Good evening everyone, welcome. On the occasion of this exhibition by Jannis Kounellis and Giovanni Anselmo we wanted to send a message to all our friends and collaborators: a new programme, a new event at the Riso Museum. Along with our curator Giovanni Iovane and with Paolo Falcone we thought that the existing pieces already at the Museum – works by Kounellis and Anselmo – could have further in-depth analysis through an exhibition of other works put into dialogue with the pre-existing ones, precisely in order to give vitality to those in the collection of the museum because our objective was to revitalise them, put them into dialogue to make it clear that the museum is not a static thing but that it wants to be something in constant innovation. Analysing these pieces and these exhibitions present in our collections is the basis for research into what contemporary art is and how it aimed at its territory. I would like for Giovanni Iovane to explain the meaning of this exhibition, and most of all I would like to open a lively debate with you by asking what it is that makes a museum, what it must do, how it has to activate itself through workshops and creative activities that must certainly give constant stimulation. Before opening the debate, I will give the floor to Giovanni Iovane who will speak to you of the exhibition that we have presented today.
As mentioned before by the Director of the museum Valeria Livigni, this project which we have called Stanze (Rooms), is a project realised and curated by myself with the collaboration of Paolo Falcone and the curatorial staff of the museum, whom I would like to thank for the precious help.
The idea for Stanze was born from a reflection on the current identity not only of the Riso Museum but also of museums in general. The question is what to exhibit, how to exhibit it and why exhibit it. The collection is what provides the history, the memory of the museum; it reflects the history of past exhibitions, but the architecture of the museum also comes into play. This first Stanze project is based on two artists – like indeed Giovanni Anselmo and Jannis Kounellis – two artists of great intellect and experience who have works present in the collection. Mentally and in terms of planning we have organised this exhibition through a reflection on their work, yet it also becomes an appropriation, be it purely transitory, through the Stanze exhibition – lasting until November – which recreates not just a simple juxtaposition of the works of one period rather than another. Their works become a sort of mechanism that recreates something present, current. Rudi Fuchs, with whom I had the pleasure of collaborating several years ago on a project in Gorizia, used to speak of accumulations. He was one of the greatest museum directors in Europe and he reflected in a determined, significant and concrete way on the meaning of the exhibition, therefore no longer creating, for example, chronological exhibitions but rather working through the collection. In some of his exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum of which he was director, the artist intervened even by changing the position and order of the collection of the museum. This is no longer therefore a traditional exhibition housing the works of the artists temporarily, but it creates instead something different. The museum as a depository of works becomes an active organism.
The second floor hosting the exhibition here at the Palazzo Riso is particular, with a restoration that is pleasantly finished yet unfinished but that has an undeniable charm, and the interventions of the artists use it as a tool. Kounellis, by uniting two cycles of works created twenty years apart, formulates a new proposal by creating a dramaturgical, existential action; a one-act meaning precisely that what is presented is not a sculpture alongside another sculpture but an act, an action, something dynamic that makes the piece present and renews, accumulates even, the memory of a previous piece. So we find ourselves facing a set of hanging cupboards recalling the Sicilian Baroque, the Sicilian flying angels, laid out beneath which, like a sort of litany, a series of iron trestles supporting metal plates onto which are hung some dark coats. To me, it brings to mind a procession. These coats that have appeared for years in Kounellis’s artistic experience, are a prefiguration of something that has occurred; they are characters or rather ghosts with their own personal and dramatic weight.
In the same way, present from the Riso collection by Giovanni Anselmo is the work which in literature or in art history is known as funambolo (tightrope walker). Anselmo says that he became an artist during a visit to Stromboli – which would later become his favourite island – in August 1965. On that occasion while going down to the sea he realised that he had lost his shadow as if it had been absorbed by the starry sky, therefore by infinity. This experience set the symbolic direction of Anselmo’s work as a budding artist. Anselmo is, in the words of Rudi Fuchs, whom I mentioned earlier, one of the few artists that puts pure fantasy into play; that is to say that what we see is not at all representative or scenic but rather presenting something that has as much to do with energy and fantasy as it has with reality; electromagnetic reality concretely symbolised by an electromagnetic needle. The installation present in the exhibition has been created specifically for Stanze, that is in-house, as we used to say. The title by Anselmo Mentre la terra rallenta la luce focalizza… (As Earth Relents and Light Focuses…) is part of the piece and contrasts with the dryness of Kounellis’s Untitled. The two artists complement each other though the underlying line between the two is the same. Both are born in the period of Arte Povera and conceptually as well as physically they have always worked in the same direction and with great results.
