“The first time I felt the power of art was via the anthropometries series by Yves Klein,”
says gallerist David De Buck. He recalls watching these videos over and over again, entranced by their performative nature. (If you need to brush up on your Contemporary Art 101, this series was the one where Klein applied paint to naked women and then directed them to paint his canvases with their bodies.) De Buck, who has an art collection that includes Klein and a wide range of modern and contemporary artists, is tall and slim, with a brown tuft of hair. He has an eye color suspiciously close to the renowned blue of Klein’s invention, which might hint at his intimate, lifelong relationship with art.
In 2010, De Buck opened his gallery in Chelsea and has shown an eye for keen curation. The eclectic (living) artists on his very international roster include Rashaad Newsome, the socially conscious collagist and video artist who has shown at the Whitney, the SFMOMA and MoMA PS1; Kelly Reemtsen, a painter who engages defiant female figuration; and Mahmoud Hamadani, an Iranian illustrator who has an MA in Public Administration from Harvard. De Buck also has a private viewing space in Antwerp, Belgium, not far from his birthplace Ghent.
“My brother and I were brought up in an environment that was very closely linked to the art world,” the gallerist says of his European upbringing. “In the 70s, 80s and 90s, before the digital conversion, my father was active in the printing business, focusing on the more complex photogravure technique,” De Buck says. “Since fine arts was one of my father’s passions, his company rather quickly developed a market-leading role in the production of fine art catalogues.” One of these was a catalogue raisonné for René Magritte.
This exposure to the art world left an indelible impact on De Buck. A precocious collector from the start, he got his first artwork at the age of 12 years old. “In a gallery in Knokke-le-Zoute on the Belgian coast, I saw a piece by Karel Appel. I was immediately fascinated by its bright colors and lines, which in my imagination came to life and transformed into various kinds of impossible creatures.”
His taste for the avant-garde grew continental in the years that followed as he travelled around Europe, both physically and mentally. “I remember long drives to the south of France. Once we had a couple of Lalanne’s sheep stacked in the back of the mini-van,” De Buck recalls, referring to the iconic works of sculpture. “We were having lunch with Claude and Francois-Xavier in their garden afterwards.”
After a stint in finance, De Buck decided that he wanted to combine his organizational skills with his passion and expertise in art. Focused on personal relationships with artists and estates, De Buck has built a formidable collection that includes the aforementioned Yves Klein as well as Andy Warhol.
De Buck recalls an uncanny experience with the latter pop titan:
“The fabulous Ultra Violet, one of Andy Warhol’s muses, attended our wedding. She gifted us Warhol’s personal teakettles, which was a pretty hilarious moment.” It’s these kinds of experiences that connect De Buck to his collection. “All of these gentle encounters and this continuous exposure to art and aesthetics makes me hungry and curious for new artistic discoveries.”
It’s in this sprit that De Buck is readying the next exhibition at his eponymous gallery. “In a few weeks time, on September 22, 2016, we will be opening a retrospective exhibition of Bernard Aubertin. The French Zero artist was known for his monochrome red paintings, and for the use of fire in his work.” The Zero movement was an international art group that emerged in the late 1960s as a reaction against Art Informel (the European quivalent of the Abstract Expressionists), who preferred installations and studio exhibitions, in the vein of Nouveau Réalisme and Arte Povera.
Aubertin’s red paintings are like an analogue to Klein’s blue—brightly colored, bold statements about the emotions and ideas conjured by the hue. Both Aubertin and Klein were part of the Zero movement, so the exhibition at De Buck presents a little-known artist who was working at the same time as Klein. About Aubertin, De Buck says, “He created unique scorched surfaces, which he exhibited in daring performances. One year after his death, this will be the artist’s first solo-exhibition in New York and marks the gallery’s representation of the artist’s estate. The exhibition will showcase different kinds of works—nail paintings, works on paper, sculptures—representing the entirety of the Aubertin oeuvre across time.”
As with Aubertin, David De Buck doesn’t just collect and exhibit based on trends. His deep interest in art history isn’t, however, cold and stilted—it’s empowered by his sense of taste. Still, in presenting artists like Aubertin, De Buck wants to challenge viewers and aficionados. “I find it important to present a holistic and historic take on Aubertin’s work in order to highlight his artistic significance. Contrary to Europe, America still largely needs to discover the work by Aubertin. According to Artnet he is one of the eight most undervalued artists in today’s art market. I am very excited about this, because this is the moment when you can start making a difference as a gallerist.”