You are one of the most famous Italian artists alive today. Why do you choose not to have a studio in one place?
Art doesn’t come as much from inspiration as it does from the obsessions and fears that we all face every day. I have never been able to escape from the world around me, close myself up in a space, sit down at a desk and say, “I am an artist. I must create.” Having a studio might be relaxing. I could choose to not go sometimes, to call in sick. However, art is, above all, a way of looking at reality. There are no Sundays or days off. You can never take a holiday from yourself.
How do you work and how do you create your pieces?
Every minute of the day, and every situation is work. Perhaps this is why there is no “where” as much as there is a “through” or a “thanks to.” I have always thought that work was like going to the gym. The more effort you put in, the bigger your muscles get and the more your joints get stronger. Doctors say that ligaments are much more important for athletes than muscle mass because they allow the body to make the most of its physical capabilities. Art works in the same way perhaps, except I feel less like an athlete and more like one of those Sunday runners that is often out of breath and risks keeling over every time.
One of your works that shows Pope John Paul II lying on the ground was a success but stirred up controversy. Have you ever had contact with the Vatican?
The Royal Academy in London, where I showed that piece, received a letter from the Vatican, which expressed surprise at how the religious themes were treated so inadequately in that show. My work was perhaps truly inadequate because it didn’t talk about the historic person or public figure as much as about the precariousness of power, of defeat, and of failure, which are always lying in wait. And all men are equal when faced with fear.
Why do you spend so much time in New York?
I spent many years in other places before coming to New York. After having spent twenty-five years in Padua, I moved to Forlì, which at the time seemed to me like a mirage of an active universe where things were happening. Today Forlì still seems like a unique place but more for the fact that you can eat an excellent piadina [type of Italian flatbread] with prosciutto there. I’m not passing any kind of judgment. I’m the last person who should be passing judgment. But I am aware that living in New York is truly a special thing because it’s like an open-air office that works twenty-four hours a day.
What does it mean to be an artist today?
Someone once defined me as a concept worker. This is perhaps the only definition that helps me provide an answer to these kinds of questions. Perhaps being an artist only means looking at and reflecting reality, trying to expose details that would otherwise go unobserved. Artists are the antennas of the present, whatever present they may find themselves in.
Who are your teachers?
I did many jobs before becoming an artist, and I found art through trial and error. When I started, art fascinated me because it seemed like an alternative to salaried work, a way to rewrite the rules so as to not be somebody else’s employee. Marcel Duchamp always said, “I prefer breathing to working.” I don’t think I have teachers, but I do have many “schoolmates” with whom I can try to find the answers to the maths homework.
What kinds of projects are you working on?
The Berlin Biennale, which I curated along with Massimiliano Gioni and Ali Subotnick, is the only project I have worked on and challenged myself with in the last twenty months. Having gone to the other side this time – working in a group and organising something as opposed to being organised – has changed things. It’s as if everything works in a different way all of a sudden without the certainties you thought you had created. But, at the end of the day, we are both the victims and the tormentors. It only depends on the role we find ourselves playing in a certain moment.
Who are the most interesting Italian artists, in your opinion?
In Italy there’s a network of very active and very interesting artists that isn’t just made up of young people. For some reason, there are people who suddenly disappear, and we should go find them and bring them back. When art works, it has no expiration date.
If prices are so high, it is never the artists’ fault. It’s because of a system in which the auction houses, for example, manage to figure out the economic tastes of the market. The market is constantly selling a mirage, a perspective that has very little to do with the works and that has more to do with the enormous amount of money moving through it, going up and down. The real problem is that this system transforms the world of collectors. The best art collections are always the result of risky wagers about the future and intrepid acts of courage, never a focus on the safe horse.
Do you ever fear losing your talent?
I’ve been afraid since day one, and I will always be afraid. But I don’t fear losing my talent as much as failing or being exposed. You can’t lose something you don’t have.
What would you have wanted to do if you hadn’t become an artist?
For me, art has always been the answer to a problem. It has never been a finish line to cross or an objective to pursue. If one day I realise that art no longer satisfies my needs, perhaps I will go back to looking for a new path that will complete me.
There are many new museums and contemporary art foundations in Italy today. What do you think about this?
There are many extraordinary experiences in Italy. Turin is a perfect example of the synergy between the public and private sectors. In just a few years, the city – with an excellent museum programme and an ambitious group of collectors – has become one of the hubs for contemporary art in Italy, and plays an active role in the international debate. It has the same energy as places that are very different, like Miami, for example. Perhaps if all of the gallery foundations, public museums, and private museums worked toward a specific common objective, then Italy could truly do a lot for contemporary art. As always, the most interesting things happen or can happen only when there are many people in the same room.
June 4th, 2006