Anselmo creates a “physicalization” with elements which are concrete, real, yet not realistic nor tied to the universe, to which Kounellis is set against with another type of energy, the fruit of a profoundly dramatic and anthropocentric vision; almost as if the artists had spoken beforehand. In reality it was a long-distance dialogue made possible by their great artistic experience. Two apparently opposite positions that nevertheless act upon the same line. The geographical metaphor of north and south coming together through these two installations expresses more than any words that the Stanze project is a project that concerns all museums because it is about the creation of a new device for a tout court exhibition.
I would like to add that on the first floor it is possible to see a video: a documentary by Ferdinando Vicentini Orgnani, that allows us to see the artists at work. I think that being able to see an artist throughout the phases of his work is an exceptional element. Having interviews inside the studio and in the home of the artist allows us to have a moment of important reflection in order to understand how artworks are born.
I would like to give the floor to Paolo Falcone who located the space in the Cappella dell’Incoronazione where he has set up a piece by Jonathan Monk that is part of a series of works by the artist as Paolo will explain.
This museum was also born as a specific collection that aimed to highlight the essential relationship between the artists and Sicily. The regional museum becomes a natural house in which to highlight such a relationship. Today the Riso Museum has that function; it is becoming a place for collection and memory of that which has been produced in the last fifty-sixty years in this territory.
One day as I was going into my office, looking out from the Cappella dell’Incoronazione and seeing this beautiful space, it came almost natural for to think of inviting Jonathan Monk with his dry, precise work; I wanted to exhibit one of his self-portrait busts as a reference to the principal project being carried out at the Riso Museum. Jonathan Monk is an artist of the new generation who is very accomplished and representative of English study in the last twenty years. He has always looked to the art history surrounding him to draw from and transform elements from the past in new works. The series from which the piece present here is part references the minimal and conceptual art of Arte Povera. It is a series of busts in which the artist portrays himself; exquisitely Greek/Roman busts, stealing an image that is often seen in our national panorama with hundreds of sculptures in parks and gardens depicting great personalities, sculptures that often have a damaged nose. Monk asked several famous contemporary artists to intervene on his copies of classical busts by hammering at the nose. This is an absolutely non-violent or vandalistic gesture.
I would to give special thanks to Zerynthia who have collaborated on this project. Collaborating on the project doesn’t only mean backing it economically when needed but it means collaborating in constructing it from a cultural point of view, in the sense of support and backing in the relationship with the artists. Zerynthia, moreover, has for some time organized and broadcast on their web radio RAMLive meetings between two worlds that up till now in Italy have been rather distant, that is the world of business and that of art. These DAC meetings – which stands for Denominazione Artistica Condivisa (Shared Artistic Denomination) – have reached their twelfth edition. In a world hit by the crisis there is a great need for dialogue and for a capacity to transgress. Today we have with us the new director of the De Appel Foundation in Amsterdam, Lorenzo Benedetti, who has participated in other editions of DAC and who alongside Dora Stiefelmeier will intervene to bring certain businessmen into confrontation with our world. We also have with us Antonio Presti who, more than a businessman, to use an old expression, we could call a patron though this may be a reductive term. Antonio has created what can be called the enterprise of art. He is truly a model for future generations.
The DAC meeting, on the other hand, represents a more practical encounter, aimed at creating a new dimension and attention to those that are the aspects of realisation of exhibitions in which the museum enters as an actor but not as a final beneficiary. Over to Dora.
You have already made the introduction so I can speak of other things. Why did we propose a DAC in Palermo? I would rather like to spread out. In the run up to the creation of the European Union and to the Treaty of Rome in the 50s, a then young Hungarian architect, Yona Friedman, went to UNESCO in order to propose a great cultural project. Starting by saying that in his opinion making a Europe of Nations was a huge mistake, he proposed to create a sole great metropolis – Métropole Europe – the stations of which to be called Paris, London, Amsterdam, Madrid, Rome, with a technical centre in Brussels. Clearly he was more or less thrown out because he was considered mad. It’s obvious that at the time this was nothing more than a utopia, but in time that project has become somewhat more concrete. His vision was certainly far-sighted.
