Interview with Steve & Chiara Rosenblum

When and how did you start collecting contemporary art?

Steve Rosenblum: About 15 years ago, we started to collect African art (masks, shields, musical instruments and fabrics). 8 years ago, we started to develop an interest for contemporary art and started to acquire works. But our collection really took off over the past four years, when we started making increasingly important acquisitions at a faster and faster rate. We don’t always know what to do with some of the works we acquire and end up having to stock them, like Christoph Büchel’s container, which we acquired at the FIAC in 2006: it was quite a radical start, as a lot of people have told us!

How did you come up with the project of opening a venue to showcase works from your collection?

Steve Rosenblum: The starting point of this project was our desire to show the works, to share our personal favorites, and to support the artists whose works we enjoy. The idea is also to change the way we look at art. Most of the time, people have to go to museums, galleries, or art fairs to look at art. We came up with a new way to get people to access art, in a context that makes art easier to approach, in a modest venue that is a great location to hang out with your friends.

We designed this new space with conviviality in mind. We want everyone to have a great time, meaning the venue will not only be about discovering new artists, but also about hanging out, relaxing, having dinner, and it will also be possible to bring your kids, because they’ll have a special area just for them.

Chiara Rosenblum : We wanted to create a space that favors warm, generous interactions. We would like the visitors to stay a bit after they’ve looked at the artwork; we’d like them to get comfortable, and perhaps start talking.

This new space will be called Rosenblum Collection & Friends, what does that mean?

Steve Rosenblum: Over the past three years, the internet and more specifically the social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr) have completely changed the way people interact with each other. The term “friend” doesn’t necessarily entail a long-term relationship; it can apply to a “connection” between two individuals, and even to a “virtual connection”. The network that emerges from all of these connections constitutes a “social network of friends” that can continue to grow with multiple online interactions.

Drawing from what’s going on throughout the world on the internet, our project consists in facilitating the development of a social network in which the artists whose works we collect act as the connectors between all our friends. In this space, Chiara and I will exclusively display works from the artists who’ve made it into our collection: our friends will provide additional works from these artists to complete the exhibitions. However, we have sworn not to ask for any loans from other galleries and institutional collections.

Which means that your network is bound to grow with time, and that, thanks to this Parisian space coupled with the publications you expect to launch and the website you’re setting up, you’ll be able to reach a great number of art lovers and collectors from around the world…

Steve Rosenblum: That’s what should happen ; that’s what we’re hoping for.

For us, this space was created to accommodate friends (our friends) just like we do at our place. The space will have a warm, friendly atmosphere because it will be the actual extension of our apartment. It will be organized around a living room, with a library, a dining room, a kitchen, and a kids’ area.

Chiara Rosenblum : Many people around us are intimidated by the apparent complexity of the art of our times. Our project puts forward the notion of abolishing the distance one can feel when looking at a work of art in a museum. In presenting the works in a “domestic” setting, we wish to facilitate access to contemporary art by offering the viewers a new approach to contemporary art. Drawing from this pedagogical approach, we would like to offer frames of reference to facilitate the understanding of the works of art, so we will also hire some knowledgeable people, in the role of mediators, who will be there to talk with the visitors.

This idea of direct contact is very much linked to the way you collect art, since it’s crucial for you to meet the artists and to establish an ongoing relationship with them…

- Chiara Rosenblum : Establishing contact with the artists is crucial to us, which is why we only collect the works of living artists. Every time we’re interested in a work and we start looking at a body of works, we make sure we meet the artist, we talk to him, and we follow his various projects.

How is the “Rosenblum Collection & Friends” space going to work?

Chiara Rosenblum : The space will be open to the public one to three times a week and can welcome groups of around fifteen people - who will have booked in advance - guided by a mediator. We invite people to check out our collection’s website, www.rosenblumcollection.eu, to sign up and book their visits. The collection will be permanently open during major Parisian cultural events, such as the art fairs, the Fashion Week, the Nuit Blanche… During these events, we will be hosting various events of our own, such as dinners and encounters with artists. We expect the space to host one to two exhibitions every year. For each exhibition, we plan to publish a book that will mostly focus on the most crucial elements of our project and we invite everyone interested in contemporary art to sign up and become our “friends”. The website will become an important communication channel that will help document the exhibitions - with interviews of the artists - and archive documents that can for instance show the different steps in the creation of the works we specifically ordered from the artists. It’s also on the website that people can sign up to come and see the exhibition. Once again, we want the website to be a lively place, a place where people can share, in the image of this project as a whole.

You mentioned a library that is set to become one the most important elements of this new space.

Steve Rosenblum : It is indeed a crucial element of the project. We’re going to ask each of the artists whose works are on display to fill up the library with books, films, and musical works that have played a role (or are still playing a role) in the construction of their world… It could be art books but also Sci-Fi novels, or even the Star Wars DVD… This library, which is probably going to seem a little empty at first, will grow with time and with every new exhibition. All the items in the library will be made available to the visitors: they will be able to sit down and flip through the pages of a book, watch a movie, listen to music… In our eyes, it’s a different way to access the world of an artist, a different approach that helps understand the artist’s work.

In addition, we’ve asked the artists to contribute to the kids’ area by donating an object that belonged to them when they were kids. The kids’ area is also a space that will bring generations together thanks to the “family guides” designed with the artists’ collaboration, which will help parents explain the works on display in a fun and didactic way.

Your first exhibition, entitled “Born in Dystopia”, outlines a panorama of our recent history, from the post-war period to the present day. It’s a panorama that draws on the views of artists who tackle political, economic, social, and environmental issues…  It’s an ambitious project.

Steve Rosenblum : We’re starting with this politically loaded exhibition, because September 11 has become a common point of reference for our generation and has triggered our hope to appropriate art as a means to represent or express our concerns. Political and social issues permeate the works of the collection. In my eyes, the artist is a witness of his times who transcribes them with his own sensitivity, and often does so with great relevance.

Interview conducted by Françoise Claire Prodhon and translated by Thomas Isackson

Paris, June 2010