Started in 2017 by Brussels-based Helene Dumenil and Istanbul-based Nicole O’Rourke, Ballon Rouge Collective is a traveling art gallery with exhibitions popping up in cities around the world. It’s a concept that the two international friends came up with to mitigate the fact that they had always dreamed of working together, but lived in different countries.
Bringing art to different cities was their solution as they created the idea of a gallery with no constant physical space, but instead, one that would exist wherever they were located.
Having just wrapped their first year, they have already curated shows in Istanbul, London, Paris, New York, and São Paulo. Through each exhibition they have learned how to successfully work with each city, its people, its market, and of course, their own mistakes (which allows for constant improvement). “The concept continues to change as we do as we learn something new with each show,” shares an eager Dumenil.
So how exactly does this traveling Collective work?
In each targeted city the Collective appoints a “curator member” who plays a critical role by choosing a small selection of potential artists for a local exhibition. These local curators represent their city and promote the Collective’s shows. Dumenil explains, “This way we expand the artists’ reach, while the strength of the community and our Collective is woven through this sharing of artists.”
The hope is that as time goes on, many artists and curators around the world will have a personal investment in Ballon Rouge’s exhibitions, as they continue to select and exhibit a variety of people in a multitude of places. For Dumenil, the exploration of different cities and cultures is the most exciting part: “We get to constantly change and play with spaces best suited to any one particular artist’s work.”
An example of this spatial advantage is their current New York show featuring artist Carmen Argote (curated by Kathy Battista). Dumenil describes the space as a “2,000 square foot treasure in East Harlem — an un-renovated space just bursting with little historical gems… and somehow it’s a perfect setting for Carmen’s delicate and very hands-on work.”
Social media plays a big part for the Ballon Rouge Collective, because it is a way their audience can see all the shows and follow along in real time. Dumenil notes, “It’s the place where we are one entity and where we can reach all the people that have started following us.”
Their hope is that their online stories will provide a more realistic look at the behind-the-scenes steps necessary to produce this type of enterprise.
Their images don’t focus on the glamorous, but instead focus on the hard work that goes into each exhibit. They try to avoid falling into the trap of false representation often found on social media.
“The glossy images of social media are important for us as a business and for the collector base following us, but for our artists and young followers with aspirations they often don’t represent reality,” says Dumenil. “And that is to everyone’s detriment, because instead of empowering, it paralyses. We have fun, put up great shows, and have hard days — and we like our Instagram to reflect that.”
No matter where Ballon Rouge Collective goes, one thing that remains constant is the local excitement that welcomes new projects. This tells Dumenil and O’Rourke that people are yearning for something different. Wherever they are, they have found a way to make their unusual conceptual idea work. Look for one in a city near you — they’re always on the go.