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Analysis out of the box

Case Study - the Gensollen Collection

Analysis out of the boxContemporary Art | In their cocoon, and at the heart of the contemporary art world, Marc and Josee Gensollen are a couple of collectors who for over 30 years have been creating and evolving a collection with a radical agenda, rejecting all ego and speculation : an agenda where the life of the artworks is at the heart of a thought provoking approach.

Roman Ondak, ’’Teaching to walk’’, 2004 © DR
Roman Ondak, ’’Teaching to walk’’, 2004
© DR

Early reading, early works, the penny drops

Early reading

In around 1968, students Marc and Josee Gensollen become interested in Art through their reading and careful study of the prevalent publications of the time. In the wake of their background in Psychiatric psychoanalysis, it is « le Minotaure » which arouses their early attraction to Surrealism, still very much alive in the 60s and 70s. Then Art Press, a magazine influenced by psychoanalysis since its first publication in 1972, leads them to explore the unknown universe of Conceptual Art and Minimal Art.

Early Work

Their very first purchase is an etching by Andre Masson, part of the « Massacres » series. In order to get it authenticated, they go to visit the artist at his home near Aix en Provence. They then realize the magnitude of the generational abyss between them. Masson is so old that he dœs not recognize the etching. They leave with a signed photograph, on the back of which he has written « This is not my work ».
This experience will be fundamental in creating a particular approach they develop along specific lines : taking an interest in artists of the era, buying works only from independent galleries without knowing who they are by, never buying from public auctions, and never selling. It is also at this time that they acquire their first contemporary works by Arman and Vialat, works they still own today.

The penny drops

The Pompidou Centre, controversially inaugurated in 1977, comes to the fore as the first multi-purpose cultural centre; bringing into play Living Art, the transdisciplinary nature of creation. This « refinery » seems to them to be a breath of fresh air, and a place to be explored. A first Marcel Duchamp retrospective hits a nerve and focuses their interest in the deconstruction of artworks; they acquire their first pieces of conceptual art, the basis of their collection at this time : Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner, Dan Graham...

The Work, a thought provoking mechanism

As psychoanalysts and collectors, the piece is at the heart of their ethos. It is explored in the same way as the mind is in the privacy of their surgery. It has a life cycle whose stages, particularly loans to exhibitions, are systematically logged by Josee to keep a record of their movements.
Collecting is a by product of their interest in what lies in the depths of our being, our humanity, and can only be seen by a keen, even transgressive mind. The act of buying is considered not in terms of possession and acquisition, but in terms of liberation. A way of recycling the money earned in their professional capacity, and giving life to the intangible.
Their collection was built gradually, following the path of the avant garde, which is not evident at first glance. In a sharp, almost surgical way, their collection reveals sense of period, without reflecting it. It is thus that they turn their attention to artists who challenge the nature of perception by creating dematerialized pieces which can only exist when activated by their creators. « Teaching to Walk » (2004) by Roman Ondak involves photographing a child’s first steps in an exhibition space, while Tino Sehgal’s « Selling Out » (2002) involves an impromptu strip tease by a museum guard in front of visitors to an exhibition.

« La Fabrique » or how to inhabit a collection and share a passion

An old textile mill in the centre of Marseilles, renovated by the architect Harald Sylvander, is at once a living space, exhibition space and transmission centre.
In this minimal space, devoid of emotional charge; where the aesthetics of functionality are pushed to the extreme to the exclusion of design, the furniture is solely organised around artworks. Dining room chairs are by Franz West, standard lamps by Liam Gillick. The guest bedroom is a Dominique Gonzales Fœrster installation. The library, designed to the minutest detail by Marc Gensollen, is filled with nothing but books on contemporary art, some of which are extremely rare, is the nerve centre of this corpus dedicated to study and thought in process.
Financially independent, and without public funds, La Fabrique is conceived as a private place, open by appointment to anybody who wishes to visit it, meet the owners, discuss Art and emerging artists.
Using a strategy which reflects upon the world from the viewpoint of their collection, they maintain fresh interest with new concepts which they commission themselves. Conceptual art, space and architecture, the human condition through performance, the couple.
From their bolthole in Marseilles, the Gensollens are part of an exclusive circle of collectors acting as scouts along the pathways of the networks of international contemporary art.

Nina Rodrigues-Ely
Publié le 14/04/2009
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Roman Ondak, ’’Teaching to walk’’, 2004 © DR

Roman Ondak, ’’Teaching to walk’’, 2004
© DR