Art as destiny
During this suspended time connected with Covid-19, I came across the catalogue of “Contemporanea”, the fair of the Association “Incontri Internazionali d’Arte” (International Art Meetings), founded by Graziella Lonardi Bontempo, that took place from November 1973 to February 1974 in the Villa Borghese’s parking lot in Rome, and it led me to make a series of considerations, some of them being personal and others which are not. The first is about the complexity of the event that is intended as the logic conclusion of that exposition vitality which, between 1968 and 1973, went through Italy from North to South, almost actualizing, with a series of exhibitions from “Arte Povera + Azioni Povere” in the Arsenal of the Ancient Republic of Amalfi to “Combattimento per un’immagine. Fotografi e Pittori” (Combat for an image. Photographers and Painters) in the Tuirn Civic Gallery for Modern and Contemporary Art (1973/1974), the “power to imagination” slogan, a claim of protest/utopia/ belief that recalls the Paris-based protest movements and winks to Marcuse. Conferring to the exhibition the triple status of reconnaissance/examination/ proposal, from which is to re/bring out a new aesthetic and creative dimension.
Academic, Museum Director, Curator, Publisher of Cultural Magazines: Let's Go Through the Journey of One of the Most Influential Figures in Contemporary Art
As it also appears from the words of Lonardi Buontempo herself: “Contemporanea doesn’t represent an ultimate historical assessment on the themes that it deals with, but rather an examination of interconnected lines and methods which are a part of those same themes”. The ones that have been expressed, in fact, in “Aperta” (Open) and in the nine sections for twelve curators, among which we find Bruno Corà for the Alternative Information together with Leietta Fervasio and Paolo Medori. That was, probably, the first time I came across Bruno Corà, a meeting that it was meant to occur again in many different locations, scenarios, always surrounded by many different personalities. And so, I’d like to ask to the art critic and frequently curator and director, who’s now the president of the Burri Foundation, seven questions, starting right from the memories of “Contemporanea”.
What has changed in the art world since “Contemporanea”, the initiative that saw you next to its creator Achille Bonito Oliva as curator of the section “Alternative information”?
I am very pleased you asked me this question because it allows me to shed a light on that important event. The conception of “Contemporanea” is the culmination of a three-years activity carried out in Rome and some other places that gave birth to the “International Art Meetings” which, to some extent, I contributed to organize and coordinate. That interdisciplinary event was not the solitary product of Achille Bonito Oliva’s mind, as most of the people think, but the outcome of a more complex elaboration which involved the three of us, Graziella Lonardi, Achille Bonito Oliva and myself. We also consulted other people, with the intent of actually entrust some of them with the project and the coordination of the initiative that we had outlined in broad terms. In this regard it should be said, to be fair, that we contacted for a possible assignment both Germano Celant, at that time a free-lance critic in charge of the International Documentation Archives in Genoa, and Gianenzo Sperone. For different reasons, we didn’t manage to entrust them with the task. At that point we decided to proceed on our own and we charged with the curatorship of the different outlined sections of the event a series of people capable of theorizing the given scope, making choices and ensuring the quality of the exhibition section, inviting them to coordinate with us. Achille Bonito Oliva credited himself with the Art Section, while I led the “Alternative Information and Counterinformation” one – on which I worked together with Leietta Gervaso e Paolo Medori – who had a strongly dynamic role in the entire exhibition, gathering personalities like Umberto Eco, Pio Baldelli, Franco and Franca Basaglia, Adele Cambria, William Haywood, Gianni Emilio Simonetti, Ugo Volli, Giovanbattista Zarzol and others, that contributed with essays, speeches and participations. The curators of the sections were contacted by relying on individual connections. For example, Mario Diacono accepted to curate the “Visual Poetry” section because I insisted. What is more, the idea of using Villa Borghese’s underground parking as the exhibition location came up during a specific morning in which me and Graziella drove first to an underground parking in Via Ludovisi, a cross street near to Via Veneto in Rome, that we considered unsuitable for hosting the project, and then we made an inspection in Villa Borghese’s underground parking, realized by the “Condotte d’Acqua” (Water Pipes) society, that was completely empty and hardly used. When we saw those empty and covered ten thousand square meters we instantly decided that it was the right place. This kind of choices can’t be considered as purely organizational solutions but, to a great extent, they efficiently contributed to the success of the event. After this necessary “historical” clarification that explains a dubious misunderstanding behind the break in relations between us and my decision to stop collaborating with Bonito Oliva and the “Meetings”, finally answering your question, I’d say that the changes have been many. But they are so many that they would need a specific insight on the facts that happened next.
But what remains now of “Contemporanea”?
As for the material, a certain amount of documents are in part stored in my archive, in part in the “International Art Meetings” archive, conserved at the MAXXI in Rome together with Graziella Lonardi’s cultural heritage or, at least, under her name; as for the socio-cultural aspects, it left to some young people (not only the Sardines movement, not only Greta Thunberg and the young ecologists across the world) the manifest awareness that culture, freedom and civil rights are values that need to be preserved day by day, with commitment and individual passion. The same goes for us, now elderly people. “Contemporanea” suggests that reality is to be seized and read in its prismatic complexity and contradictions without losing heart; besides, it taught that art is not to be intended as Leibniz’s Monadology.
Art critic, curator and museum manager. Three aspects of the same role, or something else?
