Selectiveness and Selection

At the gallery – which I took over eighteen years ago, and which will be thirty years old in 2023 – we have always been selective.

The first time I joined the selection committee of a major international art fair was in 2010. The art fair in question was FIAC, and it was Jennifer Flay and Martin Bethenod who invited me to join the committee. I dedicated myself to the task and learned a lot, including that however sincere and impartial one thinks one is, one’s natural propensity to make enemies and lose friends increases, and on top of that, for good measure, so does the propensity to make no new friends.

In 2017, having been released from my previous commitments, I agreed to join the Board of Trustees of the prestigious Dutch foundation TEFAF. Among other things, I instated the principle, mode of governance and implementation of selection committees (one for each major area of art) – which had not previously existed as such at TEFAF – and, as a member of the Modern and Contemporary Selection Committee, helped overhaul the way modern and contemporary art was presented at Maastricht and create ex nihilo – together with my friend Christophe Van de Weghe – a new annual event in New York in the spring.

Helped by eminent colleagues such as Robert Landau, Ben Brown, Alex Logsdail and Sharis Alexandrian, we laboured zealously to put the section on its present secure footing within an essentially traditional institution – an achievement that has been saluted by the profession.

Selecting is never the same as judging. Who are we to judge? Selecting means affirming convictions that are as objective as possible in an intrinsically subjective field while adhering to a fair’s strategic positioning, and above all being aware of the impact of one’s choices on professionals who, just like ourselves, have programmatic aims and work with staff, customers and suppliers whose financial equilibrium and even livelihoods are at stake. In the eyes of dealers, to be or not to be selected at certain fairs sometimes means to be or not to be, full stop.

Although I left the Board of TEFAF in March 2021, at the request of the Executive Committee, I returned to the Selection Committee in October 2021, although I had made it clear it would be for a short period of time.

A short while ago, Marc Spiegler, the Global Director of Art Basel, asked me to join the Selection Committee of the mother fair in Basel. Basel is to art what Cannes is to cinema, so I was greatly honoured, and accepted the proposal. As I had previously done so in Paris, Maastricht and New York, I will give of my best and will constantly endeavour to ensure that I distinguish between the intertwined interests of the fair and its participants, on the one hand, and my own interests on the other. My stances will be taken in full awareness of their implications, entirely independently, on the basis of my knowledge of market players and my own convictions as they relate to the DNA of the event defined by its management, in complete concertation with the other committee members.

Accepting this new role immediately raised issues to do with power. Although I feel quite capable of acting in the best, distinct interests of the three fairs – Maastricht, New York and Basel – and their respective exhibitors, taking the utmost care to avoid the trap of uniformity and respect the fairs’ specific identities, and even if decisions were made collectively, one person who sat on all three committees would inevitably be perceived by their colleagues as having too much responsibility, even if that responsibility was in reality strictly controlled. I understand that and bow to the will of the gods.

Accordingly, despite my immense attachment to TEFAF, which is a part of myself, out of concern to be fair, I have informed its management, as I hereby inform readers, of my decision to give up my seat on the Modern and Contemporary Selection Committee.

As a selector, one also has to be willing to subject oneself to selection.