a series of synapses

Steve and Chiara roSenblum

in the far corner of Paris’s 13th arrondissement, close to the bibliothèque nationale de France, is the rosenblum Collection and Friends. Myrna Ayad meets Steve and Chiara rosenblum, who turned their Contemporary art collection into a public space.

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Opening spread, left: Aleksandra Mir. (Detail) It’s Mine. 2007. Marker on paper. 190 x 300 cm; Aleksandra Mir. Marilyn’s Dresses Ripped Off. 2007. Marker on paper. 190 x 300 cm; Mark Handforth. Sinking Star. 2004. Fluorescent lights, coloured gels and fixtures. 240 x 343 cm. Photography by Myrna Ayad. Right: Chiara and Steve Rosenblum at the Rosenblum Collection and Friends, Paris. Facing page above: A view of the interior of the Rosenblum Collection and Friends, Paris. Centre: Matthew Day Jackson. Second Home. 2010. Glass, wood, formica, veneer, wool felt, steel, paint, silver, fluorescent lamps, neon asphalt, concrete and oil and sand from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. 440 x 420 x 850 cm. Right: Nick Van Woert. Return to Nature. 2011. Fibreglass statue made with packing peanuts, polyurethane, steel and polyurethane adhesive. 237 x 124 x 187 cm. Below: An interior view of Matthew Day Jackson’s Second Home. 122

elmeted with hardhats, Steve and Chiara rosenblum took one look at each other in their 1394-square-metre space in Paris and understood perfectly. it was that non-verbal language between a couple that confirmed to them that this – the transformation of their photo-finishing laboratory into what Steve termed as a “storage-plus” facility for the couple’s collection – was not going according to plan. and neither was their original budget. later at home, the couple discussed what they had each privately known all along but had thought would never materialise: that the space was actually turning into a gallery. and as they regale me with the story, both grin and giggle as they recount issues over light fixtures, cabling and how their budget literally tripled. “the only unfortunate thing was that all that money couldn’t go into buying new artworks,” says Steve, whose foray into the art world had begun a few years earlier with african art. June 2010 marked the couple’s decision to share their collection with the public. it was five months into reconstruction, managed by French architect Joseph dirand, and three months away from FiaC, which Steve and Chiara had set as a target. “the artists would be in Paris for the fair and we simply had to display their work,” admits Steve. it is this attitude of unwavering support to artists and adherence to the adage ‘art for art’s sake’ that frames the couple’s collecting (and exhibiting) methodology. the renovation of the space, and the many constructional challenges that ensued, were not the only issues with which the rosenblums had to deal: overnight, they became curators of Born in Dystopia, the premiere exhibition at what became, on 17 october 2010, the rosenblum Collection and Friends (rCF), a public space showcasing Contemporary works from their collection. “to tell you the truth, it was all quite natural and came very easily to us,” admits Chiara, “it was almost like we had been working on this show since we started collecting.” one may wonder why they opted to include the word ‘Friends’ in the naming of their space. in a techno-crazed age where ‘friend’ can denote a virtual acquaintance, the collective networks that ensue are of course the reason for the success of social networking sites such as twitter and Facebook. ‘Friends’ in this instance, however, is

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“We enjoy finding new artists. The discovery, the hunt, is such fun, and when we find a young artist whose works we like, we buy his or her works in depth and keep following their career.”
Chiara Rosenblum
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a synonym for ‘connections’ and that is precisely what Steve, an internet entrepreneur, wanted to communicate through rCF. it is a space open to all Contemporary art aficionados who are connected by the artists exhibited at rCF. essentially, the gallery serves as a home from home – it houses the couple’s collection and acts as a meeting place for friends through its groundfloor kitchen, rooftop children’s playroom and a library of books, magazines and dvds that is ‘curated’ by exhibiting artists.

novel ProSPeCtS
While the creation of rCF was a twist of artistic fate, its roots stem from a vision Steve had of devoting the photo-finishing laboratory on 183 rue de Chevaleret into an artist residency where “six artists – Germans, iraqis, americans and others, for example, can live together and produce work which Chiara and i would then curate into an exhibition at the space.” the rosenblums, who have been collecting Contemporary art for five years, had seen their fair share of shoebox artist studios all over the world and were keen on offering artists an opportunity. “artist studios in new York and berlin don’t have enough light or space, paints are piled up and you wonder how they produce such incredible work!” laughs Steve. moreover, the couple’s collecting has taken them to various cities in europe and the uSa where they have met gifted, emerging artists who were unknown in France. these studio visits drove the rosenblums’ desire to promote these artists in Paris, especially as their collecting strategy has, and is, solely focused on

