Marseille-based Marc and Josée Gensollen, practicing psychiatrists, may have an unconventional art background, but their collection is now one of the most distinguished private collections in France today. The couple tell Anna Gross about the art that inspires them.  

I met the husband and wife at the end of a whirlwind adventure around the artistic and cultural centres of the city. Their collection is truly awe-inspiring: showcasing a range of artistic mediums: videos, drawings, interactive works, sculptures, and paintings, all of which invoke powerful responses.

Walking around La Fabrique, the maze-like building that houses their collection, I found myself by turns laughing, asking questions and thinking deeply about the nature of language and my own existence; a testament to the Swedish couple’s taste and curatorial abilities.

Can you tell me what links the different works of your collection?

Language.

You and your wife are both psychiatrists. I wondered how your interest and understanding of the mind influences your artistic choices?

We are not really interested in establishing a link between our professional work as psychiatrists and our taste for art. We believe it is interesting that psychoanalysis was introduced to France by Surrealism. In fact, our training has sensitized us to distance, how important criticism is to an understanding of the interactions between people. The common denominator between our artistic choices is the questioning of art itself, its interactions with language, writing and more essentially articulation, a recurrent question in the history of art since the Renaissance.

Could you tell me a little more about these three particular works: Nemanja Cvijanovic’s chairs, Claude Lévêque’s neon, and Maurizio Cattelan’s dog?

Nemanja Cvijanovic reimagines, in a pirated way, the work of Kosuth presented in the MNAM collections at the Pompidou Center: “One and three chairs”, 1967. The Croatian artist photographed in an art book the photograph of the original chair as well as the definition of chair. Unable to dispose of the original, the museum of Trieste lent him the chair on which the leader of the resistance had been executed, introducing an additional historical dimension to this work which already presents three: The chair in its three-dimensional reality, its two-dimensional photographic representation, and its textual mental representation, through definition.

The neon is a reproduction of a sentence discovered by Claude Lévêque in his mother’s diary while she was old and suffering. The phrase, which retains the trembling graphic of the elderly person, is posed as a question addressed to the gazer who may have time to do something in his or her own existence while there is still time.

This is a baby taxidermized in the skin of a dog, created by Maurizio Cattelan in 1992. Its title is “a love without words”. He wears a paper donkey cap on his head, but this work takes on a very irreverent dimension when this cap is rotated 90° on itself and becomes bishop’s hat. The absence of speech and anticlericalism, very present in the work of Cattelan, take on their full significance in a collection where the verb is omnipresent.

Nemanja Cvijanovic, “One and three chairs” (1967). Courtesy of the artist and Josée Gensollen
Claude Lévêque, “Pourqoui Vivre”. Courtesy of the artist and Josée Gensollen
Maurizio Cattelan, “A love without words” (1992). Courtesy of the artist and Josée Gensollen