Andrea Viliani: Dear Alfonso, in 1986 you began by opening the gallery in Pozzuoli with the group show Possibilità di collezione. What was then and what would now be your ideal collection? Perhaps in part I already know the answer, because some of the works in your collection are deposited at the Madre museum.
Alfonso Artiaco: Each of us may imagine an ideal collection; for me it was important to preserve moments from my own career while including works with an entirely different past. One example was the exhibition at the Madre for which I loaned many works from my own private collection. In the curator’s final selection, there were works like Hanging Complex Form, one of the three great sculptures from my first Sol LeWitt show staged in Pozzuoli in 1989, alongside many other works that I had purchased over the years from various colleagues. For me, collecting is an act based on circumstances, of moments and choices that are consumed sometimes over very short periods of time, or other times over very long periods. There’s no real way to collect; there’s just the instinct for collecting.
AV: In 1995, you moved the gallery temporarily to a new venue in Pozzuoli: an important year in which the artistic projects were set up for Piazza del Plebiscito and the Metropolitana dell’Arte in Naples, while in 2003 you then moved the gallery to what had been the venue of Lucio Amelio. How did the connection with the territory you work in evolve, and what relationships did you establish with that season of cultural renewal in Naples, between the mid-’90s and the early 2000s? And what did a figure such as Amelio represent for you, that of a person who contributed to defining this story and that of the art system in Naples and beyond?
AA: I have always had a close tie with the territory and I have tried to stage shows linked to Naples, which has always been a place with a great contemporary tradition. And it is this tradition that led us to have what you define as a season of renewal. Those were the key years in this sense, years in which the institutions had grasped the importance of placing contemporary culture at the heart of the re-launch of the city, and that decision bore nothing but excellent fruits, as may be seen from the resonance the Metropolitana dell’Arte had on an international level. As far as Lucio is concerned, he gave me the guidance to understand how a place and a work could be made unique, drawing heavily on the extraordinary history and culture of Naples, and placing it in a dialectic relationship with cultures and forms of expression far removed from our own, contaminating them and holding memorable shows. After his death, artists like Paolini and Kounellis decided that my gaze was the one most in line with their own artistic path.
AV: Minimalism, Conceptual and Arte Povera come together in your programme with expressions that seem to put the transformative nature of these matrices to the test, with works by artists of the following generations. How do you configure these relationships in the programme of the gallery, which in the meantime in 2016 celebrated its first thirty years of existence?
AA: All the pursuant choices are the result of a gaze that had a precise orientation to it. That’s why the passage from one generation to another is a natural evolution.
AV: In 2012, you again moved venue from Palazzo Partanna in Chiaia to Spaccanapoli inside Palazzo De Sangro di Vietri, where the artists often intervened in the environment, adopting a site-specific approach. Do you think there’s a difference between the shows in the gallery, where this approach is viable with greater freedom and the experience of the work may be more meditated and personal, and the setups in fair stands?
AA: The choice of Palazzo De Sangro di Vietri was determined by the breadth and the monumental nature of the spaces, which Palazzo Partanna could not offer. As regards the stands, with a few very rare exceptions, they are always the upshot of the work produced in the gallery. My artists are always given absolute freedom in the ideation of the shows and the works to produce for them; I have complete trust in them and their work. The most important difference, therefore, from the organisation of a stand is only the simultaneous presence of various artists. The aim in the fair is also that of having to reach out to much wider audience, trying to bring out the sense of the choices made by the gallery.
AV: Especially over recent years, Artissima has been a concept-based project, with a precise critical nature and a curatorial outline. The market is there, but it is part of a broader discourse and practice around art. What kind of relationship do you have with this fair and the way it’s set up?
AA: Despite not having taken part in the first two editions, partly thanks to the relationship that I established with Roberto Casiraghi and Paola Rampini, I became a great supporter of Artissima, especially because at the time there was a need to provide a more structured response compared to what was happening in Bologna. What’s more, for many years I was a member of the selection committee. Speaking of which, I have a curious recollection of the first meeting, which was held in the ‘Bolla’ at the Lingotto: while we were talking, there was a strong earthquake shock, and all my colleagues, being a little distracted, thought it had been the wind while I categorically stated that it had been an earthquake. And when we went down to lunch, the first thing that the waiters asked us was whether we had felt the earthquake! Going back to the fair, I never agree when people say that fairs are where the economic side of the galleries comes to the fore: if anything, the fairs are the places where the work of the galleries emerges most strongly.
AV: Dear Alfonso, we have talked a little about your story. I would like to close by asking you how you imagine the future of your own gallery and that of the work of the gallerist and his/her artists? Will global horizons, ‘financialisation’ and the digital sphere influence this future, or indeed are they already doing so?
AA: Dear Andrea, we haven’t talked about my story at all; I answered your question by outlining some of the dynamics that my gallery deploys. I think that however much the world is growing ever larger, human relationships will continue to have a fundamental role and importance, and if and when that is no longer the case, I will probably not be interested in being part of this world anymore.