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Art Bunker Mixes Gulf Oil, Nuclear Protest, Welcomes Paris Kids

Steve and Chiara Rosenblum
Steve and Chiara Rosenblum, the French collectors whose new gallery of contemporary art opens in Paris on Oct. 21. Rosenblum Collection & Friends will be open twice a week by appointment at 183 rue Chevaleret in the 13th arrondissment of the French capital. Source: Rosenblum Collection & Friends via Bloomberg

Paris’s new contemporary-art museum looks like a nuclear bunker.

Visitors enter via heavy steel doors to see the collection founded by French Internet entrepreneur Steve Rosenblum, 36. A black tunnel leads to a white space containing a 1950s fallout shelter.

“It’s a cross between an art foundation and an apartment,” says Rosenblum, the founder of the electrical e-commerce website Pixmania. “This is a place to show contemporary artists, who need exposure, and it’s also a place to hang out with friends. It’s a mix,” says Rosenblum, dressed in a dark blue suit and open white shirt, surveying the labyrinth of minimalist black and white walls.

His international overview of emerging and emergent talent invites comparisons with established taste-making collectors such as Charles Saatchi in London and the Rubells in Miami. Like them, Rosenblum buys from dealers before artists become fashionable brands at auction. The presence of buyers such as Francois Pinault and Bernard Arnault is boosting Paris’s rivalry with London as the capital of Europe’s art market.

Rosenblum and his wife Chiara have been collecting for five years and have acquired more than 120 pieces. His Fotovista Group, owner of Pixmania, was acquired by DSG International Plc, formerly known as Dixons Group, in April 2006.

The 15,000-square-foot (1,394 square meter) gallery in the southeast of Paris near the Bibliotheque Nationale de France is called Rosenblum Collection & Friends. It is a conversion of a former photographic laboratory by local architect Joseph Dirand.

Fallout Shelter

The centerpiece of the gallery is a newly commissioned piece by the American artist Matthew Day Jackson. “Second Home” consists of an 18-ton fallout shelter infinitely reflected through the floor of its glass vitrine. Visitors can walk into the steel refuge, which is equipped with items such as a patchwork spacesuit and sculptures of internal organs made out of crude oil from the recent Gulf of Mexico spill.

“Matthew’s work is all about science,” Rosenblum says of the permanent installation he funded. “Science helped us manage the atom, and then we made the Bomb.”

The Rosenblums, who curate their own shows, began by collecting African masks and tribal artifacts. Then came the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

“There is a world after 9/11,” Rosenblum says, explaining how he and Chiara became increasingly drawn to the way living artists confront contemporary issues. Jackson is one of 20 artists represented in the inaugural show, “Born in Dystopia,” exploring current political themes.

Rhino Sculpture

Others include Kelley Walker, Tala Madani, Christoph Buechel, Steven Shearer -- who will be representing Canada in next year’s Venice Biennale -- and the Frenchman Loris Greaud, who has made a black wall sculpture of a life-size family of endangered white rhinos. Russian-born Andrei Molodkin’s “9/11” is a stopped digital clock with the numbers half-filled with oil.

Last month at Sotheby’s in London, Saatchi sold a painting by the Iraqi artist Ahmed Alsoudani for 289,250 pounds ($455,000), more than four times the low estimate. It was the first time the artist, whose works also the Rosenblums also collect, had appeared at auction.

“It’s good for the market. You can’t just collect, collect and collect,” says Rosenblum. His current show features a wall of canvases by Berlin-based Alsoudani, who creates painterly evocations of violence in the Middle East. “Though I haven’t sold anything yet, I can’t say I won’t sell anything in the future.”

The Rosenblums want to make the experience of looking at art as informal and enjoyable as possible. A ground-floor kitchen and easy chairs will enable them to entertain guests who can browse an open-access library of books and magazines that have influenced the exhibiting artists. Upstairs, children can create mayhem in a playroom kitted out with painting materials.

“There’s no fixed plan. We want it to be easy-going. We want the family to come,” the gallery owner says.

Rosenblum Collection & Friends is at 183, rue du Chevaleret, 75013, Paris. Information: Anyone wanting to visit should join the network of Facebook-style “friends” at the website. The gallery will be open twice a week by appointment.

(Scott Reyburn writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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