The magazine? A house for ideas

March 12, 2022

A word with Ida Panicelli: she directed Artforum from 1988 to 1992, bringing a more international audience to the magazine. The long association with Germano Celant, a modern and renaissance man all in one

In the Rome of the early ‘80s (that of La Tartaruga, La Salita, L’Attico, Centro Jartrakor and others, but also of Giorgio de Marchis, director of the National Gallery of Modern Art, determined in understanding museum activity as cultural production between history and contemporaneity), it happened that Ida Panicelli, a young curator in charge of the performing arts department with New York in her head and heart (with a stay/study at Columbia University in the early 1970s), signed some important exhibitions among which “Arte Minimal. Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Robert Morris. Opere dalla collezione Panza di Biumo” (1980), “Fendi-Lagerfeld. 25 anni di collaborazione” (1984), “Arte e Critica” 1980 and “Arte e Critica” 1981. Of the latter (the time and place of our first meeting) we should remember the persistent relationship between critic and work and the exhibition paths linked to the “aesthetic resonance of each single work”, as Ida put it. In 1981, with articles and reviews from Italy and New York, Panicelli began her collaboration with “Artforum”, of which she was editor in chief from March 1988 (imagined, in her first editorial, “as a house, a house big enough to welcome the ideas and images of all those who participate in the creation of contemporary art”) to June 1992, and from that moment to this day a contributing editor. In 1993, at the direction of the Pecci Museum in Prato, Ida works on the dialogue between the international reality of art and the complexity of that territory, and creates a sequence of facts and exhibitions, from “Inside Out” (1993) to “ Gli ultimi sogni di Joan Miró “ (1994), to “ Fellini: i costumi e le mode” (1994). This was followed by a ten- year itinerary in India and Southeast Asia between notes and reports, but also, among other things, the exhibition of “Pat Steir” at GNAM in Rome (2004), “Impermanence” the artist’s book with Max Gimblett for Edizioni Canopo in Prato (2016) and the essays in the catalog for “Betty Woodman” at Palazzo Pitti in Florence (2009) and for “Jene Highstein” at Laumeier Sculpture Park in Saint Louis, Missouri (2019). Now, while we are waiting for the new issue of Artforum to read Panicelli’s writing on Joyce Kozloff, to whom the magazine also dedicates its cover, here are some questions and answers that we like to call an interview.


What does it mean to have directed Artforum from 1988 to 1992?
When I began directing Artforum in 1988, I was aware that I had inherited from Ingrid Sischy a prestigious magazine, which thanks to her instinct and her close collaboration with Germano Celant had opened up to fields connected to art, such as television, cinema and fashion, riding on the most avant-garde trends in American art and creating intense debates in the mid-1980s. My contribution was to open the magazine to a wider international audience, bringing attention not only to artists, but also to cinema, theater and dance in Europe; I remember for example articles on Almodovar, Strehler, Pina Bausch. Since my first issue I have also increased the presence of women artists, who have contributed with texts and projects created especially for the magazine - such as Louise Bourgeois, Nancy Spero, Pat Steir, Barbara Kruger, Guerrila Girls - no longer just as bearers of the feminist word, but participating in the first person in a new analysis of the system and languages of art. My project on the anniversary of ‘68, written and conceived with Thomas McEvilley in May 1988, was a sort of declaration of intent; and from then on history, politics and social commitment became salient topics in the magazine’s articles and editorials. With the invaluable contribution of writers and artists, philosophers and art critics, we dealt with the impact of historic events, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Gulf War, the Republicans’ attack on freedom of expression, and the dramatic reality of the AIDS epidemic that was devastating the art world. The need to open up to the different formulations of non- Western cultures, with their legitimate needs to be recognized, beyond the Eurocentric view of history, was also maturing in those years. McEvilley’s and Homi Bhabha’s texts were milestones of post-modernism, opening a critical consciousness on the relations between the West and the rest of the world.

What was your relationship with Germano Celant?
Germano Celant already had the role of contributing editor with Ingrid Sischy, and together they gave an important turn to the magazine in the ‘80s, dissolving barriers between languages. She was a voracious consumer of the present while he was capable of weaving contemporary narratives with his firm position as an art historian - together they made Artforum a mirror of that lively decade. I had already worked with Celant on the catalog of the exhibition “Identité Italienne” at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1981, it was a learning and exciting experience. Having him as contributing editor during my directorship, from 1988 onwards, was an enormous support. Every month Germano brought to our editorial meetings his open- minded view of the world, and precious information on the international events he regularly followed, since he was a great traveler. While editing his articles for Artforum, I had first-hand experience of his precise writing and I appreciated his ability to interpret the signs of his time and to contextualize artists and movements in a historical landscape.

And what remains of him?
Celant was a sensitive curator, always attentive to the needs of artists; a lucid critic and a prolific writer, as well as an astute player in the international art world. A figure of modernity, and at the same time an eclectic character, a renaissance man. He was certainly an inimitable paradox. I am left with the memory of his legendary library and archive in Salita Oregina in Genoa, where I had the opportunity to study from a young age; the various installations of exhibitions in which I worked alongside him, enjoying his ability to relate works and the fluidity of his curatorial choices. Now I have the affectionate relationship with his son Argento, who gives me a very intimate and familiar part of him.

