Art style

The collector Frédéric de Goldschmidt on the creation of a “seventh heaven” of art

Since November 2021, Frédéric de Goldschmidt has brought hundreds of people to his kitchen in Brussels, and even more to his living room – a superb double-height space, complete with a mezzanine. His bedroom has been taken over by a series of works dealing with place and memory, by artists such as Neïl Beloufa and Gabriel Orozco; an installation by Ragna Róbertsdóttir is made up of seven boxes of mud from the hot springs of Krýsuvík, in his native Iceland, in a formation that pays homage to Donald Judd.

The property at 7 Quai du Commerce was acquired at auction by Goldschmidt, film producer and scion of the Rothschild family (although he omits that part of his name), a few years ago. It is actually two adjoining buildings, one front from 1820, the back from 1920, and Goldschmidt decided to turn it into an art gallery and a co-working space, with his own apartment and two loft-style apartments for guests located in the rooftop. But first, it opened its entire 1,500 m² to show the public more than 300 works from its vast collection. “I wanted to anchor the idea that it’s a place for Brussels”, he says, “for everyone, first of all, and a place for art”.

When the exhibition closes at the end of this month, and after some rearrangements, he will move into his private part of the building. The gallery space will then start showing smaller exhibitions and, he hopes, the rest of the space will start making money, welcoming visitors to use its offices, bar, meeting rooms projection and its gym, all of which will be filled with works by Goldschmidt. collection. A fountain in the shape of a toilet by Laure Prouvost, initially presented at the 2019 Venice Biennale, will be installed.

Alighiero Boetti. ‘Cinque par cinque venticinque’ (1988) © Courtesy of the Frédéric de Goldschmidt Collection. Photo: Hugord & Vanoverschelde Photography

“I wanted to do something that would allow me to share my collection in the longer term. But also something financially viable. I don’t have the infinite means of someone like Monsieur Pinault,” he says, referring to French luxury magnate François, who has established extensive permanent galleries in Venice and Paris. Goldschmidt’s space will be known as Cloud Seven, after the building’s seven floors and in reference to being “on the septième ciel” (in seventh heaven), as well as the street number. He hopes it will become a meeting place not just for the city’s creative minds, “but for anyone who enjoys being surrounded by art.”

Goldschmidt, born in France in 1959, began buying contemporary art in 2007, after selling a painting by Edouard Manet left to him by his art-loving grandmother, which he describes as “all simply too precious to keep”. His grandmother was an important collector, acquiring Van Gogh’s “L’Arlésienne” when she was just 22 and gifting it to the French government to celebrate the liberation of Paris. (It is now in the Musée d’Orsay.) “She was obviously a very modern woman in 1915,” he says. “Later in life she became more conventional, she wouldn’t go beyond Picasso.”

The first piece he chooses is a work by Benjamin Sabatier. “It was made from ice cube trays filled with crumpled magazine pages,” he says. This attraction to worthless materials and found objects permeates his collection and resonates through the current exhibition. There is a sculpture of a block of plaster encrusted with useless plaques, left over from the closure of the American airline Pan Am, by Theaster Gates; a tennis net covered with a volleyball net by Bertrand Lavier from 1987; an accumulation of record sleeves pinned to a plywood board by Tom Burr (2010). “I discover the connections between all the works through this exhibition process,” he says, “and the poor materials are part of that.”

Laure Prouvost, ‘The end of a dream’ (2019) © Courtesy Lisson Gallery, carlier | gebauer and Nathalie Obadia Gallery. Photography: Cristiano Corte

Elsewhere, works by artists ranging from Christian Jankowksi to Mary Corse, Shilpa Gupta to Lucio Fontana, unified piece by piece with subtitles such as “World Reports” or “Time and Space.” However you categorize them, 315 works is a lot to take in.

For the acquisitions that form the other strand of his collection, Goldschmidt focused on the Zero group, which flourished in Düsseldorf in the late 1950s. Like their later Italian Arte Povera counterparts, they strove to bring the practice of art back to a fresh start where the canon of Western artistic tradition did not apply; the works were made in monochromatic and banal materials. Simultaneously, he discovered Alighiero e Boetti, the Italian conceptual artist who created stacks of words, dense numerological patterns and minute images in everyday ballpoint pen and worked with Afghans in the 1970s to create vibrant tapestries, including world maps made up of national flags.

“There are 17 rooms in this exhibition and there is a Boetti in 11 of them”, explains Goldschmidt, pointing out that the artist’s preoccupation with order and disorder, the notions of delegation, authorship and of personal and political territories are fundamental for its own collection and to frame the performance. A 1996 Boetti of fan-shaped embroidered panels captured in an aluminum frame, “Zig Zag”, is a highlight here, while a textual embroidery, “Inaspettatamente” (“Unexpected”), from 1987, gives the exhibition its Title.

Exterior of the Cloud Seven building in Brussels © Hugard & Vanoverschelde

Installation view of ‘Inaspettatamente’ at Cloud Seven © Hugard & Vanoverschelde

Goldschmidt now lives in Brussels, having sold the Paris-based film production company that his father, Gilbert de Goldschmidt, created in 1951 (it produced Umbrellas of Cherbourg, among about forty others). The Belgian capital, he says, is multicultural and remarkably porous. “It’s always at a crossroads, it’s been overrun by everyone, from the Spaniards to the Dutch to the French.” It is also notable for its private art foundations, including Hubert Bonnet’s CAB and the Boghossian Foundation, housed in a dazzling art deco villa. “Art and business depend on the individuals here,” says Goldschmidt.

In 2024, the Belgian offshoot of the Center Pompidou, KANAL, will open nearby in a former Citroën garage, consolidating the artistic references of the Dansaert district. Goldschmidt clearly hopes to play a large role in this critical mass. He is, after all, the only one to have Laure Prouvost toilets in his gym.

As of January 30,