It was my good fortune to know Gilles Dusein in the late 1980s, when his gallery Urbi et Orbi was on rue de la Roquette in Paris’s 11th arrondissement. I immediately liked his distinctive program, with its emphasis on photography, and we quickly became friends. Gilles was one of the first to show Nan Goldin—her work was an artistic shock to me—but also Zoe Leonard and so many others (Pierre Molinier, Sandy Skoglund, Jan Saudek etc.) who spoke to a sense of urgency, of lifestyles that differed from those familiar to us in Paris. In the early 1990s, Urbi et Orbi became an itinerant venue, and I worked with Gilles at the time: his vision of installing his gallery inside other people’s spaces, to present an “other” vision of art, seemed to me like a glimpse of the future.
Gilles Dusein was an extraordinary person. When I met him, he was earning a living as a dancer at the Alcazar while studying philosophy (he was part of Michal Foucault’s circle). Very early on, and ahead of his time, he chose to focus mainly on photography, while remaining open to creative practices of all kinds, as his collection demonstrates. Jacques Donguy, a gallerist who showed work by radical artists, offered Gilles the chance to curate part of his program, and that’s how Gilles began his own career as a gallerist. He lived in a modest apartment overlooking Père Lachaise cemetery: confronting his destiny, even then. Gotscho was his life partner and Nan Goldin published unforgettable photographs of the pair, taken as she accompanied them through to Gilles’s death. They lived with artworks by their close friends: Nan Goldin, Zoe Leonard, Pierre Keller, Larry Clark, Jean-Christian Bourcart, Pierre Molinier, Angela Bulloch, Jack Pierson, and so many others. All shared a commitment to a lifestyle outside the mainstream.
Gilles knew very well that he was different, a minority, but he chose freedom. The freedom that comes with accepting your choices and moving forward with your life as best as you can. Freedom resides, always, in knowing our limits. In his life, in his physicality, Gilles lived the message handed down to us by Michel Foucault (who also embraced his minority status, and difference of a kind): never forget to invent your own life.
The collection “Autour de Gilles Dusein” has been gifted to MAMCO with the support of the artists involved, Serge Aboukrat, Christian Bernard, and Caroline Bourgeois