You started your life as an artist and exposed your work at Mario Tazzoli’s Galleria “Galatea” in Milan in 1974. Then you stopped painting for many years, and worked as curator and director of various museums and art institutions – in the United States, in Switzerland, Italy, Turkey. Now, since a few years, you still work as a curator, but you also went back to your own work of artist. How come? Will you define yourself as an eclectic figure?

No, not really eclectic because we are in the same field of art, but by nature I have always liked to look at something from both sides. Curiously the introduction to the catalogue of my first exhibition at Galatea was written by an artist whose work I love, Fausto Melotti. Melotti himself stopped his work as an artist for many years, while he had a family with small children. In retrospect it would seem that I followed his footprints, as I also stopped my practice of art while my family and son were young.


Paolo Colombo, Untitled, watercolors and paper, 2016

Therefore you became a curatorial figure in the US?

At that time I was in Chicago, and as art and artists were the only thing I knew it was natural to work within the art system. I started as a research assistant at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and from there I went on to Philadelphia at the Tyler School of Art.

Then you moved back to Europe. Why?

I was appointed director of the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, where I stayed for 10 years.

What was your job about?

It was both curatorial and administrative. I have had the opportunity to work with many artists at the outset of their career, in Philadelphia with Robert Gober and Carroll Dunham, in Geneva with Kiki Smith, Pipilotti Rist, Ugo Rondinone, Juan Muñoz.

Why did you move to Istanbul, where you still work today?

At first, in 1998/99, to curate the 6th Istanbul Biennale, where I had the opportunity to work for the first time with William Kentridge and Francis Alÿs. One month before the opening of the Biennale, Istanbul was hit by a 7.4 earthquake which affected the exhibition in more than one way. The show was dedicated to a great singer from the 1920s, Antonis “Dalgas” Diamantidis.

How come you moved on to become the first curator of the MAXXI, the new contemporary art museum built by Zaha Hadid in Rome?

I was appointed by Giovanna Melandri, then Minister of Culture. I had a particularly nice time there, with exhibitions by Francis Alÿs and Ed Ruscha, both experiences that I remember most fondly.

Paolo Colombo and Ed Ruscha

Paolo Colombo and Ed Ruscha at the Pinacoteca Gianni and Marella Agnelli in Torino, 2015

Did you work with Ed Ruscha again after that?

Yes, recently in 2015 at the Pinacoteca Giovanni and Marella Agnelli in Torino. We put together an ideal collection of works from the public museums in Turin (my home town), relating to main themes in Ruscha’s work.


Automobiles, cinema, and crime.

You have worked in various places, but established your home in Athens. How come?

It is the city I love the most. I have always loved it. I worked there as a young artist between 1977 and 1981. I have always loved Greek culture, especially its modern poetry and its popular music tradition between 1920 and the 1950s. It is an extraordinary subculture, an urban blues formed from the union of Turkish and Greek music following the exchange of population between the two countries in 1922. “Dalgas” was one of the extraordinary musicians that are part of this tradition.


Watercolor box on Paolo’s worktable

And it is in Athens that you have started your personal work as an artist again. Why, after 25 years? What happened?

I just picked up a pencil and my old box of watercolours, which I still have, and started as if not one day had gone by.  I have only used watercolour and paper during my whole life because I think it is easily transportable and because it is a technique that does not allow for corrections.

You said that you are from Turin, the city of the Arte Povera. Are you one of these artists?

The answer is no, because my practice is strictly intimate. It demands to be seen one on one, like one would read a book, and it is fundamentally lyrical. But in fact I did work with a number of artists from Arte Povera, having a wonderful time and with much admiration for them.

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Paolo Colombo, Untitled, watercolors and paper, 2016

You said that you use the technique of watercolour because it is easy to travel. You live in Athens, but most of your time you travel….

I work one week per month at the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, where I curate exhibitions and advise the collection.

İstanbul Museum of Modern Art, In Praise of Shadows. January - May 2009

İstanbul Museum of Modern Art, In Praise of Shadows. January – May 2009

Why did you go back to Istanbul?

I was hired after I left MAXXI in Rome, at the beginning to curate an exhibition on the relation between Turkish and Greek shadow theatre, avant garde film animation in the 1920s in Poland and Germany and 8 contemporary artists. The exhibition was called “In Praise of Shadows”. This led to other projects that included young Turkish artists and other artists from the region, from the Caucasus to the Balkans to the Middle East.

Do you know these countries well?

Never enough, but I have a particular affinity with Georgia, the ancient Colchis, the extreme eastern border of the classical world where Jason went looking for the Golden Fleece. There I encountered the work of two creators who are among my favourite artists ever in the world. One is the filmmaker Sergei Parajanov, alas dead, I saw massive doses of his films in Tblisi, and the other the most extraordinary puppeteer in the world, Rezo Gabriadze.

The National Marionette Theatre, Georgia

Exterior of the Georgia National Puppet Theatre

You seem interested in a world that is sadly in the news for reasons other than art. But in your experience art seems to be very lively there, far from the main centres like New York and London ….

And it thrives away from the static of the centre. It has a purpose that is not determined by reasons of success, fame, and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Today we forget that Goethe wrote Dr Faustus in the midst of the Napoleonic wars. Art responds to a demanding yet very generous muse.

Paolo Colombo. Untitled 2015, watercolors on paper, 31 x 23 cm

Paolo Colombo. Untitled 2015, watercolors on paper, 31 x 23 cm

What are you going to do next, will you be painting in Athens?

Art and more art for me: an exhibition with Qbox Gallery in Athens, and I am curating an exhibition with Rosemarie Trockel – again an ideal collection from museums in Turin – for the Pinacoteca Giovanni and Marella Agnelli in November of this year; and I am co-curating the Iraqi pavilion for the 2017 Venice Biennale with Dr Tamara Chalabi.

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London, June 2016

Mehmet and Mehmet (2004) from paolo colombo on Vimeo.