Danny Weckx in interview with Mateusz Bieczyński

Mateusz Bieczyński (MB): Hello and welcome in Poznań Art Week’s Podcast “The Energy of Art” (“Energia Sztuki”). Thanks to our sponsor, ENEA Opeator. My guest today is Danny Weckx, gallerist from Belgium, the founder and the owner, the chief of the Mad Gallery. Hello, Denis.

Danny Weckx (DW): Hello.

MB: Nice to have you again in Poznan. You are traveling a lot, and I’m very happy that we crossed our roads. MAD Galley is a worldwide business or something else?

DW: Yeah, well, I think so. I’m very happy. Thanks for inviting me here, because my Polish, unfortunately, is not that good yet. I understand a little bit, but, yeah.

MB: I hope that the next session with you will be in Polish.

DW: I hope so.

MB: Promise?

DW: Well… Yeah, I think I’m very happy to be in Poland. I know Poznan very well, from business point of view, because I was doing some business for many years already here and becoming, step by step, an art collector and then a gallerist in Belgium.

MB: So let’s start from the very beginning, because when I first met you here in porcelain, I was, wow, impressed that you took the risk, you know, to open one of your branches in Poznan, in the city, which is, well, not really central in the world of arts, exactly, but you did it. So please tell more about how it’s come to happen that you are here with your gallery.

DW: Yeah, well, anyway, I know that it’s not most funky, maybe. Poznan is not line New York, Shanghai, London, Paris, but my gallery in Belgium is also not in Brussels, it’s in Genk, which is close to the German border. And I think that we need also galleries that invest in areas where not everybody is going. I think it makes also a difference, or we can make a difference. There is maybe not so much, let’s say, competition, if you look at it from a business point of view. But on the other hand, I think also that there are a lot of places in the world where good artists should be invited to. And I think that was the main reason also for us to choose for Poznan. This city has to do also with the business aspect of my past, of course. So for me, it was easier, because I know Poznan very well, and I always loved this city. I think also, on the arts perspective, there is a lot going on, especially. If you look at the UAP (The University of the Arts Poznan) now, there is so many young artists. They are doing well here, and it’s very difficult for artists in general to come out of that gray zone. So for me, it’s also interesting in having a look at these areas not very typical for art.

MB: Okay, I will ask you, of course, in a minute about your experiences of being a gallerist in Poznan. But tell me a bit more about your own personal choices from the past, which led you to arts. So how it happened that being active in the other sphere of business, you decided to deal with arts?

DW: I think business-wise I was always in a creative environment. I was in marketing, doing marketing activities. I was a musician also in the past. For me, it happened a little bit by coincidence, because if you are a businessman, if you’re in business and you have your own company, you’re focused on that business part to develop and to grow it. My business was also always international one. Although we’re not multinational, because we’re like a small company, but always looked outside the borders of the home country. So, during my trips to South Africa, especially there, I saw the beauty of art in the contemporary art scene. In Belgium, we didn’t have so much public art, and there I saw it everywhere. Art outside was maybe not always the top quality, but it was very accessible. This experience for me changed a little bit my view on how we perceive art, on how we put art in spaces. That was for me, the starting point of collecting also. I wanted to have art also in my own spaces, and of course, I visited a lot of musea everywhere in the world. Off course to really start collecting art you also need a little bit of money to buy pieces of art. Off course in the beginning of your career, you don’t have much money. But it doesn’t mean that you cannot buy art, but it was not on my radar so much in investing in art. Due to that fact how it started, actually, it is why the name of the gallery is very difficult to pronounce in English. It called UITSTALLING. It’s the South African word of exhibition, or exposing art. And there it started. Due to the fact that I had contact with a lot of South African artists, who were underrepresented in European environment I said, okay, this is a kind of a niche that I can jump in. And that’s how it basically started at the time.

MB: When was it exactly?

