A collector at heart ever since the early age of 12, Charles Riva grew up in the American art world. As a gallery owner in New York and a partner in two other art venues in London and Paris, he has put together an impressive collection of contemporary artists including Sterling Ruby, Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelley, Louise Bourgeois, Sherrie Levine, Robert Mapplethorpe and Jim Lambie to name but a few.
His arrival in Brussels in 2008 in order to open a gallery in which to exhibit his collection might have aroused some suspicion: why would a French man/adopted New Yorker be interested in our humble capital? “Because Belgian art collectors are eclectic, international, much more discerning than many French collectors,” explains Charles Riva. “The quality of the exhibition space is also a major asset. Here, art lovers are open, curious to discover the exhibitions we organise; I only have enlightened and positive feedback. They like personal initiatives.” This is what motivated him to create the Riva Collection in 2009: a space located Rue de la Concorde in Brussels, which presents artists according to a theme that changes three times a year.
In late April, Charles Riva opened a second space devoted mainly to sculpture. “I like to rotate the different pieces in my collection, but some, like Headcleaner by Sterling Ruby, cannot be moved due to their sheer size and deserve to be seen in a big enough space,” the collector adds. It is precisely to showcase these major pieces in the history of contemporary art that Riva selected a place where the light subtly caresses the bronze sculptures by the six exhibited artists, in a dialogue that further enhances their inner strength.
Riva Project: only royalty
No need to be an expert in art history to know of the artists selected by Riva for this second showcase. “I collect few very young artists, because I find that they often copy their masters,” says Riva. These masters include Sterling Ruby, for example, for whom Charles Riva set up an exhibition in 2013, presenting his collages, paintings and other works such as Vampire 31. This huge open mouth made from fabrics in the colours of the American flag screams the voracious appetite of today’s consumer society. Sterling Ruby is an artist who raises the issues of gender and the sexualization of art, a male artist no one can imagine sewing on fabric… Another major work by the same artist, Headcleaner, conveys the connection between street culture (graffiti art) and the (untouchable) world of fashion.
By Sherrie Levine, who had an in situ exhibition in 2014, there is a magnificent Golden Calf in gilded bronze – her favourite material of the past 15 years. Mainly known for her use of appropriation in re-photographing works of famous contemporary photographers (Pictures Generation), the artist proposes a series of sculptures made from second-hand objects. False God, a calf with two heads immortalized in gilded bronze, questions the value of the art object and the devotion it gets from market players. Another star, the arachnophile queen Louise Bourgeois is presenting a historical piece going back as far as 1961, L’oreille intérieure, cast in a bronze reminiscent of Henry Moore’s sculptures. We were really impressed by the series of works by the painter and sculptor Urs Fischer whose sculptures on mirrors reflected on our own image in everyday consumer items. Who consumes who (or what)? That is the question.
Riva Collection: Steven Shearer
Steven Shearer is among Charles Riva’s preferred Canadian artists. A major figure of the Vancouver art scene, Shearer is a lifelong collector of images he cuts out from old fanzines. His work is inspired by both art history and subcultures like heavy metal. The artist uses all kinds of media, including painting, drawing, digital imaging, sculpture and writing – such as the poem presented in the Canadian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2011. The choice of garish colours for his acrylic paintings is a reference presumably to Warhol, but the message his works convey is his own: what counts is not so much fame but how we imagine it to be like. Shearer’s interest in androgynous stars shows a deeper questioning about sexual identity. Other works worth checking out: reproductions of children’s drawings who were asked, for therapeutic purposes, to give their own interpretation of abstract paintings in modern art. The result is not only beautiful; it also questions the use of art as a way of re-balancing an individual.
Shearer highlights the different media people can use as an outlet for their anxieties. The controlled and playful violence practiced by heavy metal rock stars is certainly a healthier way to channel the inner rage of teenagers than to lash out on those around them. The copper sculptures, like miniature models of recreational facilities, remind us that those playgrounds are also an outlet through play, ensuring social harmony between individuals. Last but not least, Charles Riva has acquired one of the artist’s latest works, a portrait very much in the vein of Picasso’s blue period. An enigmatic face, painted with great mastery, it conveys a melancholy that is typical of our time, in search of outlets.
Riva Project, Selected Sculptures
124 rue de Tenbosh,1050 Brussels
Until 4 November
Tuesdays – Saturdays, from 12:00 to 18:30
Charles Riva Collection, Steven Shearer
21 rue de la Concorde, 1050 Bruxelles
Until 29 February 2016
Wednesdays – Saturdays, from 12:00 to 18:30