Hello, Massimo. Over the course of your career, you have taken part in fairs all around the world and continue to do so. When was your first time at Artissima, and why did you decide to take part? What novelties did Artissima offer at the time on the Italian panorama?
Over my career, making a guesstimate, I’ve set up around 300 shows in the gallery (45 years x 6/7 shows per year) and I have taken part in 40 x 5 = 200 fairs. I put those shows together personally with the artists, and the fairs with my staff. The setting up of a show or a fair is the best moment, one of growth. This is why the gallerists who never have time to do it (sometimes they don’t even have time to say a few words at the openings) just can’t understand.
Artissima? A lovely little fair. I didn’t want to go the first year, but they tried to force me. However, I wasn’t in Italy and so I just didn’t go. The second year they put my name down on the committee, against my will: I already had Basel to deal with. The fair was invented by Roberto Casiraghi with Paola Rampini—I recall the early years with great fondness. He would try to be surly, but it just didn’t come naturally to him: with his great irony, those great discussions. Then in came Andrea Bellini, Sarah Cosulich, the Regional Council, Luci d’Artista, the involvement of the city, the museums, the Merz and Sandretto Foundations… In next to no time it became a wonderful fair.
LF: Throughout your years of activity, above all at the beginning, what was your relationship with the Turin artistic scene, from the artists, to the collectors to the institutions?
MM: Turin was a key city for Italian art over the last century. We cannot forget the relationship between Giulio Casorati and Riccardo Gualino, the intellectuals of the Einaudi Group, such as Elio Vittorini, but also Adriano Olivetti and FIAT, which had an incredible effect on the country’s development. In art, the The Gruppo dei Sei tried to develop intimism, but then in the ’60s came the Arte Povera bombshell, and even those who were not in Turin were attracted to it thanks to a series of fortunate coincidences. Giulio Paolini from Bergamo, Mario Merz from Milan and Germano Celant from Genoa. Even Luciano Fabro looked to Turin. Salvo saw all this movement and decided to give up painting in order to dive into the thick of it, only to come out of it soon to become a painter once again.
Paolo Icaro, who had been in Turin, went instead to Rome and then to Genoa with Emilio Prini, before leaving for America where he rather missed the train. Aldo Mondino and Michelangelo Pistoletto, both very important for the start of Art Povera, would then follow different paths: Mondino less orthodox, Pistoletto was stronger, Paolini was the poetic herald of beauty a moment before it looks out from its balcony… Major galleries were also founded, such as Galatea, Notizie of Luciano Pistoi—which would bring to Italy the Gutai group and the French, with Michel Tapié—Il Punto of Remo Pastori where the young Gian Enzo Sperone started out. None other than Sperone, who when he opened his own gallery, immediately referenced the world—with Ileana Sonnabend, Leo Castelli, Konrad Fischer and Paul Maenz—creating quite a buzz. Stein (Boetti and Mondino) Sperone (Merz, Zorzi and Anselmo) and Pistoi (Paolini, Fabro etc…) split up the Arte Povera artists. Pistoletto took Casorati’s place as a maître à penser; Piero Gilardi served as a provocateur, and travelled around the world in order to meet and invite extraordinary artists, from Richard Long to Ger Van Elk to Gilbert and George. All this provocation was to produce incredible effects, like setting off dominos.
LF: It’s true, the birth of Arte Povera turned the spotlights of the world onto Turin. Do you think a specificity of the Turinese artistic environment may be identified, a genius loci so to speak?
MM: Of course, the magnet effect was formidable, with the birth of galleries (such as Menzio, Paludetto, Persano, Tucci Russo, Simonis, Remolino and In-Arco), highly specialized ones like Maffei, museums like GAM and Rivoli. The Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and the Merz foundations also did their fair share, and the GFT of Marco Rivetti burst onto the scene like a meteor—appearing and disappearing in the blink of an eye. Paolo Mussat and Paolo Pellion captured unrepeatable moments in their photographs. The CRT Foundation dived in head first. I mean, there’s a lot more to it all than just some genius loci! Turin is a wildly fertile environment, and the fair is just the icing on the cake, making a masterpiece out of the Arte Povera movement. Without overlooking figures such as Umberto Allemandi, who as a young man directed the art magazine Bolaffi only to go on to found the Giornale dell’Arte, a wonderful tabloid formula which was to spawn twin editions around the world, even in Russian, and accompanied by an extraordinary series of publications all with a light-blue cover.
In your experience as a gallerist, what kind of impact has your participation had on your gallery exhibiting activities?
Fairs are indispensable if taken in moderation. Those galleries that show up at every fair get very boring. Five fairs a year is the right number… for those galleries that can afford it and that are free to choose and not just be chosen, it’s the perfect number. And then you get pressure from those who want you in their fair. And sometimes it’s hard to say no… Anyway, at least for a small-town gallery, a fair offers a great deal.
Over the years, have you seen your collectors change their approaches and purchasing strategies in the light of the multiplying opportunities offered by the fairs? Have the fairs helped you to loyalize the collectors, or have they made them more difficult to intercept?
The fair is an opportunity to see collectors or museums or advisers. For them, it’s an occasion to see works that would otherwise be lying around in the vaults. A collector who you know well in the end will come to you and sit down, exhausted after ten hours of traipsing around the fair, and they will usually buy from you, seeing as you know them well…
Do you think that for young debuting gallerists it’s a good or a bad thing to have to come to terms right away with the fairs and their frenetic pace?
I did ArteFiera, in Bologna, after two years, and Basel after three (of the gallery being open). As you can see, I didn’t suffer from any traumas; you just have to learn to manage things and always have the money to hand in order to meet the ever steeper costs.
What’s your greatest and your worst memory linked to a fair?
My greatest memory of course was my first fair in Basel. Boetti gave me two huge red ballpoint works, 150×150 cm each, and then the museum commission passed by and snapped them up for the Emanuel Hoffmann Stiftung. The work is in their catalogue, double spread, sparkling, just printed again 44 years later. The worst? When I was excluded from Frieze, just after I had explained what you needed to do to get accepted… what a joke. Anyway, they told me I could appeal. I politely replied that no, I would respect the judgment of the commission.
Italian fairs keep appointing curators as managing directors. A right or wrong choice?
Italian fairs could try a manager instead of a curator. In the end, Basel with Beyeler, Hilt Rudolf, whatshisname… and now Marc Spiegler have never had a critic/curator—and so it can be done. A curator is more familiar with the artists, but the fair really revolves around gallerists and merchants. It’s a different kind of thing. Then it’s a matter of being able to keep a tight rein, your personality—you need to be more of a lion tamer than a high-class intellectual. An exception to this I think was Vincenzo de Bellis, who took Miart to unthinkable heights.
Would you ever serve as a fair director if you were asked to?
Absolutely not. Being a fair director is a trap. It’s not you but the commission that decides, but it’s you who goes out and makes a fool of yourself. If the fair is weak, you try and bring in your colleagues, who then make you pay for it. If the fair is strong you have to play the killer. No, I’ve got enough troubles of my own without all this…