Maurizio Cattelan: In a word, how would you define your directorship of Artissima?
Sarah Cosulich: …issima.
MC: The world of fairs has always been a mystery to me, an irresolvable equation. Even the most interesting works risk appearing two-dimensional. But perhaps it’s just me, going there for the wrong reasons?
SC: Perhaps the idea of the fair is based on a misunderstanding. The collector goes there to buy, even though the best place to appreciate the work of an artist is in a gallery. The public goes to look, even though the best place to see art is in a museum. Members of the art world go to discover, even though it’s not always easy to pick out great works in such a dense and not always functional display. There are those who look upon it as a place of professional networking, and others who see it as a social environment in which to see and be seen. The politicians, for their part, are concerned with the number of visitors and the press coverage, although ultimately it’s the sales that determine the success of a fair. Because the quality increases only with the satisfaction of its protagonists—the gallerists—and to attract ever better ones, we need to ensure that they get a return on their investment. Then, as a knock-on effect, everyone else will be happy too. Perhaps the two-dimensionality you’re referring to is the dimension of the compromise. The fair is a complex, heterogeneous system in which very different aims intersect, but in this ensemble of varying ambitions, it at least represents the best possible compromise.
MC: What do you think the art world is lacking?
SC: Simplicity, humanity, lightness. Which ultimately are the serious things. Today it all seems so much more constructed; there is no longer a sense of belonging to a scene, but only to the scenery.
MC: And how about the world of fairs?
SC: It’s lacking a solution to a fundamental issue: differentiation between the galleries concerned largely with the market, and those that also carry out research. It needs to give greater leeway to young artists, and those of value who are still little known.
MC: What does a gallery have to do to get your attention?
SC: The fair is a glut of visual stimuli. An interesting stand ought to make everything around it disappear for a moment.
MC: Where are the good artists to be found today?
SC: Many are hidden away beneath their own sedimentation of time, which (however cruelly) is often what is needed to let the quality shine through.
MC: Where do you feel most at home: directing Artissima or the Quadriennale?
SC: When you direct a fair, you interact with the most tiring and demanding segment of your interlocutors: gallerists, collectors, and institutions. The fair director inevitably seeks the satisfaction of others. As a curator, on the other hand, you see the most positive and elevated side of people. You become someone who is offered things instead of only being asked for them. This makes a great difference on a human level. I’m also happy to benefit from the energy of the contact with artists, which is lacking in the fair context.
MC: You called on me, along with Marta Papini and Myriam Ben Salah, to curate the new edition of One Torino 2014. Recklessness or courage? Would you do it again?
SC: Of course I would. You brought a unique form of attention to the fair and to the whole city, as well as introducing an exhibition model—that of interaction between contemporary art and the history of Turin—that was later imitated by various institutions around the city. With hindsight, you were the Ronaldo of art for Turin.
MC: What did you think when we announced the title, SHIT AND DIE?
SC: That this city needed a shakeup, and that it would all be very amusing. And indeed it was.
MC: My favorite work on view was the one without an author: the gallows of Turin. How about yours?
SC: That was my favorite, too, because it was a perfect curatorial operation as well as a fantastic work by Maurizio Cattelan. Like in the mid-nineteenth century in the square in Turin where executions would take place, or in the room of the Palazzo where Cavour lived where the gallows were left in the middle, giving them an acute physical and tragic dimension. If you think about it, it contained various themes that characterized your work as an artist: death, its intangibility, the sense of impotence, of flight, of existential failure. Perhaps without the irony à la commedia dell’arte, but at any rate a performance turned on its head.
And then I liked the rooms of the women, from feminist liberation to the freedom of the body, to the example of Carol Rama: a key figure in a city like Turin in which great women have always taken a backseat to the many cultural or historical “Mollino.”
MC: Was there ever a moment in which you were tempted to stop us?
SC: Never. I might have had a touch of cold feet when, during an uncertain moment in budgeting terms, you suggested saving on the lighting by leaving all the works in the dark and handing out candles to visitors as they entered.
MC: Has Turin changed in the meantime? What have we lost?
SC: Over the last few years, Turin has lost a bit of its character, energy, and unpredictability. It’s a city full of fantastic people, of creativity and explosive minds, which however remain hidden or underestimated. As if there were an underlying uncertainty that leads those who really could make the difference in Turin to imitate preexisting models instead of investing in the ideas and experimentation that have characterized this city for so many years. Unfortunately, the effect is somewhat provincial. But compared to before, now that I experience Turin privately and no longer professionally, I have the chance to enjoy only its better sides.
MC: I have never seen a séance organized with such efficiency and rapidity as when I was in Turin. Has that ever happened to you?
SC: Alas, this is not a Turinese experience in which I have ever taken part. Efficiency and rapidity I might associate instead with the organization of gossip sessions by the social circles of the city: a sort of self-definition through the critique of others and idle banter. In the days of the spiritual master Gustavo Rol, many figures of high society sought for themselves—through his supernatural powers, through the magical—the intangible. Perhaps today, too, the séance might represent a more constructive activity.
MC: If you could speak to the dead, whom would you interview?
SC: I would interview those who died without being able to tell their truth—a truth that died with them. I am fascinated by impossible stories insofar as they are no longer narratable, by the plots that have inhabited this world, leaving invisible energies behind them.
MC: And what would they tell you?
SC: Never to become cynical, despite everything.
MC: What do you believe in?
SC: In love.
MC: What does Turin represent for you?
SC: A land of battles, of conquests, of great satisfactions. A priceless professional, human, and emotional adventure. The latter two are still underway. Turin is my home.
MC: What is the ultimate taboo?