Giancarlo Politi is Publisher and Editor of the contemporary art magazine Flash Art which he established in 1967. For the last fifty years, Politi has been an essential figure for Italian contemporary art. A little more than two weeks from the opening of the Venice Biennial we interviewed him to have his opinion on a thorny issue: how is it that one of the most internationally awaited contemporary art events, financed by the Italian Ministry of Art and Culture with Italian taxpayers’ money, will only feature four Italian artists?
Flash Art’s Editor and Publisher replies to our questions about the very little presence of Italian artists at the upcoming Venice Biennale
Conversation transcription below
Tiziana Casapietra: So, Giancarlo, I have a rather simple question. You have been following the development of Italian art very closely for over fifty years. I am rather perplexed by the fact that this Biennial will see five Italian participants, out of which two are dead artists, two are artists living in Germany, and one is a magazine, Stefano Boeri’s “The Tomorrow.” I wanted to understand what this means. Does it mean that Italian art has de-evolved to the point that it no longer deserves to be exhibited at an important event financed by the Italian Ministry of Art and Culture, at home? I was wondering what you think about this.
Giancarlo Politi: Italian art is definitely not in good health, a bit like the country itself. It’s suffering, in sickness and in the shadows. When a country is thriving, wealthy and has won the wars, it’s clear that even art flourishes; it’s successful and it circulates. Aside from this, in any case the fact is that after the Nineties Italy failed to express great personalities. Yet, there are things… I believe that there is stuff cooking under the charcoal. I am referring to young, very young artists.
Even so, I consider it a shame that the director of the Venice Biennial, financed by the Italian Government — by us as Italian citizens — should be one that completely snubs Italian art, while the same director, when called in at Documenta (editor’s note: in Kassel, Germany) invited at least twenty German artists. Why? In my opinion, it’s the institution itself that is making a mistake, by not asking the director to have an Italian sub-curator working with him, perhaps, or by not asking him to pay more attention to the Italian situation. It wouldn’t have been difficult for him to find ten, fifteen or twenty artist, even older ones, which would have brought prestige to the Biennial. Yet, we are finding ourselves in the strange, absurd situation of having a second-, even third-division Italian pavilion, a sort of ghetto the international world knows as well as it knows that the real Biennial is the International pavilion curated by the Director. But this has always happened.
For four or five editions, the Italian pavilion has been handed over to curators that have been doing all sorts of things, starting from Vittorio Sgarbi, partly Luca Beatrice and this year Vincenzo Trione, who is really doing his best. While the invited Italian artists can’t be considered second-rate, as some of them are good or even really good, it is clearly a group show, a collective exhibition that doesn’t make much sense.
And in any case, the location should be taken for what it is: the Italian pavilion, which is to say second-division, a ghetto.
TC: The fact that Okwui Enwezor did not feel the desire himself to explore the Italian artistic landscape while in Italy is rather peculiar, isn’t it?
GP: Well, you know, directors and curators are great snobs who work in accord with themselves, so to say. Each director or curator wants to prove to his/her peers that he/she is very snob, really informed and oh so different. And Okwui chose this sort of diversity, this extremely political connotation because he is politically correct. Yet, obviously the Country — in this case Italy — is in suffering as far as information about art is concerned. Then again, if, while appointing him, the President of the Biennial had asked Okwui to pay special attention to Italy, Okwui would have certainly obliged him.
TC: You are referring to the Ministry, right? The Ministry should have made this clear?
GP: No, to Paolo Baratta, the President of the Biennial.
TC: Yes, right, the President of the Venice Biennial, sure.
GP: The Ministry does nothing and has nothing to do with the director’s choice; it is Baratta who appoints the International director, while the Italian one is appointed by the Ministry.
TC: Why do you think no such a request was made? Are we suffering from xenophilia?
GP: But I wouldn’t know this. Baratta is a good manager, but, as a far as I’m concerned, also a poor connoisseur of art and the art system. Maybe he didn’t think about it, or he detected a specific hostility; but at this point it would have been enough to change director to overcome such hostility.
English translation: Fulvio Giglio