Back to Palermo, we like to imagine it as a station of Métropole Europe. Why? I am certainly very impressed, apart from by the many beauties I see in this city, by the presence I can feel of a profound knowledge of tastes and smells, a widespread knowledge that can be found everywhere. I believe it must be something very precious once shared with the Middle East; I think, above all, of an almost entirely destroyed Syria. Palermo today can assume a very important role in defending and applying this knowledge above all in a global world that, as we know, is levelling out tastes. We thought this was an interesting topic to propose to our friends in Palermo. Ours is obviously a parallel discussion that can only give us some starting points. We know that those who work in economics run risks, they need immediate economic confirmation, while those on the side of art can propose alternative routes, they can overturn perspectives. We are convinced that by putting both categories at the same table can enrich and better the current situation which as we know is subject to phenomena of huge crisis.
DAC is not a structured organization; we call it a mobile club. It is a discussion that began in Rome around two years ago and that has already built a consistent trajectory through Italy, France and Holland, putting together protagonists of the two worlds who have largely maintained their relationship. I have beside me Lorenzo Benedetti, the new director of the De Appel Foundation as well as for many years the director of the Vleeshall in Middelburg where he has organised as many as three DAC meetings as well as a DAC at the last Venice Biennale in conjunction with the opening of the Dutch Pavilion which he directed. We thought that his presence here would be precious for the Riso Museum because in Middelburg the DAC meetings were fruitful precisely for the Vleeshall – the Kunsthalle of the city – as Lorenzo managed to involve new people around the museum who even became part of his board, giving concrete support.
The DAC experience is fundamental also with regards to a central theme which is that of the contemporary. What is the contemporary, how can it amount to art within a temporary dimension? The series of meetings held at Middelburg put together certain realities that connected art to certain business situations and with some rather interesting coincidences and this is one of the strongest and most dominant aspects that went on to create this DAC round table. Two years ago, for example, when I was commissioned to direct the Dutch Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, a steel factory in Middelburg – the city of forty-five thousand citizens where the Vleeshal is – and whose partner is one of the Italian offices of Permasteelisa, one of the largest architecture construction companies in the world, made sure that permission was given for a palazzo on the Canal Grande to be used for a DAC meeting. The most important thing of this meeting is the idea that art can be developed on the idea of potential.
The contemporary in reality is a creative development that can put together or unite diverse realities. I think that what is happening here today is very important; a step that shows that it is possible to make great interventions. Obviously we find ourselves in front of certain historical gurus, great artists who have marked the contemporary at a historical level. What interests us of the contemporary is above all the process capable of producing history. The contemporary does not conserve history, it does not promote it, but it produces and is as such fundamental. Those who work in the contemporary put together diverse realities uniting the worlds of art and business in order to produce something that will remain in history. For this reason I believe that a city like Palermo can also be perfect for this dialogue between a history and an idea of contemporary that wishes to look indeed to the future.
I think it is time to give the floor to someone from Palermo and I would like Massimiliano Fragalà to talk to us about his activity, which interests me greatly. Mediating between the need for restoration in historical centres and the wish to give visibility to productive activities is already in its own right a DAC operation.
Art is a representation of life and any form of art has a meaning for all of us. Funding art through business, through economy is healthy. Economy has often been interested in art, but until now it has never entered decisively and directly in the restructuring and restoration of historical buildings. In this moment of heavy crisis in all sectors and lack of public funds there is this possibility: restructuring, financing the restructuring, which can be monumental rather than artistic through businesses that by doing this can contribute to the recuperation of a country. It is a shame to lose the cultural and artistic heritage that has marked our tradition. I am a mediator, not a businessman, but I do know many who today are working towards repairing our enormous artistic and architectural heritage.
I would like to give the floor to Antonio Presti who is an acting example of the relationship between business and art and who better than he, as a Sicilian, to speak to us about it?
I think that when we talk about contemporariness we have to about this moment and possibly also about twenty years in the future. This contemporariness is unfortunately lost as a life experience.
My story begins in 1988. As a youngster I started to frequent the art system and I could simply have become a collector who buys keeping in mind also the fiscal advantages. I became a collector/entrepreneur who out of the enterprise of art made an enterprise of life. Money is never at the service of beauty, I say that as a businessman and I say that also assuming the responsibility of the business class that in the last fifty years has hardly created beauty in our national territory. Art with regards to its own contemporariness is never resumed only in an exhibition, a catalogue. Art must search also for a relationship with society, a changing society that demands in the name of necessity. In this moment there is the necessity for giving back to a young generation – more than form or objects – thought. We have to educate a new public that perhaps does not even know our paradigm of what artistic expression is. Those of us here this evening are largely part of the same generation. To the twenty-year-old kids we have to re-propose forms, sculptures, paintings, places, museums; we have to assume the responsibility.