DW: Well, I started collecting arts already for, let’s say, 15 years, but really taking the step of starting the galleries was just before COVID in 2019. So we’re still quite young as a gallery now.

MB: After starting the bunch in Pozan, you are in three locations, right?

DW: Yeah. Well, we are in Belgium let’s say, in three gallery spaces. We have the Cube Gallery, we have UITSTALLING Art Gallery, and we have the Villa… and in Poznan, the fourth location… and then we opened last year, a residency space in the same street in Belgium, and it’s called Le Charbonage, to put it in French, a gallery space where we invite artists, also Polish artists were already there.

MB: So your entertainment is growing.

DW: It’s growing, yeah, it’s a lot of work also, I have to say. And it’s not so easy in locations like this, but I think it’s like I always say, it’s like a good restaurant. If you have a good restaurant, people will go there, will drive there. So you need to follow a good strategy. Bring good artists, bring a good mix of established artists and young artists, and try also to do something that maybe not everybody is doing.

MB: Your comparison with the restaurant is very interesting. I remember my first experience with Mad Gallery in Poznan. I was walking down the Mielżyński street, and then I realized, wow, there is something like white cube there. Oh, there are pictures there. I didn’t know that space, so I entered and I started to look. There were many different interesting names, including Pablo Picasso. The gallery appeared, like wow, so accidentally, so unexpectedly, and now we are after more than one year already, right?

DW: Yeah, I think now almost one and a half years.

MB: How do you see it? How was the experience of this year?

DW: Well, I think you cannot really judge from one or two years. I think that running a gallery this is not just like a short thing. On the other hand, off course we need to evaluate, because of course, Poznan is not, let’s say, the same as Warsaw, unfortunately, on the level of collectors. But I think that I’m very happy, about the results and the reactions of the people passing by. What is also very interesting for me is to bring artists from Poland to Belgium, to bring Belgian artists to here, bring South African artists here. So, to have a little bit more that international look. I have to say that my experience in Poznan in general is that the galleries active here are also a lot focusing on local artists, which is very good. We have to have that, definitely. To do the same as what everybody’s doing, then for me, I think there is not the way. Off course it’s more difficult also to bring these established artists, like, for example, Zanele Muholy, who we had here, who opened this week in Tate in London, a big show come from San Francisco, in MoMA, and we had a solo show of Muholy in our gallery, for example. In order to have these artists agreeing to do a show in Poznan we have to explain where the hell is Poznan. It’s not so easy but it opens also a lot of perspectives. I think you need to start somewhere… I think the worst thing that can happen is that every gallery, starting here and close after one, two years… The fact is that the gallery is not visited by a lot of art collectors who spend a lot of money. We are a commercial gallery, it’s not like we are an institutional gallery. So in order to get collectors here, or to increase the top of mind of Poznan as a cultural gallery city, you need to have galleries that sustain and keep on going here. Instead of saying, okay, let’s move to Warsaw, because there is more potential. That’s maybe an easier way, but that’s also what I’m not doing in Belgium. I’m not in Brussels, although in Brussels there are a lot of galleries and I’m not in Antwerp too. So I think it needs definitely a little bit more time.

MB: Yes, I agree completely with your statement, that we need the permanent infrastructure for art to let it grow. I know there were some projects you made already with Poznan or Polish artists. Can you say more about them?