“We like having regular commissions, mainly as they’re a great way of working with the artist because discussions are involved.” Steve Rosenblum

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Facing page: Rokni Haerizadeh. Alas, That our Love Song was Your Unfaithful Soldiers’ Serenade Returning from Their Conquest of the Prostitutes’ Fort. 2008. Oil on canvas. 300 x 600 cm. Image courtesy Rosenblum Collection and Friends, Paris. Below: Matthias Bitzer. (Detail) And I, I am Truly (Nothingness). 2010. Steel and lacquer. 200 x 45 x 50 cm. Above: Andrei Molodkin. G8. 2007. Photograph mounted on canvas with an acrylic block and plastic hoses filled with crude oil. 300 x 400 cm. Photography by Myrna Ayad.

budding talent. “We enjoy finding new artists,” adds Chiara, “the discovery, the hunt, is such fun, and when we find a young artist whose works we like, we buy his or her works in depth and keep following their career.” unfortunately, 183 rue de Chevaleret is not registered as a residential plot and no permit could be obtained for on-site accommodation. but in a sense, rCF’s establishment served as an ‘in-between’ – although artists cannot reside in the space, they are commissioned for site-specific works. “We like having regular commissions, mainly as they’re a great way of working with the artist because discussions are involved,” adds Steve. one of the first such commissions was mat-

thew day Jackson’s Second Home, an 18-tonne fallout shelter, which Steve says would cost about $133,000 – “without shipping” – to de-assemble and re-assemble should it be exhibited elsewhere. inspired by 1950s bunkers, the cube’s mirror-like glass exterior blends in seamlessly with the minimalist surroundings. it houses shelter paraphernalia created in Jackson’s trademark use of materials which resonate with symbolism – sculptures of human internal organs made from crude oil taken from the Gulf of mexico spill, for example. it was during arCo in 2010 that the rosenblums had approached Jackson for a commission. he, in turn, came back with some drawings of a bunker that he had long wanted to do, but which no one would finance. the couple gave the american artist the go-ahead and when Jackson faced production problems in the uSa, Steve found an architect in Paris who was able to meet the work’s specific requirements. Second Home was one of two specially commissioned works for Born in Dystopia; the other was Nonexistence of the Past, Death of the Future and the Infinite Possibilities of

the Present by loris Gréaud. it is a work which at first startles but then demands closer inspection. one may be forgiven for assuming that the four vertically hanging life-size rhinoceroses are taxidermies; even in the dark room in which they are placed, their hides are clearly defined. ironic perhaps, but the rhinoceroses seemingly march hopefully into a dark abyss. Steve and Chiara are used to astonished reactions to this work and, as i move hesitatingly around the enormous installation, they discuss how the French artist had presented them with a sketch, followed by three-dimensional computer drawings.

SlidinG doorS
Works by 20 artists constituted Born in Dystopia, which ran from october 2010 until July 2011. its vernissage was marked by a panel discussion between Jackson and Gréaud, moderated by american conceptual artist allen ruppersberg, whose work The Singing Posters Part I, II and II was also exhibited at rCF and which is a suggested modernisation of allen Ginsburg’s epic
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Facing page, left: Foreground: Duane Hanson. Housepainter II. 1984. Mixed media on bronze. 80.3 x 68 x 45.7 cm. Background, left to right: Lili Reynaud-Dewar. Interpretation Drawing (The Language Of The Gods). 2010. Red pencil on cardboard. 290 x 240 cm.; Lili Reynaud-Dewar. (Detail) Interpretation Drawing (I Don’t Give A Hoot). 2010. Grey pencil on cardboard. 270 x 240 cm. Photography by Myrna Ayad. Right: Sterling Ruby. Trophy Hunter. 2011. PVC pipe, aluminium, aerosol paint, formica, wood and polyurethane. 282 x 241 x 429 cm. Below: Tala Madani. Piss Rainbow. 2008. Oil on linen. 250 x 195 cm. Image courtesy Rosenblum Collection and Friends, Paris. All photography by Tony El-Hage unless otherwise specified.

