Vincenzo de Bellis, born in Putignano (Bari, Italy) in 1977, is the Artistic Director of the MiArt — Milan International Modern and Contemporary Art Fair — since 2012. He is the Co-Director and Curator of Peep-Hole, a contemporary art centre he founded in 2009 in Milan with Bruna Roccasalva and Anna Daneri.
Within the context of the cooperation between MiArt and the Nicola Trussardi Foundation, de Bellis co-produced and co-curated the Liberi Tutti (2013) and Cine Dreams (2014) projects with Massimiliano Gioni.
In the forthcoming months he will be curating Betty Woodman’s exhibition at Florence’s Marino Marini Museum and at London’s ICA — Institute of Contemporary Art — as well as a large collective on Italian art called “Ennesima, una mostra di sette mostre sull’arte Italiana” at the Milan Triennial.
De Bellis was awarded the Master of Arts in Curatorial Studies at the Center For Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.
A conversation with Vincenzo de Bellis, Artistic Director of MiArt Fair, Milan, Italy
Phone interview on August the 20th, 2015
Michela Alessandrini: Let’s begin with your experience, which was developed with an institutional approach – at Gamec (Bergamo, Italy) and at the Museion (Bolzano, Italy) at first, then within a hybrid no-profit institution such as Peep-Hole – as well as with a “commercial” approach, with the last three MiArt editions. You have been facing the “contemporary art” issue from several standpoints and segments… What is your curatorial strategy? What do you like to focus on? Which Italian resources should be exploited in your opinion?
Vincenzo de Bellis: Indeed, in the past I have had several diverse experiences, but all of them share a strong interest toward institutional experimentation. Right from my studies at the Center For Curatorial Studies at the Bard College, I’d rather consider the curator not only as an exhibition organizer but as a professional that should question the role and the nature of institutions, with the ability to define them and re-adapt them to the modern times. After my essential development as an assistant curator at the Gamec and the Museion, all my experiences complied with this logic.
The co-foundation of Peep-Hole had in itself an institutional perspective, as no-profit spaces of this kind had never existed in Italy – except for Viafarini (Milan), which in any case was being developed on completely different bases and intents. Peep-Hole as a space was born from the intent of physical persons, but moves according to strongly institutional logics: it’s a museum project room with no museum around it, both on a scheduling and managing level. This is because it’s a physical space and not a curatorial collective.
When I became the artistic director of the MiArt, I accepted the challenge of reconfiguring it to put it back on track, while at the same time turning it into a Milanese institution. I proved that this can be done while remaining aware that a fair has to remain a fair, therefore — as such — a private event with commercial purposes. My approach was that of an agency capable of having a notable number of segment experts converging in Milan, possibly interested in all the cultural initiatives that it could offer. MiArt creates therefore a connection between public and private realities. The city had nothing like this.
As for the Italian situation, to me it’s self-evident that it’s rather complex at the moment, the main reason being the lack of economical resources from the public sector. I am convinced that museums cannot be considered as before the crisis. Let’s face it: in Italy, money is needed in many other segments besides the cultural one, and it’s only normal that the latter should receive less financing, considering its stance as a world for the few. Art has a collective value that is very rarely managed as such, and this is counterproductive. The trend is that of removing the public rather than bringing it closer and, as a consequence, art is no part of the social emergency we are experiencing. Unfortunately, museums are paying the costs of this choice.
This being said, we should develop new possibilities rather than feeling sorry for ourselves. For example, by doing what other countries have been doing for some time: connecting the public sector with the private one. Realities such as the Prada Foundation or the Hangar Bicocca (Editor’s note: both based in Milan) prove that completely private institutions can have a public mission with excellent results. In our own small way, we have been operating with Peep-Hole for six years with no public funding, and — I must say — we are in excellent health. This enables us to keep a sound distance from some typically public economical issues.
MA: Also from political interference, I’d say…
VdB: Definitely! Obviously, such integration should go hand in hand with a renewal at the management and curatorial level: if contemporary art is — as I believe — generational, the generations of museum curators and directors should be renewed just like the generations of artists. Many public institutions in Italy only survive thanks to the private sector’s support, but not in broad daylight. If they admitted it, many complications could be avoided in favour of the intellectual honesty that our country needs. I believe that the mingling between the private and public sectors should be accepted, if institutions are to survive without becoming gallery branches.