DW: Yeah, it was actually also one of my goals to get a little bit of a connection to the local scene of artists active there. Especially in Poznan, when I came here, I knew, of course, some artists, but not many emerging, younger upcoming artists. So in Belgium, I did a project of an was an editioned book of 101 copies, where we did an open call for artists to apply with their works. And it was about a work on paper. It has to be a smaller work that we could put in that book. In Belgium we had 180 applications. Later the jury of three independent curators, art historians, has made the decision of 1718 artists, and we put it in the book. Having this good experience from the past I said, let’s do that also in Poznan. We had also over 150 applications, and with a jury of two Polish artists, working as teachers on UAP made a selection. We wanted to work also closely with the UAP together, because I think, it’s always good to have an institutional cooperation. We had also a very nice book that we brought, and we did an exhibition in Belgium. It was 17 or 18 artists, and yeah, that was a very nice experience. A lot of people visited the opening here, and a lot of people were connected to this project. Then we brought that exhibition to Belgium, and we gave to three of these artists, also a small group exhibition in a special space in Belgium. For me, it was very good to get to know the market, and I see now that some of these artists are really already moving into next steps. So that’s the proof that we need more of that kind of activities. Of course, it was not financed by anybody, it was just invested by us. But for me, it was good to get to know artists and then afterwards see how they evolve, how they grow. And then one day we will maybe say, let’s do something together, more like in a representative scenario.

MB: Last year, in the summer, there was also another exhibition of Polish female artists in Belgium, right?

DW: In Belgium, yes, a very interesting and good… very strong exhibition entitled “Fragility” with three polish artists – with Kamila Kobierzyńska, Anna Myszkowiak and Julia Królikowska. I think it was one of the better exhibitions that we did with emerging young artists. We had also local press in Belgium coming to, even television came too.

MB: What was the reception?

DW: Reception was actually very good. Of course, again, it’s always difficult on the sales side, because if you look at it very commercially, again, it was not the most commercial exhibition, again, with also a little bit more difficult art. But I think it also put the gallery on a certain level. Of course, I think it’s important to give also space to, maybe sometimes, commercial art. That’s the thing that you need to decide while running a gallery. You need to have a little bit of both. On one hand you need to survive, but also, on the other hand, you need to bring in a certain level. To take your collectors on a journey of showing things that they will never see or if they don’t come to Poznan.

MB: Risking is also a part of this.

DW: Risking is definitely a part of it. Yeah, No risk, no fun, they say. But okay.

MB: The one who is not risking is not drinking the champagne.

DW: Yeah, exactly, I think you need to see it always a little bit on the longer term. I think I always had that in my business perspective. I always said, you need to look on the longer term. Fast money or fast success can also be dangerous. It’s same with artists. I see artists booming and then they are gone two, three years later. So I believe in a consistent growth of an artist and a consistent growth of a gallery space, but also in a consistent growth of business. If you want to lead business, I think that’s much better than just two years of fantastic success and then gone.

MB: Before I will ask you about those long-term plans, let’s go a bit beyond our Poznan local perspective. I would like to ask you, as a person who has experience in art market, not only in one country, about the international art market and its future. You are observing streams and tendencies nowadays. Can you share with our public your feelings about the possible future of the art market development? There are many voices heard, which are critical about that, what is going on now. Of course, your concept is not really fully in line with the biggest game changers strategy, let’s say Gagosian Gallery, et cetera, et cetera, but maybe you have kind of a general thoughts, ideas, in which direction everything is moving and how it will change in the future? For example, nowadays also Internet trading with art is growing… So, what’s your idea?

DW: Yeah, the online part is definitely important. You cannot forget about that. But to be successful you need today a good mixture of gallery space and digital formats. I think the possibility of experiencing art in a space, in a white cube, the standing in front of an artwork, and letting yourself to be emotionally caught by a work of art is essential. Some people start crying in front of a work, what is not so easily generated over an Instagram post and that cannot be replaced. I think the direct experience of the arts is still the most important element. But again, we cannot be blind for what is happening in the market. I have also used Instagram a lot. We have also a lot of followers, but to be honest, I don’t see so much sales coming out of that part. Most of sales comes because people know the artist. People have seen the artist somewhere, and then, of course, once you know the artist or you might get triggered. I definitely think that the first connection can also be over an Instagram post, but then you want to know more or you want to see a real piece of that artist. Sometimes it’s much better if you look in real, and sometimes it’s also not so nice as the digital picture, which should not be the case with good art, but in general, I think the market is moving. And I know that a couple years ago, the NFT was hot. I don’t hear much about NFTs anymore, and I see a lot of people trying to connect and say: “oh, you want to sell your art? Do it over an NFT”. Damien Hirst did a fantastic experiment with the currency, and we had that already. I joined that experiment too, but you don’t hear much anymore about NFTs. It’s not that it’s gone. It’s not fashionable anymore.

