Twenty Interpretations of Dior in Beijing

Dior let twenty artists ransack the imagery of the Parisian haute couture house to create installations for an exhibition in Beijing’s UCCA and Dazed Digital talks to Jerome Sans who curated it all.

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All images of exhibition taken by Stephane Viallon
All images of exhibition taken by Stephane Viallon. Dior papercut installation by Liu Jianhua.
In November, an exhibition, showing off a unique collaboration between Christian Dior and twenty of China’s leading contemporary artists, was unveiled at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing. Given the scale of the exhibition, it would seem strange Dior chose Bejing as their exhibition location, as opposed to say New York or Paris. Not when you consider that the key figure in making this all happen is the director of the UCCA, Jerome Sans, ex- director of the Palais de Tokyo. Having worked with Chinese artists for over twenty years, Sans together with Bernard Arnault commissioned a variety of installations and so as a result the UCCA currently is housing a 23-foot high Lady Dior bag made out of fluorescent tubes, a white porcelain couture atelier and a giant portrait of Galliano composed of AK-47 logos (a reference to the artist's pseudonym). They mingle with archive dresses by both Dior and Galliano as well as jewellery by Victoire de Castellane and menswear by Kris Van Assche.

Dazed Digital: Firstly, why did you decide to bring an exhibition like this about Dior to UCCA in Beijing?
Jerome Sans: UCCA is about dialogue, dialogue between Chinese contemporary creativity and the world, dialogue, between the different medium of contemporary creativity, dialogue between talents. The idea was to do a one of a kind exhibition, which would put in dialogue the incredible creativity of Chinese artists and the icons of Dior history. This exhibition would be a unique show, actually a haute couture exhibition, made with Chinese artists for a Chinese audience, not anywhere else.
 
DD: What aspects of Dior's work, both in the past and present do you admire?
JS: Dior is the emblem of Haute Couture, the elegance, together with the audacity, contemporary touch and creativity, its concept of New look is still alive.
 
DD: How did your interest in Chinese contemporary art begin and despite China's growing economic eminence in the world, do you think the art world will also prosper in the same way?
JS: I long had a very close relationship with China. In the mid 1980?s I met with Chinese artists such as Chen Zhen, Wang Du, Huang Yong Ping, Yan Peiming, Shen Yuan. We became very close friends, and we did shows together, notably the first one in 1986 in Pourrieres en Provence. I had a very deep friendship link with Chen Zhen, and with Wang du, we always wanted to put a show together in his home town Wuhan. Now, being the Director of The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art and working on a daily basis with Chinese artists is a fantastic opportunity to give back to China what China gave to me in the past.
The creative energy here is as busying and as dynamic as it use to be in New York or in London in the 80s. The world has changed. New emerging territories such as India, Arab countries and Latin America challenge China everyday. That stimulation within a global perspective create the unique energy that we have in China.
 
DD: Fashion has always been an interest of yours and I hear you have a rather big collection of shoes - do you view fashion in the same way as you see art or do you see them as two different entities?
JS: I have always believed in the necessity of creating complementary context between creative fields to explore new meanings and take artists beyond the territory of their usual vocabulary. Ever renewed creativity of Dior that has convinced the world was also for us an obvious common point with Chinese contemporary creativity.
 
DD: Art and fashion have become increasingly cross-purpose, one often lending to the other and vice versa - how do you see the links between them being forged, other than exhibitions like this Dior one?
JS: Murakami working with Louis Vuitton is a typical success case, in terms of both Art and fashion. As a non for profit art center UCCA is supporting the future of Chinese contemporary on a non commercial basis. However, collectors and corporations can be of support for the artists. In this particular case for instance the Bernard Arnault foundation is purchasing all the artist’s works, which demonstrates a real commitment to support Chinese artists, even beyond the organization of the exhibition.
 
DD: How did the selection of the 20 artists involved with the exhibition work? Was it difficult selecting the 20 artists to work with?
JS: We, Bernard Arnault himself as well as his daughter Delphine Arnault-Gancia, Berenice Angremy and myself selected artists from different generations, from the last two decades that represent the fantastic recent history of Chinese contemporary art. Artists recognized together with emerging artists to show the extraordinary dynamism of the art scene here, no other criteria was regarded but talent.
 
DD: Did they have complete free rein from Dior to create their pieces?
JS: Yes, complete free rein. You will easily notice that none of the art work have been conceived as a tribute to Dior whatsoever but rather show a tough forward vision and high artistic quality.
 
DD: You've also written a book about 30 of China's major artists today - how has your understanding of Chinese art developed since taking on the position as curator of UCCA and did that affect the way the book was written?
JS: When I arrived in China, I decided to meet the artistic community and all the artists that make the scene here. I decided to record these meetings. The idea was to give back the voice to the artists and to show that China is not only producing products for the market but also primarily product thoughts. China had unique voices. The book titled “China talks” bring together 30 artists from different horizons generations and attitudes to show the diversity and the energy of the China scene.
 
DD: Which piece are you particularly impressed with from the exhibition, that turned out particularly well?
JS: All of them

Christian Dior and Chinese Artists on at the UCCA until 15th January 2009.
China Talks, a book of interviews with 30 key players of Chinese contemporary art by Jerome Sans published on Timezone 8.

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