João Mourão and Luìs Silva: Artissima’s twenty-fifth anniversary is a time to look both into the past and into the future. We’ve always been very interested in that sort of reflection. In this case even more so, as we have recently joined the Artissima family. Let’s start this conversation with the past and ask: What’s your relation to the city of Turin? What are your first and best memories of the city?
Jennifer Chert: I started to regularly attend Artissima and spend time in Turin in 2003, and I participated with the gallery for the first time in 2008, the same year that Chert (now ChertLüdde) opened. You write about past, future, and memories all topics in which I get lost and confused pretty immediately, a sense that for me connects very well with the city. It took me a long time to understand how to navigate and get a sense of the urban planning. Despite being originally Italian and speaking the language, I got lost countless times in Turin. Now we all have Google Maps and that doesn’t happen anymore, but still, all those years of getting off track shaped my weird love-hate connection with the city, which I somehow connect with the fair itself. We’ve seen many editions and had four different directors, and it feels like only very recently we started to have the “tools” to make it work without getting disoriented.
JM & LS: Funny you mention that disorienting quality to the city. We’re newcomers, compared to you, since this will only be our second time in Turin, but we feel the same way about it. Turin doesn’t reveal itself easily to outsiders, or so it seems to us. It’s not so much a matter of getting lost or not being able to find your way around (as you mention, that doesn’t happen anymore with Google Maps), but more a certain opaqueness that defines the place. Do you think it also translates into Artissima’s ethos?
JC: I think this applies to every fair, for as much as we believe that the art world is “globalized,” it also remains very locally specific. Acknowledging peculiar identities is still very important, and of course a process that requires time and attention. I believe this is something characteristic of the art world in a broader sense, as it is still a very “person-to-person” business (at least in galleries and the private sector), which is also the reason why I’m not a big follower or fan of social media, I obviously use it, but more as a side tool, a kind of fun side, that I do not deeply trust in a more business oriented sense. Maybe I’m getting off topic.
JM & LS: No, actually you’re not. Is that person-to-person relationship important to the way you envisioned the gallery from the beginning? We ask you this because we know you’re very supportive of and close to the artists you work with. Petrit Halilaj, Patrizio Di Massimo and Rodrigo Hernandez, to name only a few, all mention that when speaking about you and the gallery.
JC: Yes, I think person-to-person is crucial, and it’s also the field in which I believe I function best. We are very lucky to have an amazing team at the gallery, and yes, we tend to be very close with the artists. Most of the time we’re bound in a personal, loving and trustful relationship, and bringing on projects and ideas together is what gives us pleasure. Of course this is not always possible, given distance, divergences, contingency. The gallery has gone through several changes in the past two years, especially thanks to the partnership with Florian Lüdde, who brought a lot of new and brilliant energies and enthusiasm. This September we celebrate our tenth anniversary!
JM & LS: A decade celebration, that is very impressive! Are you thinking of any changes or new directions for the gallery? Is the anniversary a moment of reflection, besides being a moment of celebration?
JC: I suppose it is “impressive”, given that so many esteemed colleagues closed in the recent months and years. The reflection is more in that sense, a topic that unfortunately is very present and not easy to solve. The art world has become very exclusive, not so democratic in the past years, at least as far as my experience goes. It is controversial and contradictory, because in one sense it grew extremely fast – think of the quantity of galleries, fairs, events, biennales – which would make you believe there are more opportunities, but at the same time it became more difficult to navigate and to establish an influential presence in it.
So yes, we reflect a lot on this, but at the same time we also try to focus on what’s important regarding the work of the gallery, believing that real commitment and un-compromised passion can make a difference. The biggest celebration is the fact of still being able to find the time to concentrate on projects that are fulfilling and rewarding. This summer we’ve been concentrating on a big part of the Mail Art Archive of Ruth and Robert Rehfeldt, accompanied by a new publication and an extensive presentation split between our September show with Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt and her show at the Albertinum Museum in Dresden. We’ve also started a new collaboration with a young Argentinian artist, Gabriel Chaile, who spent the summer with us in Berlin. I feel this is a luxury and a celebration, to have the time and concentration to follow what makes our work an ongoing, passionate life experience.