In the last ten years in Italy big contemporary art museums have been opened and starchitects have been called in to create these great containers. Today, in a moment not only of economic crisis but also of a crisis of thought, these containers without content are closing because there is no thought of contemporariness, because there isn’t a public that approaches these places which are also the sons of nothingness, the sons of our now dated generation. If we speak of Anselmo and of Kounellis we are not contemporary, or rather we are contemporary in another way, on another level, and for another of society’s necessities.
In all that has happened there is also the responsibility of the businessman. In this country we have had a predatory business class that has chosen to disinherit the state and to never give anything back. Because businessmen, also with the responsibility of architects, have devastated contemporary cities with often unsightly architectures without ever creating a garden, an urban design. So, perhaps art has to go back among the people, society. Art has to have a new policy, not to be a slave of the policies and power of the moment. The other policy, that of beauty means speaking to the heart of the people and giving back their sensitivity. This for me is commitment. In Catania I didn’t just want to create another box-shaped contemporary art museum; I went to the peripheries to work with youngsters who through artistic praxis have acquired a right to citizenship. Regardless of the aesthetic quality of this praxis, there has been work of signs, of future, of sharing.
Even here in Palermo I have been committed and fought for seven years for the rebirth of the Oreto river, an abandoned river. By doing this, art goes back to its political/civil sense.
Businessmen should not only build houses and buildings and the odd public work thrown in with that wicked, dishonest and criminal two percent law. The lawmaker should be shot because this two percent has not created a thing in our national territory.
The businessman has to look less to his pocket and think more of his heart and when, for example, he constructs his building in Via della Libertà, apart from an architect he should also call a great artist. Only in this way can we give back to this contemporariness not sculptures, self-referencing works, but works that re-establish a dialogue with the city itself. This is the course I have taken at the Fiumara d’ Arte, in Castel di Lucio. There too I could have chosen to make a contemporary art museum in a nice building to then have the same old people at the openings. I chose instead to create a container in the form of a tree which still today in terms of contemporary art educates passers-by little by little from the first emotional states to a knowledge of art.
These meeting perhaps serve to encourage young businessmen who are attracted to contemporary art – a rare, but precious breed that must be protected like the panda. Perhaps we should strip ourselves of our knowledge of the art of the past and with these young businessmen look to the future. It has nothing to do with availability of funds – or rather that isn’t enough – what is needed is an intelligence linked to the heart. Only in this way can we manifest beauty, above all in this moment. We need only consign knowledge, and knowledge is the greatest strength we have available. This is our power, this is our job and this is what art must do.
Antonio Presti has said something very beautiful which was stated in the first DAC meeting in Rome. On that occasion a great industrialist, Ovidio Jacorossi, said: “I am almost moved by being here with artists and curators in dialogue around the same table. Because art is my daily bread and it influences my activity greatly. I can’t not be inspired by art; I actually need it. Without art I’m stranded even if art has nothing to do directly with my activity”. In fact Jacorossi is in the oil business. He then spoke of how, in his time, he even created a collection of contemporary art at his company, stating however that this already reflects an outdated relationship between business and art. “I have understood that when a businessman considers art in his company, man is at the centre.” I think this is a discussion that can interest businessmen of any category.
I would like to bring Ferdinando Vicentini Orgnani, who comes from the world of cinema, in on this debate. He too at a certain point was infected by the art bug and I think that in a certain sense his activity has been involved in it.
My chance entrance into the world of art came thanks to my friendship with Mario and Dora around ten years ago and for me it was a privilege. I had the opportunity to be near several artists, not necessarily understanding the coordinates of their works as a curator or art critic could. I understood however that the artists were ahead, that they had certain intuitions that I then tried to render and translate when I began producing these little backstage films of single artists.
The re-elaboration of what I had understood also brought something – an added value – to the rest of my work, in my way of writing, in the modalities of production. I tried for example to insert works of art into “normal” films. In my last film, Vino dentro, I set up an entire scene inside a sculpture by Fausto Melotti, at the Museum of Rovereto. This sculpture makes the scene absolutely extraordinary and unique. There is no rational explanation, but it can be perceived.
