A project to revitalise Italian art.
You are the President of the Rome Quadrennial Foundation…
Yes. It is an institution that was started back in 1927 to promote Italian art. Because there was already the Venice Biennial, it was deemed necessary to create an event that took place every four years to create awareness of and promote Italian artists.
Guttuso in 1931 and Fontana in 1935, for example. Over the years, it was an exhibition that launched artists who went on to have success.
Wasn’t the Quadrennial created during the Fascist era?
Yes. But Fascism didn’t have a designated artistic movement for the regime like the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. There were artists linked to the regime, but not an official art. And this allowed artists to maintain their creativity even during that period.
What has happened since then?
The foundation was active up to the sixteenth edition, which was to have taken place in 2012, but it was cancelled due to a lack of funds. Thus, the latest Quadrennial took place in 2008.
And then what happened?
Minister Franceschini decided to bring this institution back to life and asked me to give it new impetus. We are trying to organise it and connect private entities with the state.
So the Quadrennial is returning after a few years’ hiatus. What is the plan now?
It is returning with a new concept. In other words, the concept is to not seek out a curator to fill one specific position.
So what have you done instead?
We’ve decided to go with a more comprehensive process that has the objective of inspiring new vitality, not just on an artistic level but in terms of curation as well. We put out a “call for projects”, which we sent to about seventy curators in Italy between the ages of thirty and forty. We are talking about the best Italian curators that work in this field, in that age range. We’ve given them specific instructions about the project and we’ve emphasized the characteristics they need to respect. We’ve already received about thirty projects to select from. We will then ask the curators to work together collectively, which will allow us to reach a synthesis that expresses the trends in Italian and contemporary art.
It will be very interesting to know if there is vitality in Italian art.
Yes. It’s about doing an in-depth analysis. We have a year to prepare, and the exhibition will be inaugurated in mid-October 2016 at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, which is the historic headquarters of the Quadrennial shows.
Who will select the projects?
A commission made up of five people – Giuseppe Penone, Angela Vettese, Maria Grazia Messina, Nicola Di Battista, and Marco Belpoliti.
President Bernabè, this certainly isn’t your first experience in this area.
No. These are activities I carry out alongside my professional activities because I believe it is important for Italy to pay attention to contemporary art. Italy is a country with ingenuity and creativity that can help bring out our potential. Creativity is essential for bringing awareness to our country, and giving it the role it deserves.
Do you think contemporary art is penalised by the fact that Italy is the art country par excellence?
Great art has always been contemporary, but there’s a lack of attention paid to the contemporary. A country’s heritage needs to be alive and not just a historic quantification. We need to get past this oversight. Italy needs contemporary art as a continuation of our historic heritage.
Where are the centres of contemporary art today?
Young Italians looking for a future in art often can’t find enough of a focus on that in Italy, and they don’t have the kind of promotion necessary. So they go abroad.
So what needs to be done?
Exactly what we are trying to do with the Quadrennial… Promote, create awareness about, and bring visibility to Italian contemporary artists.
Is the Venice Biennial very different? You were its president…
The Biennial isn’t dedicated to Italian art. There is a great presence of Italians, though in the past even that presence was marginal. The Quadrennial is therefore important to create awareness about Italian art.
Was your experience as the president of MART (The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto) important for you?
Certainly. Very important. And MART testifies to the singularity of our country. It was possible to create an initiative of international importance, of great success, in a place as out of the way as Rovereto. A place of absolute excellence. In the last few years, various institutions have been created in Italy, however, they don’t have the goal of focusing only on Italian art as much as on contemporary art in general.
What role does contemporary art play today?
We know that contemporary art has had worldwide success, as demonstrated by the fact that the prices of contemporary art at auction are often much higher than paintings by the old masters. There’s something I would like to point out, which is that the great success of certain technological items is a combination of technology and aesthetics. Let’s take Apple, for instance. The aesthetic element today is of fundamental importance because it is a differentiator. Contemporary art as a driver has great influence on design and fashion.
Do you have high expectations for the new Quadrennial?
I expect it to be a driver and a way to incentivise contemporary art. I would like our contemporary artists to be much more well known throughout the world. When we talk about Pistoletto, Fontana, Burri, and arte povera, these are artists and movements that were highly successful internationally. But at this point, they are part of history. We need to focus on art from the last ten years and highlight it in the same way as art from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
How do you see your role?
I see this role as another one of the “pro bono publico” contributions I’ve already given to serve our country.
In your opinion, does Italy put enough of a focus on culture today?
Let’s say that we could do much more for culture than we do. But one significant and important thing is that this government – Minister Franceschini, in particular – has given that push and brought the new focus we need.
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