My work as an art critic began when, after leaving Rome in 1966, I went to Milan for starting the writing activity. I was staying at a fellow painter’s place, Giangiacomo Spadari, and I found a job in the Einaudi’s bookshop headed by Aldovrandi, Giulio Einaudi’s brother-in-law, where Elio Vittorini and then Ugo, his brother, daily collaborated. The bookshop allowed me to get a salary to survive, but it also gave me the opportunity to read everything I wanted and, most of all, to get in touch with the art scene of Milan: Eugenio Montale, Umberto Eco, Ernesto Rogers, Daniela Palazzoli, Emilio Isgrò, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli and many others that gravitated around that bookshop in Via Manzoni, which no longer exists. I also used to be around many fellow artists, but the idea of writing for their works would never cross my mind because, listening to what they said, I grew a general discredit towards the art critics. But after a year, once I moved back to Rome, I started working at Bocca’s bookshop where, together with my fellow poet Elio Pecora, we met many writers like Palazzeschi, Moravia, Pasolini, Morante, directors like Fellini, Visconti, Antonioni, De Sica, Magni, De Santis, Damiani, Bolognini, actors like Sordi, Magnani, Ingrid Thulin, Silvana Mangano, Orson Welles and painters like de Chirico, Cagli, Mirko, Guttuso, Levi, Turcato, Accardi, Scialoia, Clerici, Vespignani, Marotta and Fabio Mauri. In 1970 Claudio Bruni Sakraischik, who worked for La Medusa Gallery, introduced me to Graziella Lonardi Buontempo that invited me to collaborate with her to create the “International Art Meetings” in Rome. I accepted and we started working in the middle of summer, renting an apartment in Via di Ripetta, right above the Ferro di Cavallo bookshop. In ’78-’79, I got the History of Art chair at the Academy of Fine Arts in Perugia and later, in 1995, I was invited to direct the Luigi Pecci Contemporary Art Museum in Prato. The three activities, tenure, curatorship and artistic direction, in such a way, complemented each other. Before directing the Pecci Museum I was responsible for the activities of the Fabroni Palace in Pistoia together with Chiara D’Affitto. The work we carried out together in the 90’s resulted in the realization of the great project in the urban area between Florence, Prato and Pistoia, which consisted in the inauguration of the ex-textile machinery manufacturer in Florence that should have been converted in the museum of contemporary art of the regional capital of Tuscany. But, in the end, the competent regional authorities ingloriously gave up that ambition.
Let’s talk about something else, like the twenty-two numbers of “Anoir, Eblanc, Irouge, Uvert, Obleu”, the magazine you founded together with your wife Liana and Inonia Publishing and directed from 1980 to 1987. What remains of this experience?
The foundation of AEIOU, a magazine which was dedicated to poetic and artistic literature, as Rimbaud’s Voyelles (Vowels) wanted, was an extraordinary experience at international level that, like a “flying carpet”, projected us across the world, even influencing the birth of other publications like “Parkett”, for example, the swiss magazine which, according to Bice Curiger, its director, was born under the impulse of our work. Some years after the conclusion of that experience, we started a new project, “Mozart”, that followed the pursuit of the same goals, but time were changed and so the art scene. However, the two initiatives enhanced the poetical integrity of artists and authors, free from any diktat from the financialization of art and the academic world.
What was and what is your relationship with the artists?
We had and still have a relationship of complicity and together with some of them we shared a declared path, with some other we treated each other with a respectful regard, but we didn’t share a common path. After all, a critic action without choices would be ambiguous.
Fabroni Palace Contemporary Visual Arts Museum in Pistoia, Luigi Pecci Contemporary Art Center in Prato, the Camec in La Spezia, the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum in Lugano, the Camusac in Cassino, these are some of the great moments of your personal history. What does it mean being a museum director?
The museum direction always needs to confront itself with social, economic, productive and cultural realities of a city, an area or a story concerning it and also with the greater purpose of the national and international art. Responsibility lies in not betraying the expectations of the commissioners but neither the destiny of the artistic vocations connected with the elaboration of programs and collateral activities. The museum needs to register the authentic events when they manifest themselves or endorse histories that need to be set off. It is always a qualified goal, a location of public accreditation. In some ways, it can carry out some opening and promoting actions, but it can’t replace the work of the art galleries or similar. It can’t either be a prairie or a cemetery. The museum can serve as indication for important aesthetic and artistic phenomena, giving to the public the tools for a cultural growth and examples to be used for training that activity; but it also has to preserve its scientific autonomy and foster the knowledge of the artistic effort.
And now, the Presidency of the Burri Foundation. What are the initiatives of your mandate and what are the projects for the future?
I ended up in Città di Castello for a considerable number of concurrent episodes that have occurred during the years. That’s the reason why I consider my experience at the Burri Foundation as part of a destiny. The initiatives that have been undertaken are many and they culminated in 2015 with the celebration of the “Centenary of the Burri’s birth”, twenty years after his death (1995), an initiative that spanned and kept developing for over three years. We promoted anthological exhibitions at the Guggenheim in New York, at the Kunstmuseum in Düsseldorf and we completed suspended artworks like The Great Cretto of Gibellina and the reconstruction of the demolished Teatro Continuo in the Parco Sempione in Milan, in collaboration with important institutions of the city (the District, the Triennale d’Arte, NCTM law firm, etc..), exhibitions in Venice, Pistoia, Cosenza, Sansepocro, Città di Castello and the extraordinary convocation of an art parliament with the Rendez-vous des amis, a conference with 66 international artists and dozens of art art historians and museum directors invited to take stock of the cultural phase that immediately preceded the one marked by the current tragedy caused by Covid 19. We never stop. This year, two big international events will be dedicated to Burri: one in Russia and the other in Italy. For more information, just visit the Foundation website where they will be soon announced and we will surely have the opportunity to talk about it again in the future.