PORTRAIT: Valerie Douniaux, the Japanese expertise of a young French woman


Valerie Douniaux, at the crossroads of Japanese and French cultures

If you read be-Art magazine since our debuts, you know Valerie Douniaux for her reviews of exhibitions in Tokyo, in a section titled “Vignettes from Tokyo”. We thought is was the right time to get to know her a bit better, and tell our readers her very interesting growing career.

Memorize that name Valerie Douniaux, she is getting to be one of the best French connoisseur of Japanese culture. She was born in 1970 in Lille, a city in the far North of France which is not in any way linked to Japan. Nothing really in her family life predestined her to embrace the Japanese culture in such way.

Actually, she discovered Japanese art and culture while in high school, through books, movies or music, and then decided to study Japanese art and Japanese language while preparing her Masters degree at the University of Lille. Since then, she never stop traveling to Japan many times a year to meet with new artists, new places, anything new about Japanese Culture.

She continued with a PhD. in History of Japanese modern and contemporary art -Thesis on Japanese artists in France since 1945- she wrote prefaces of photography catalogs all related to Japan, she became a teacher in Japan Art History at the University of Lille. She also signed the first comprehensive guide in French language about Japanese teas: history, types and terroirs, and the tea ceremony.

In 2008, she created IKI, a company she turned into a publishing house in 2015, launching a collection of small format of photo books, alongside with several catalogs and comprehensive books about Japanese contemporary art.

Photo is indeed another point of interest for Valérie Douniaux. In parallel to her passion for Japan, she worked in France for Helio Association, for the promotion of the Photographic Language as a counselor, PR, author and curator.

In 2009, she naturally linked the two activities “I presented with Helio my first personal photo exhibition, Japon Kaléidoscope, at the Nadar Gallery in Tourcoing, followed by two other exhibitions in 2011 and 2014.”






bAm: Why did you choose to learn Japanese, when, in France at that time, it was more usual to learn Spanish or German?

I had a fascination for Japanese art and culture, and wanted to know more about it. Learning Japanese language therefore seemed the best way to further understand Japan, and to proceed with my PhD.

bAm: You are not only passionate about the culture and tradition of Japanese people, you do love Japanese art. What do you like so much in Japan art?

I guess it matches my own sensibility. I like the “simplicity” of Japanese art, the place left to space, to the void, which is everything but empty! The way artists express a lot with few elements. But I am also fascinated by Japanese modernity. This is a complex culture, artists are quite dynamic in spite of difficult conditions. Japanese photography is particularly interesting to me.

bAm: Many times you told us that the Japanese approach to art, artists and art market is not the same as in France or the US?

The system is very different. There is no support from the state for contemporary art, most galleries are rental, the contemporary art market is quite small… There is also the coexistence of traditional forms of art and Western ones. All this makes the Japanese Art world quite specific. Also, Japan is an archipelago, its geographical characteristics have a lot to do in Japan’s relations to the world.

bAm: tell us more about IKI Edition and Le pont rouge

iKi is a small company I have created for my various activities (writing, counseling…). Lately, I have added publishing to these and I must say I am very passionate about publishing books.

Le Pont Rouge is a small photo books collection. After Révelations, which I co-wrote under the direction of Sophie Cavaliero (Le Lézard Noir Publisher), we wanted to keep working with Japanese photographers, as we had developed great relations with them. Also, I thought small affordable photo books were a great idea, as there are not so many available. Other projects of iKi for 2016 are a book about Japanese contemporary ceramics, co-directed with Sophie Cavaliero, the launching of the photo book Ueki by Yasuyuki Takagi… and, I hope, several other projects!

bAm: Which emerging Japanese artist(s) would you recommend to our collectors?

It is always difficult for me to say, as I am close to some of these artists. There is a Gutai/Mono-Ha boom now, and artists from the previous generations also come back to the surface, which is very much deserved in many cases.

I am also glad of the new interest towards Tetsumi Kudo, a fascinating artist, a visionary. The ceramics book project made me discover more the world of ceramics. There are many very interesting ceramic artists, who present their works in art galleries rather than in ceramic galleries. This is interesting to follow for collectors, as it is often more affordable than other media.

I also think Japanese photographers are very interesting. Among them it is interesting to note that women are very active, in the emerging ones for example Asako Shimizu, Yoko Ikeda, Hiromi Kakimoto…  I am also very moved by Motoi Yamamoto’s installations. He makes small format works in the same spirit as his installations. Japanese contemporary creation is very rich, they are indeed many artists to discover and support.

Interview conducted, January 6th, 2016 by Beatrice Chassepot