MA: Which type of private sector do you think should be involved, then?
VdB: The ideal approach is the one of those museums that became foundations and have a board of directors, such as the Gamec in Bergamo, which was one of the first to adopt this system, the Museion in Bolzano or the Mart in Rovereto. Or look for institutional sponsor: there are many in each city and region.
MA: Could you tell me about the Memorandum of Understanding between the MIBACT (the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism) and the Committee for Contemporary Art Foundations and the relevant steering committee, of which you are a member for the General Direction for Landscape, Fine Arts, Architecture and Contemporary Art section?
VdB: There’s not much I can say, as there have been no meetings yet. There will be one after mid-September. In any case, the commission’s role is to evaluate the projects arising out of the cooperation between the Ministry and the Foundations Committee.
MA: This June you were also appointed artistic director of MiArt’s 2016 edition. What changes would you like to implement and what features would you like to confirm with respect to the past editions you have curated? Any advance news?
VdB: The list of participating galleries, which is the real novelty in each fair, will be announced — as is common practice — only at the beginning of 2016, while the fair will take place in April. As the quality of the MiArt – and, in my opinion, of any fair – is based on this selection, much will depend on the exhibiting galleries. I can certainly say that we expect a quality growth rather than a numerical one. At this point, MiArt‘s quality standards are very high. As was the case in the last three years, there won’t be more than 150-160 galleries, which I consider a reasonable number.
An anticipation I can give is that there will be a new section, called Decades, curated by Alberto Salvadori: some Italian and International galleries will be invited to present projects relating to the several decades of the twentieth century in Italy and elsewhere. Not all decades will be necessarily covered, but each gallery will take care of one.
I strongly believe that galleries are strong conveyors of meanings and, especially in Italy, they have had and still have a critical role for art – as an example, the first large exhibition of the last great Italian art movement, the Arte Povera, took place in Genoa’s Galleria La Bertesca in 1967.
Decades wants to reaffirm the importance of the artistic production throughout the Twentieth century, especially the Italian one, which is currently undergoing a process of important and rightful revaluation. One of our goals is therefore to celebrate the role of art in our country and that of galleries in supporting it, promoting it and bringing it to public attention.
MA: It seems to me that what makes MiArt unique with respect to other exhibitions is the will to reconsider an existing heritage.
VdB: Indeed. In general, this has been one of my main interests in the last years. Take Peep-Hole, for example: everybody thinks the schedule is mainly aimed at an international level, and this is certainly true. But it’s also true – and not many realize this – that one or two exhibitions out of four per year feature Italian artists.
When I created my own chance to work independently, I believed that one of the duties of a curator was to support art in the context in which it operates or from which it came from. Now, there are several ways to support Italian art: to me, supporting it by a schedule of exhibitions with Italian artists only would somehow close them into a ghetto, and – while the intentions are good – the end result would be narrow-minded. I believe that, by including them in an international schedule – which is exactly our approach, we ensure higher visibility and circulation.
Even for MiArt, I decided to build up from the territory. As this is a modern and contemporary art fair, it cannot overlook its city – renowned the world over as the city of Piero Manzoni and Lucio Fontana and as the birthplace of the architecture and design of the last five decades. We have a lot to show, and so many works are still in the warehouses of the historical galleries. Rather than waiting for someone to come and pick them up to exhibit them abroad, we want to try and exhibit them right here, in their context. And this is possible at an excellent level only if the approach is an international one. This is what I want to achieve with MiArt as artistic director but also as curator: for example, with a large exhibition such as Ennesima. Una mostra di sette mostre sull’arte italiana, which I will curate for the Milan Triennial (November the 26th 2015 – March the 6th 2016); it will propose a reading of Italian art from the Sixties up to now through seven different exhibition formats, the goal being that of always narrating a partial story, the only one actually possible.
Translated from Italian by Fulvio Giglio