poem Howl. in another twist of artistic fate, a verse from Howl – Be Crowned With Laurels in Oblivion – was the name of the group show staged at Paris’s Galerie thaddaeus ropac in June 2010 and which comprised works by iranian artists bita Fayyazi and brothers rokni and ramin haerizadeh. it was at this exhibition that the rosenblums encountered, and then acquired works by the haerizadehs. “We had been to see the bacon retrospective at the tate the year before and had become enamoured with his work,” explains Chiara, “thaddaeus is a good friend, we like his gallery and although we’re not ‘gallery-goers’, we went anyway, not knowing what was on show; and then Steve saw rokni’s triptych and said ‘there is bacon in there’.” Steve is not the first to have likened rokni’s work to that of bacon – during the first Guggenheim abu dhabi talks held in the emirati capital in 2009, rokni presented a slideshow of his pieces and renowned curator Sir norman rosenthal noted that the works paid homage to the british figurative painter. Such were the thematic connections which bound the works in Born in Dystopia. ‘born in’ is an intentional address on the couple’s part to frame the time reflected in a ‘dystopian’ postwar era characterised by contemporary society’s inheritance of the failures of its previous generation, brought about by greed and the false visions of a progressive world. hence the exhibition of works such as andrei molodkin’s G8, a loaded installation featuring an image of leaders of the world’s most powerful economies, each plugged with an umbilical pipe coursing with crude oil and linked to the ‘mother’ base: a sculpture which spells out G8 also filled with the flammable liquid. and hence ramin haerizadeh’s We Choose to go to the Moon, a collage work from a series which sees the artist superimpose his face in a show of disdain towards the current iranian regime. other works in the series illustrate images of the last Shah of iran, his wife and the anti-imperialist Prime minister mohammed mossadegh, who sought to nationalise iran’s oil industry. the rosenblums don’t acquire art based on

“We’ll continue to do this for as long as we can.” Chiara Rosenblum
nationality – it’s more a question of the “concept and idea rather than the work itself” for Steve, who Chiara credits for his immaculate organisation: in his computer are individual folders replete with artist Cvs, exhibition histories, artwork images and press articles. Steve laughs, “Well, it helps gain insight into an artist’s oeuvre, how they evolved or if they got stuck doing the same thing.” it is largely thanks to his folders and thorough internet searches that the couple have come to discover artists. after buying paintings by iraqi artist ahmed alsoudani, Steve surfed the net, found connections, created new folders and the couple went on to purchase works by iranian tala madani and moroccan mounir Fatmi. ing as it is being made. the rosenblums, however, altered the acronym – what you(ng) see is what you get – to hit home the message that this exhibition, currently on show until July this year, is a showcase of the younger artists in their collection. Where Born in Dystopia bore artistic renderings of 20th-century disappointments, WYSIWYG explores how the exhibited artists have re-appropriated the past and the contemporary into abstract forms. and among the works by the 17 participating artists are commissioned pieces by three – Sterling ruby, andrew dadson and aaron Curry. For both shows, Steve and Chiara wore many hats – from conceiving the exhibitions, commissioning and curating to installing and writing the shows’ theoretical texts and press material. “We’re not writers trained in the field, but this is part of the journey,” explains Steve; “You collect the piece, you want to show it to someone, you have to explain it yourself in your own words.” it is an incredible undertaking to manage, curate and acquire works for rCF and all the

Web maSterS
Steve’s line of business yielded the name of the couple’s next exhibition: WYSIWYG, an acronym for ‘what you see is what you get’, but also a term in computer speak, which allows users to view an almost mirror-image of what they’re creat-

more so when running a successful internet business, being parents to three young girls and keeping up-to-date with Contemporary art’s ever-evolving character. Yet somehow, the rosenblums seem unfazed. “We’ll continue to do this for as long as we can,” asserts Chiara, who project-managed the three-kilogramme crystalcased Born in Dystopia pop-up book, authored by the couple and edited by French photographer adrien dirand. Steve and Chiara prefer art fairs to gallery vernissages, where “an hour is spent on hellos and 10 minutes are dedicated to actually viewing the art,” adds Chiara. She laughs, but has sworn not to attend the opening week of future venice biennales following their experience at the last, which, she says “was about everything but art”. Steve, however, recommends reading Seven Days in the Art World and “avoiding all parties”. their attitude is almost akin to that of art collector extraordinaire Charles Saatchi, who wrote The Hideousness of the Art World, an amusing article for The Guardian last december. indeed, to compare the rosenblums to Saatchi is not so farfetched – both have opened their collections to the public and strive to avoid the glamour and glitz of the Contemporary art world in favour of art for art’s sake. and that’s something to be commended.
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