I think that for a young artist, definitely Instagram will help in selling at the beginning of his or her career, but at a certain moment, if you really want to become an established artist, you need to – in my opinion – find someone to help you. You need a kind of a gallery.

I had a conversation over the weekend with Rexy Tseng. He’s a Taiwanese artist that we work with, and he said to me in the beginning: “I thought, I can do it myself”. He was asking himself: “Why I need to give a kind of a commission to a gallery? Until I started to sell – he said – then I had to pack, I had to organize everything, I had to do the insurance, and then people called me: the packaging was a little bit broken here…”. It shows that you have no clue what clients sometimes ask. As an artist, I think, you need to create, and as long as you do it as an amateur or you do it in the beginning of your career, it’s all fine.

But I think that, to come back to your question, how the market will evolve, I think it will always be a mixture of physical spaces and online business. Art fairs are still, to my opinion, very important. My experience with art fairs is that, there are the art collectors… there they come. To move them to Poznan to see one show it’s something different than to move them to Basel next week. That is why it’s important that in Poznan more and more galleries are coming, more art spaces are developing. So, if we bring in collectors from Belgium, what we’re going to do in September, for example, that we can show them around and I think it will be a mixture of different ingredients… but I don’t think that only the online business or online selling will survive in the long term.

MB: I hope so. However, we are slowly going to the end of our conversation, so maybe last remarks… and the question about your plans relating to MAD Gallery in Poznan. What the public will be able to see in upcoming time and what is the most recent activity, also in Poznan Art Week, this year?

DW: Well, I think maybe to start with Poznan Art Week… Congratulations with all the things that you do here!

MB: Thank you! Happy to have you on board!

DW: It’s good, it has that kind of format that people can come over. It’s good that it’s not just one day. In some cities it’s just an art night or something, which makes things a little bit difficult.

What we do here now in Poznan Art Week is, we promote a little bit our residency space. We have a show on with 8 artists that we invited last year in Le Charbonage in our residency space, and we show works that are made in our residency space. There are two Polish artists also that we had in Belgium already. One is, well, let’s say, the most known, Szaweł Płóciennik from Warsaw. He will be here also tomorrow and the day after. We have a meet and greet, and people can come over. We organize guided tours. So that is what we do during Poznań Art Week.

In the future, for me, the main goal is to keep on bringing established and well-known artists to Poznan. There will be the triangle between Polish artist, Belgian artist and African artist. That are the three keys. Of course, sometimes it can be, I don’t limit myself. It will be always a mixture of photography, definitely painting, sculpture or other works, maybe sometimes video. Even if that’s more difficult, but I don’t want to be pushed into some kind of corner like: “Oh, that’s the gallery, which is doing only minimalistic art or something like that”. I think that the art lover always loves different types of art.

MB: Yes, we love to be surprised. So, finger crossed for your plans. I recommend to our public to follow social media and the webpage of MAD Gallery in Poznan. My guest was Weckx. Thank you very much for a nice talk.

DW: Thank you, Mateusz.

edition 2024MAD GalleryPoznań

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Mateusz M. Bieczyński

Lawyer, art historian, exhibition curator, art critic, author of publications, court expert in the field of copyright and visual arts. Author of monographic studies on the legal frame of artistic production. Curator of art exhibitions and editor of exhibition catalogs in Poland and abroad. He published in many artistic magazines, including Arteon, Art & Business, Format, Kwartalnik Fotografia, Obieg.pl, in total, over 100 articles and interviews.