Magda Danysz is a Parisian art dealer and gallery owner, who has recently relocated from Bund 18 to open her very own MD Gallery in 188 - Shanghai's up-and-coming art district in Yangpu. The charismatic madame, who opened her first gallery at the tender age of 17, is currently celebrating the Shanghai gallery's 3-year-anniversary with the exhibition 'Overlook'. Shanghai 247 caught up with her to discuss life in the art industry, street art and the challenges of starting young.
S247: You were only 17 when you opened your first gallery. What led you to that decision when you were still so young?
That's a good question - actually, at that time, I didn’t really ask myself why, I simply did it. My mother was an artist, so I guess my background influenced me, but that was definitely not enough to open a gallery. I thought the artists were not very smart in promoting themselves, and I realised that some of them needed support. I met a really famous New York gallery owner, Leo Castelli. He told me that for that kind of job, you have to start early, because it takes an entire lifetime. I've come to find that this is so true, you follow and support the artists during their lives, their evolution, their feelings, and you get to know them in a profound way. From that moment I understood I just had to do it.
S247: How challenging was it?
I think this job is always a question of challenge. You can compare it to an events job; you don’t know beforehand if the audience is going to appreciate it or not, while you personally think that it’s going to be amazing. When I started, I would have never imagined that kind of stake. Now, of course, I take that into consideration. For example, when we moved to a bigger gallery here in 188, I realised how much was actually at stake. However, you have to do things without thinking too much about them, or doubting yourself. Because if you do, you will prevent yourself from doing great things.
S247: What would be your advice for people who are looking to get a foot into the business?
You just go! Go with the arrogance of youth, and then you learn by facing reality; life gives you some slaps and that takes time. You have to work hard, and it’s learning - every day. In the beginning, I thought you just needed an exhibition place and you sit around in it all day long... I had absolutely no idea about how to manage a society, how to converse or deal with communication. Now I can say that I learned the hard way.
Magda Danysz opened her first gallery at the tender age of 17 - now she owns two successful galleries in Paris and Shanghai
S247: Your first exhibition was with street artist JonOne, can you tell us a little about that?
I perfectly remember this day, because it was my 18th birthday. I had promised myself I would do it, and was very ambitious about it. At first, I thought that Jon and the artists he worked with would think I was just crazy. But they all agreed to do it, and it became an astonishing human adventure. At that time, nobody cared about street art and graffiti, yet the exhibition was a huge success; we did it by believing in it.
For a little story, the artists’ list was handmade, and many years later I met a guy, who remembered the exhibition. He had kept this list that I myself don’t even have any more! I was so happy when he told me that the exhibition had been an important experience for him, because it hadn't been at all comparable with a museum exhibition. It was my first exhibition and it was great to see that even foreign customers were interested; some called from Germany!
Then when I moved to Shanghai, I immediately thought about Jon. He was the only one who would be able to do it and make it work. I decided to do an exhibition with Jon which would remind of the one we did in Paris, 20 years earlier. And yes, the first exhibition here was a real success. I was quite stressed at first, because three years ago, street art was still not very fashionable, especially in China. However, on the opening day, a Chinese man told me not to worry, because it was comparable to calligraphy, the highest Chinese art form. And he was right. I love this profound way that Chinese people have with life.
Street artist JonOne was the first to work with Magda Danysz for the inauguration of her Parisian gallery - and returned 20 years later for the opening in Shanghai
S247: Can you explain your personal interest in Street and Numeric Art?
I’m part of that generation which saw the emergence of street art during the 80’s. And it was just crazy. I was fascinated by this movement, which was not only an artistic one but also an entire culture with music, clothes, street wear, etc.. Just like other trends, it could have disappeared after five years or so, but this movement was unique and already had its own language and codes, street arts had a particular and very personal technique.
I've always been amazed by the fast expansion and I think it would be fatal if the history of art didn't include it in their studies. The funny thing that always existed is that the contemporaries reject this movement. It is quite annoying to see that the same mistakes are always repeated. However, I dare say that street art is THE movement of the 20th century that will remain in the minds of people.
New generations recognise the immense talent of this movement and the artists within. For example, I know an artist that earned a lot of money doing numeric art and videos. No one would guess that he comes from a street art background.
S247: Why did you choose to come to Shanghai in the first place?
I simply fell in love with the city. I've lived in New York and once I came out here, I realised that Shanghai has the same energy that you could find in NY 25 years ago. You can feel a sort of positive energy that will help to make things work, and you feel as though everything is possible - the sky is the limit. Everyone works for days and nights in the gallery. This is the first place where for the first time nobody told me I was crazy because I worked too hard.
MD Gallery celebrated the opening of its new space in Shanghai's up-and-coming creative cluster '188' with an exhibition of Portuguese street artist Vhils
S247: Two galleries in two international cities - are there any dreams left to fulfil?
Hopefully yes! They are not about the opening of a new gallery or anything like that, but more in the direction of helping artists to open their own galleries, to promote them, and give them the ability and opportunity to express themselves. From a personal perspective, I just wish to keep going with a well-balanced lifestyle.
I am the bridge between the public and the artists. I help the public to understand works that ask for time to be understood. I love making an exhibition, because with time they gain value, there is an evolution. The saddest thing is when the exhibition is over. You want it to go on, that's why I love traveling exhibitions.
S247: What does the future hold for MD Gallery?
It is necessary to plan our future exhibitions a year in advance, in order to give the artists time to work and prepare. In September, we will present Yang Yongliang, and her ancient paintings. Her work is quite remarkable, because when you take a closer look, one can observe that the painting is actually formed by mini buildings that create the painting itself. In winter we will exhibit a Belgian artist, Fred Eerdekens, whose work is full of poetry. You have this suspended wire, the shadow of which projects words - it's absolutely magic.
I also want to export work out of the gallery, to places that aren't usually dedicated to art, in order to make art more accessible to the public.
Yang Yongjiang's works will be on display at MD Gallery in September
Belgian artist Fred Eerdekens creates poetic art by playing with shadows
S247: Do you have any works that you are especially fond of?
There is not a work, but several works that I am particularly attached to. I'm a big fan of Jackson Pollock, but I don’t have any particular piece that I prefer. I see art as a state of mind in a period of time, and it doesn’t necessarily represent you. Some works have touched me and mean a lot to me, and I feel lucky to be working in a gallery, because I’ve learnt how to understand the works; I even live them.
WORDS: PIQUETTE / MAGDA DANYSZ
PICTURES: MAGDA DANYSZ GALLERY