It’s a universal truth among collectors that art is best enjoyed at home. Paintings and sculptures should be absorbed in comfort, without the pressure of moving out of the way for other viewers, or avoiding the glare of a gallerist who suspects you’re not there to buy. “Going to galleries is kind of like going to church,” says the French art collector and curator Charles Riva, “You can’t talk and it’s all very serious and almost sterile”.
Sterile or not, galleries and museums are generally the only places where most of us encounter fine art. Unless we’re lucky enough to visit a fabulous friend who lives in a 19th century townhouse in Brussels filled with oeuvres from some of the most interesting names in contemporary art. This friend would be Charles Riva, and Thursday, Friday and Saturday, he is your friend too, when he opens his home and collection to the public.
Riva, who also owns the Sutton Lane galleries in London, Brussels and Paris, has been a serious collector and supporter of contemporary art for over a decade. His Sutton Lane galleries focus primarily on emerging artists, many from the U.S East and West coasts. “We work to give a respected platform to promising talent which spans a variety of mediums and goals: everything from the delicately political drawings of Pavel Pepperstein to Blake Rayne's clever and contemplative take on modernism as a conceptual practice,” says Riva.
In his collection, several of the Sutton Lane artists are represented, but it also contains other, more established, names such as Raymond Pettibon, Eva Rothschild, Isa Genzken, Andreas Hofer and Paul McCarthy. "All these artists' works have a certain raw honesty, and they fearlessly tackle issues of sex, violence, or counter-culture while somehow remaining beautiful" explains Riva. "My collection is rather eclectic in its make-up; it does not focus like some collections on objective or non-objective works, nor to any certain imagery. What is important for me is to represent what contemporary art can look forward to: works which will appreciate over time while at the present moment remaining what is the most current, the most exciting work available."
Riva first started showing his collection in 2009, to offer art lovers an intimate viewing experience in a domestic setting. The first floor of his town house has been opened up into a large and airy space devoted to solo exhibitions (up next is a Paul McCarthy retrospective at the end of April). On the second floor, which doubles as his living room and kitchen, he displays group shows among his collection of mid-century Scandinavian furniture. "The townhouse is divided into three to four distinct spaces, all the while retaining the air of a domestic setting", says Riva. "It is nevertheless a very open and luminous space. At the same time, it functions extremely well as an exhibition space, as it balances the intimate feeling of a private art collection with that of a traditional exhibition space."
For extra lucky friends, artists and colleagues, Riva offers one of his two spare bedrooms as what he calls a “mini residency”. “It’s not for artists to come and create, but for people to live with the art for a few days and walk around in their bathrobe and enjoy it with fresh eyes in the morning,” he explains. Sounds like the perfect way to start the day.
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