What choices did you make in directing the Pecci Museum from 1993 to 1994?
Starting from the first exhibition that I curated at Pecci, entitled “Inside Out,” I wanted to open the museum to a dialogue with the city, with Kawamata’s interventions in the historical center, Barbara Kruger’s great work on the wall of the factory in front of the museum ending with the production of Fabio Mauri’s play “Cos’è il Fascismo” in the amphitheater of the Pecci Center. The city did not turn out to be very receptive, but at the time this was the limit of that Italian province. The exhibition dedicated to Federico Fellini one year after his death, where we exhibited his stage costumes juxtaposed with clothes inspired by his characters, designed by the main international stylists, was an opportunity to involve the industrialists of the area, but also different professionals, from Giulia Mafai, costume historian, to the designer Massimo Vignelli, with whom I conceived the layout and the catalog. It was the most successful exhibition, it traveled to many European museums for a few years, and I remember it fondly, because of the creativity we lavished on telling the public about such an important aspect of the Maestro’s production in a visually appealing way. The difficulties of managing a space like the Pecci resided at the time in the conflict between public and private, and the consequent uncertainty about the financial capacity available. But also in the limits of the local managers in understanding the museum, as if they did not want to believe in the real potential of the Center. This problem seems to have come back with the recent revocation of Cristiana Perrella from the role of director by a board of directors that seems to be moving towards a vision of the Pecci Center as a container of blockbuster exhibitions, forgetting the complexities and needs of a museum.


How is the role of a contemporary art museum changing in the post Covid-19 era?
In this year and a half of museum suffering, despite the lockdowns, we were able to continue to attend collections and exhibitions virtually, thanks to the web and social media, even being able to keep up with artists’ output in the viewing rooms of private galleries or auction houses. As the offer of online art expanded internationally, the frustrating limitation of this experience was undoubtedly the reduced format in which everything was enjoyed: the screen of the computer, i-pad or cell phone, where paintings, sculptures, installations or videos were homologated in the same dimension. Today museums have an even stronger appeal, precisely because the desire for hand-to-hand contact with art has become more pressing after so much ‘physical’ absence of the work. I think that the field of intervention is very wide and we have an important opportunity to bring to light important topics that have to do with the changes in the social and cultural structure which have occurred in recent years. Proof of this is the queue of visitors at MAXXI in Rome in recent days, where “The Purple Line”, a work by Thomas Hirschhorn of strong political and emotional impact, and certainly not easy to enjoy, is on display. The courage of a visionary museum director like Hou Hanru makes the difference, and shows that contemporary art can leave its mark on consciences.

In what direction is 21st century American art going?
I returned to New York after about two years, as soon as the first restrictions were removed. The range of museum exhibitions was as high as ever, with retrospectives of Alice Neel at the Metropolitan, and Julie Merethu at the Whitney, and the extraordinary exhibition “Grief and Grievance” conceived by Okwui Enwezor at the New Museum. The presence of women, black artists or non-western artists is pervasive, both in museums and private galleries. In recent years a new awareness has developed, and there is a move toward increasing inclusion, which cannot be taken for granted after the dark years of the Trump administration. Unfortunately however, precisely because of the disastrous policies of those four years and misinformation, fractures have opened up in the social and cultural fabric in the form of distrust, fear, hostility and compromise. In the field of art, the worst case was the suspension of Philip Guston’s exhibition in Washington and other international venues, for fear of possible negative reactions to the exhibition of his paintings featuring hooded Ku Klux Klan members. I fear that puritanical aspect of American culture, that moralism that is widespread today, after the liberating tsunami of the Me too and Black Lives Matter movements.

And how is Italian art doing?

Unfortunately, Italy is behind in the international scene and artists are struggling just as much as young curators and art critics. Yet, in private galleries and museums, I see more and more women artists, young and not, who show an interest in social issues, ecology and respect for nature, such as Marzia Migliora, Federica di Carlo and Lulù Nuti. These years of stillness have allowed artists a beneficial opportunity to work and reflect, to try new paths and expand their interests in different mediums. In painting, with very personal stylistic modes and with a preference for psychological themes, I saw Guglielmo Castelli and Romina Bassu grow. And I was interested in the free interpretations of photography and sculpture by Monica Carocci, Corinna Gosmaro and Davide Monaldi. A case in point is Alessandro Brighetti, who with his Curanderos offers a poetic response to the need for healing in these painful times. I have a lot of faith in the new generations and I listen to them. During my conversations with young artists I feel a ferment that wasn’t there before and that has nothing to do with the market, but with the desire for individual research and personal growth. It is an incredibly prolific moment that will bring new personalities to the forefront of Italian art.

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He’s been talking about art (many times even about its different relationships with the applied science) since the early 60’s and he always had dealings with the artists directly. Lecce, Bologna and Urbino are the places where he was formed. Rome, Turin and Naples the places where he took action. Free and creative, he has lost the count of the holes in a canvas, he broke a napoleon glass for freeing a captured fly, he experienced 1968 and debated about it, he has an endless Calendar full of words, he burnt down on a pyre papier-mâché horses, and… Thirty years ago, bearing in mind Minotaure, he invented “ARTE&CRONACA”.

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