided to kind of run a bit before them and open my first show.
Plateforme 10 can give Lausanne its first Quartier des Arts, it would be great to see people wandering around and going from one place to another. I would eventually love all the galleries of the Flon area to come here and be all together around Plateforme 10.
LT: How would you describe the audience in Lausanne?
FL: The audience in Lausanne is very picky in comparison with Geneva. People in Lausanne are very discreet. They know what they want, they know what they like, they’ve been into the love of culture for a very long time – see how many great theatres we have in such a small city – so it is not an easy crowd. It’s a crowd who ask many questions and who is always curious, which I found very interesting. They may hate the exhibition but they will be curious to know about it.
LT: The artists you exhibit create in situ artworks that were exclusively made for the gallery space. In this context we had the chance to discover the outstanding works and installations of Andrea Galvani, Yuval Yairi, Mexican photographer Daniela Edburg and Jorge Conde. Was this one of your ambitions when opening your gallery?
FL: Absolutely. I like to give the entire space to the artists. I like them to imagine the space the way they want it. But for that they need to create a story first. This space is first intimate and classical, and then becomes something completely different on the first floor. Completely contemporary and raw. I think it’s very important that every artist decides to come here and has its own story to tell. It’s part of the deal.
I do not organize ‘pop up shows’, meaning that I do not use an artist to see if he or she sells well, and drop them after. I will make a show with exclusive works and represent them immediately. Sometimes I’ll exhibit older works because I believe it is important to show where the artists come from.
LT: Is there any common thread in the artists you exhibit at the gallery?
FL: They all have in common the fact that their works hold a reflection on contemporary times. Whether it’s in their artistic process, in their way of working, or in the work of art itself. It can be a moment of today in the space and time just like Jorge Conde who will talk about the past and the present and how architecture is evolving; or it can be like Daniela Edburg who will say something about herself, her intimacy and fears. There are no limitations. That’s why one of the first questions I‘ve been asked when opening the gallery was: ‘Are you showing emerging artists?’ No, I answered, it’s not about emerging artists, it’s about artists who really have something to say about today, whether it’s personal or universal.
LT: You recently invited a selection of young students from the Swiss art schools ECAL and HEAD to invade the gallery space with their works, based on a predefined theme. How did this idea come to you?
FL: That has been my little baby project for a long time now. Since opening the gallery, I have always wanted to give a chance to young artists to allow them to have something more once they leave school; something that concretely prepares them for the future. ‘Space Invasion’ stands on the idea of giving a voice to students who are the next generation of artists. It’s all about giving them a space, and acting as a platform to show their works. We do not touch anything on sales as we are not representing them, we are simply giving them the tools to promote their works and make them grow.
The first edition of “Space Invasion” was a lot of learning, for them and for us too. They didn’t know how to price the work, what’s an edition, they didn’t have any clue about how, as an artist, you do not receive a salary, or how to cover your costs. As artists, they all have their amazing creative side, but they don’t know how to manage their careers. And if you cannot sell and cover your costs, you cannot recreate. It was a very fascinating experience. It was such a great success that I intend now to involve the city of Lausanne for the new project. I would love them to give me an unused building with a much bigger space in order to receive more projects. Last time we received 60 portfolios and we selected 9, and I would love to be able to select a greater amount. (Please check out our website for more information: www.spaceinvasion.ch).
LT: You referred a couple of times to the gallery space, let’s come to that point. In these troubled times due to coronavirus, the art market and a big number of galleries have shifted online… Did you follow this trend? Do you still believe in the physical presence of the gallery?
FL: I definitely believe in the physical presence of and in the gallery. We haven’t done anything online apart from a two months’ initiative, called ‘Add a Piece to Your Collection’, where our artists would give a piece that was less expensive and that we could sell directly. But we haven’t done anything such as an online viewing room. As a collector, I personally received so many invitations to viewing rooms and I simply can’t stand them anymore. I understand that it is an important and clever approach on behalf of galleries, but at the end of the day I believe in going to the gallery physically and experiencing all the talking, the viewing, the wondering. That is why I am doing a setting for each exhibition, I like the fact that it’s like an immersive experience.
LT: A few words on the setting of the current exhibition, Jorge Conde, ‘Remember that Place’ ?
FL: In ‘Remember that Place’, Jorge Conde explores industrial sites in Switzerland that have been forgotten and that are now culture hubs. He talks about how architecture should never be forgotten for what it was used for at the beginning. The idea of the setting was to give an industrial look to the exhibition space and its annex room on the first floor, which is kind of an old place. We have covered up all the walls with insulation in order to get this industrial and cold feeling. We currently present a selection of photographs, which are like ‘collages’ of the past and the present. The exhibition is quite bold because it gives the sense of what we were in the past and where we’re standing today… and where we’re going to be tomorrow. Architecture has been for centuries the only footprint that has remained from human beings. The role it played in our societies has to be highlighted.
LT: Could you share with us your best memory spent in the gallery so far ?
Charles de Boccard (Gallery Director): The best moment was definitely when we opened the first show of Andrea Galvani and that everything was working. We had many issues with the neon and the installation which was very complicated and which required lots of work. But when the gallery finally opened and that all the collectors came in and we saw that everyone was happy, it was just an incredible ‘wow’ feeling, the feeling that we have made it. It was such a great achievement and definitely my best memory so far.
FL: It’s funny because my best memory was the day before this first opening day. We arrived at the gallery space, everything was in place and all the neon were set up. We turn on the neon and we realized that everything was black and that there was no electricity. I think it was the best moment because it was also the most challenging one. At that moment I thought that we could never get over it but we eventually overcame it. The most challenging moments are definitely the best because when you can overcome them, you always feel close to perfection. I don’t regret anything.
CdB: Absolutely. Every exhibition seems so fluid and easy since this moment. I now believe we can make everything work after that episode!
LT: A few words about your next show ?
FL: The next exhibition will be presenting the works of Norbert Bisky, a very well-known German painter who is represented by Galerie Templon and König Galerie. I contacted him through Instagram and I told him about why I love his painting and why I wanted to do a show about his works. I went to see him in Berlin and he accepted. We are very happy to exhibit him soon.
We also have plenty of exciting upcoming projects, including the project ‘The Color of My Dream’ presenting five African artists curated by Kami Gahiga in June 2021.
Discover the gallery’s exhibition program on: https://www.fabiennelevy.com/ or follow them on Instagram: @fabiennelevygallery.