During this conversation Massimiliano Gioni talks about a year and a half of work, thoughts, and feelings in preparation for one of the most awaited contemporary art events.
A conversation with Massimiliano Gioni, Artistic Director at the Nicola Trussardi Foundation (Milan) and curator of the 55th Venice Biennial
Conversation transcription below
Tiziana Casapietra: Almost 3 weeks to the opening of the Biennale. How do you feel?
Massimiliano Gioni: It is indeed a weird moment because there isn’t much time left… We have started to install the first works just today (May 3rd). I feel that we are a little late but this is a very beautiful moment because we finally see the works, and how and if they function together, and everything begins to take shape. I am a bit worried but we will see how it all works very soon.
TC: What major difficulties have you encountered during the past year and a half? When exactly have you been appointed curator of the Biennale?
MG: I was appointed on January 31st 2012. This date is easy to remember. I was myself informed one week before it was made official. The major difficulty has been the lack of time. You start working on February 1st and you immediately need to reorganize the activities you are already involved in. You cannot abandon what you are already doing and you must finish it very quickly. The selection of the art works for the Biennale must be completed by January/February, so that the other steps involved in the project can be carried out. Thus you end up working on the exhibition only one year. I do like making the exhibitions quite quickly, but one year is too short a period of time for such a big event. This is the major difficulty, because you would need more time to think, and reflect, and so on.
In order to get some help with the research process, I put together a team of people to work with. We have been reading, looking at the artists and talking together about the exhibition. By multiplying the people involved, some time can be saved. Time is still certainly the most problematic aspect when talking about the Venice Biennale.
The other difficult aspect is the budget. The Venice Biennale, this is not a secret, is a big institution that does much with very little. This means that I had also to search for extra resources, help, and support. And this imposes an even more frenetic pace of work because you know that for each choice you will make you might not have the necessary resources.
This means that for each choice you make you must find the resources and in order to make things happen you will need to consider additional variables.
Time and lack of resources are certainly the two most problematic aspects here. The third is…
TC: How much does the budget need to be increased?
MG: It depends on what you want to do. For the exhibition I was given a budget of 1 million and 8 hundred thousands euros. I have managed to collect an extra million and a half. We also have the support from institutional associations such as the Mondriaan Fund or the Ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen).
Artists are also ready to take the challenge and travel at their own expense. In some cases we also got the support from the gallerists of the invited artists. But I mainly tried to find supporters not connected to any specific artist. I wanted to feel free to include also artists that do not have galleries, artists that do not have a market, and this has been our biggest effort.
People say that at the Venice Biennale galleries are paying for their artists. But this is not true. Or if this is true, it doesn’t interest me. Gallerists are helping a lot, but for me it was important to be independent in order to be able to include many artists that are usually defined as “outsiders.” I am referring to those less canonical artists that, I think, will help make a different a more personal exhibition.
TC: What about the third difficulty you were mentioning before?
MG: The third difficulty is more personal. There is lot of pressure on this exhibition. Many refer to the pressure of the market, of the dealers, and the galleries. But I did not feel that so much. There is indeed a strong pressure because the Venice Bienniale is an important opportunity and you know from the very beginning that you will do it only once. So you end up setting the limits, the ambitions, and the pressure on yourself. It is a sort of self-set obstacle that makes each choice more complicated. The result is that I have ended up even thinking too much, and I wonder if all this thinking will be evident in the show.
TC: How much did you have to modify your initial idea and adapt it to the circumstances?
MG: There is a natural and essential evolution of the show. I always say that, among my exhibitions, the ones I find more successful are those in which the initial idea has changed over time. From the moment I began to work on a show, and all the way through to its opening, the idea of the show, its structure, its “epidermis” got enriched, and it obviously has changed in the process. Planning an exhibition is a continuous evolutionary project. As a curator you have to learn a lot during the course of the event’s preparation. If the knowledge you have at the beginning remains the same till the end, it surely means that something is not working.
Regarding the Venice Biennale, my initial project has evolved but in a very organic way. This doesn’t mean that I have not managed to make some of my plans because of some difficulties; this happened maybe a couple of times. But it does not really count and does not affect the evolution of the show.
Before deciding on the show I wanted to do, I thought about other possible exhibitions, about many other kinds of shows.
This is a sort of “subtractive process.” You imagine ten possible exhibitions or ten various itineraries, then you try to pad them out and select the ones that have more tension, the ones that are more interesting to me and the group of people and friends I usually dialogue with. The ones that seem to be open enough to include many other ideas.
From February until April, May, last year, we went through this kind of selection process, leaving out various possible shows, and keep working on the one that seemed more complex and rich. The final exhibition doesn’t have anything to do with the initial idea of the show. This entire process has enriched and transformed the exhibition.
TC: How do you feel when you work in Italy, given the complex situation for our country?
MG: I have two things to say. First of all I do not consider myself an emigrant, nor to be an “escaping brain.” I always say that I made most of my work and my most interesting projects in Italy, in Milan, with the Trussardi Foundation, the first institution that offered me such an important job. I am a big fan of Italy and of the possibilities I have had there and the work I have done there.
This is the first time that I work in Italy with a team that is not my usual team and in a more institutional situation. This is a new and different experience. Among all the institutions I have worked with, despite what is usually said about the Venice Biennale, it is a very effective and efficient structure that does much with little. Perhaps I am used to slimmer and more nimble institutions.
Among the Biennials, the Venice Bienniale is the most curious. All the Biennials I have curated so far were quite young, ready to be renewed and open to innovation in a quite automatic way. The Venice Biennale, just for the fact of being a “Biennial”, should also be open to innovation because everything changes every two years.
But among all the institutions devoted to contemporary art, this is the oldest, not only among the Biennials but also among the Museums. Not so many contemporary art museums can boast 110 years of history. This is a relevant aspect, and although it doesn’t influence the organization of the event, you see it as a kind of responsibility.
If you ask me to comment on the Italian situation today, I would say it is a wider issue. I wondered many times if this Biennale should focus on the present situation in those terms, narrate stories of a dissatisfied society that is now facing its limits, and so on. I wondered about it for a long time, but I think that when you do an exhibition like this it is also important to look beyond the immediate news. I do not know if I got it right, but we will see people’s reactions when the Biennial opens.
I certainly wanted to make an exhibition looking beyond the immediate present. Perhaps, if you look at the exhibition “against the light,” you would be able to see that one of the strongest elements of this Biennale is the inclusion of many artists that are not necessarily professionals. Many self-taught and “marginal” artists have been included in the exhibition. By doing so, we try to highlight this question: Who does have the right to be “in” or to be “out”? I do not know if this tells us something about the present time in history, but I think that indirectly it does. I would like to add something to your question about the way I feel. Regarding the idea we all have of the curators, we have to remember that beyond all the clichés you usually see repeated in the journals, etc., being a curator is just a job and as such it must be carried out.
For example, this is the most beautiful moment of all my curatorial work. Finally I find myself in the art spaces with all the selected works, but also with all the people helping to install the works, the builders, the painters, and so on.
This is exactly when the magic of art happens. It is also nice to see that in Italy there is much more culture in these moments than in others… This is also very interesting.
Radicate.eu wishes to thank Sara Watson and Ela Kinowska for kindly checking the English translation.
Photo credit: Massimiliano Gioni. Courtesy Fondazione Nicola Trussardi. Photo: Marco De Scalzi