The theme of the relationship between art and business that we are discussing seems fundamental to me. Whoever can draw from art can effectively make the difference. I create my small difference in the fact that I document, gather precious material, steal moments that I then give back to my public. The problem is how to convince a businessman of what art can give. It is fundamental to find occasions for creating a doubt, opening an door to who remains distant, at times from a lack of understanding, at times for a lack of time or perhaps because they like other things. How to make them understand the fascination of art, its mystery? It’s clear that there is much work to be done. These initiatives are needed to give a the to all this.
It think it’s important to point out the importance of the relationship between private and public, abundantly demonstrated by the history of many modern and contemporary art museums in the world. In the majority of cases it’s a case of combinations with private associations or foundations – often tied to universities – that have invested in contemporary art because it represented the new. In the United States above all, think of the Guggenheim, the MOMA, the Getty. But also in Holland where the majority of museums are of private origin, like for example the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Kroeller Mueller Museum in Otterlo, the Beuymans van Beuningen of Rotterdam… These are museums that have been donated to the state or that, in some cases, the state has acquired. At times, like in France, this begins also with the public; think of the FRAC that have been various centres of action in the regions, often even in mainly industrial areas, far from the world of art. Think then of Germany. The relationship with the territory is fundamental and this is proven by many cultural policies in Europe. The museum becomes a place of distribution of knowledge, a place of the production of emotions. The museum creates shared forms of culture. In Italy we have the phenomenon of the emigration of young artists abroad because they find more open and efficient structures elsewhere. There is a lot of ground to make up, perhaps by creating bridges with other European countries. With this in mind I would like to return to Yona Friedman’s Métropole Europe in which Europe is seen as a sole city. In fact, compared to other continents, Europe has this unique dimension; the concentration in a small space of very diverse cultures that creates enormous possibilities.
I would like to say that these discussions, these round tables of ours never have a concrete or aimed objective because we never ask for money, not to mention charity. We want to create dialogues. Nevertheless certain things have been born from them. I would like to talk to you about a wonderful enterprise which incidentally involves Yona Friedman and Jean Baptiste Decavèle. Through our round tables they met with the company Felluga, producers of excellent wines. In the month of July this year construction will begin of a vineyard museum in the Felluga lands in Friuli. This project will be based on certain iconostases – cardinal elements in Friedman’s artistic research – that will form a museum/labyrinth in which to grow new vines. The fruit will in a few years become a new wine named Balkis, the name of Yona’s famous and beloved dog. All this is the result of the DAC meetings. Another case is what came after a meeting in Paris organised by Fabrice Hyber, an artist who has always been very much present within the DAC project. Fabrice met a representative of a bankrupt Italian textile company which however still had a large stock of furnishing fabric. Fabrice was very curious because Roberto Crivellini, the ex-administrator, had spoken to him about a tradition among the peasants of Venezia Giulia who stitched their shoes with bicycle tyres for the soles and scrap fabric. This was the typical poor production that Fabrice turned into the project chaussure unique, shoes for one foot only, using the remains of the company’s fabric. Production began obviously reflecting Hyber’s unconscious, but also a DAC product with a good chance of success. An initial result: the ex-owner’s depression has disappeared.
The museum is not only a place of exhibition; it is also and above all a meeting point. I would like to thank the Riso Museum for having given us the possibility of holding this meeting. Being able to dialogue between different entities creates something. It is of no importance if we agree on everything. The important thing is being around a table that is not that of a bar but that of a museum. We are in a place inside art; the museum has its own stature, it is bit like a secular church. Being here we all have to pay attention to and respect the work of the artists on exhibition at the moment. We speak quietly, yet we are proud to be here. I would like to bring to your attention a crucial fact: it is the artist who gives the ideas, he is the true sponsor. But there is always this economic reality weighing upon us; you don’t talk about it, but it weighs on you. But the real problem is not the economy – rightly so Antonio Presti made this clear – at least not in Italy. Here we have always loved art. I come from a family of businessmen and when I was young I did not deal with art, nor did it have any particular weight on my family. And yet something in me sparked. There was a first contact with an artist, then I met another and another. So I became curious and I ended up changing my life. I left the place I had grown up, but it was my decision. I hope others can also change their lives. The beauty of art is that it gives you the pride to live.
By telling his story, Mario Pieroni has given aristocracy – not noble but intellectual – to life for art. I would like to conclude this meeting by saying that as an observer from the outside I have seen at times apparently conflicting positions regarding the Riso Museum, all of which obviously interesting and in their own way complementary. As far as Antonio Presti’s experience goes, here what prevails is the institutional part, but it is important to establish a dialogue that can give birth to a shared interest in which the different realities come into contact and sow something that will be born perhaps in the next twenty years.