A renaissance of interest

Group of Italian curators visits Israel to gain better understanding of local art scene, perhaps to bring it to Italy.

Studio visit (photo credit: Courtesy)
Studio visit
(photo credit: Courtesy)
(Organization of Italian Contemporary Art Museums, or AMACI) which was established in 2003 in order, as the AMACI web site has it, “to address the need to create a common cultural policy for the purpose of promoting contemporary art and support the development of institutional policies tied to contemporary research.”
AMACI is an umbrella organization of 26 of Italy’s most important repositories of contemporary art across the country, and incorporates galleries and museums in major cities, such as Turin, Rome, Florence and Milan, and more provincial locations the likes of Rivoli, Pesaro and Bolzano.
Riccardo Passoni, assistant director of the Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (GAM) in Turin, was impressed with what he saw here.
“The group of AMACI was put in front of a very diversified art scene, as we learned through the artist’s studios we visited and their kind of work,” he notes, adding that quality was to be found in all areas of artistic endeavor here. “The ‘anthropological’ architectures and processions of Micha Rovner, the videos of high formal level of Sigalit Landau, the reconsidered and renewed Constructivism of Nahum Tevet, the photographical research of Adi Nes, just to give some examples, [were all impressive]. We also met the artist chosen for the next Venice Biennale [in 2013], the young video maker Gilad Ratman.”
ANOTHER MEMBER of the delegation, Ludovico Pratesi, is well placed to offer a more comprehensive view of our arts scene. He earns his bread both as an art critic and as a director of the Centro Arti Visive Pescheria contemporary art museum in Pesaro, and offers an intriguing angle on how non-urban creativity has impacted on the development of our arts community.
“The trip to Israel was very interesting for various reasons,” he says. “We had a good overview on museums with different missions, and gained a better understanding of the importance of kibbutz culture, that influenced Israeli art in various ways, and we had a chance to make comparisons and analysis.”
Pratesi added that it’s not just about geography and demographics.
“The studio visits we made were also a unique possibility to reflect about life and the goals of artists that belong to different ages and education.”
When asked about the similarities, or absence thereof, between arts institutions here and in Italy, Passoni focused on the practical aspects of finances and administration.
“At a first sight, the Italian and Israeli institutions don’t seem to have a particular similarity,” he states. “The group I represented, of Italian institutions, as yet couldn’t be assimilated to a unique model of governance (quite the contrary!), and the museums we visited in Israel – almost public institutions – as we learned, were (and are) supported by a strong private financing project. The fascinating Tel Aviv Museum renewal was helped with almost 70 percent donations of private groups, persons and institutions, as we learned from the museum authorities. The enormous Israel Museum of Jerusalem, as [museum director] James Snyder told us, is a national museum which gets only 15% of its budget from the state, while 85% is available through fundraising.”
Passoni says he does not see a similar financing model emerging in his own country, for a variety of reasons.
“In Italy a public museum couldn’t be supported by private [parties] as the Israeli ones [are] and, in the case of museums/foundation, the percentage could never be assimilated to these levels. I think that the Jewish community has created, for historical reasons, really strong international networks to sustain their memory, culture and the institutions with the purpose of protecting and showing this culture. Also the case of the non-profit organization of the Umm el-Fahm Gallery, and its project of a new museum, is based on a structural fundraising. But we understood that your models of fund-raising are not exactly based on the Anglo-Saxon ones. In Italy we’re still at the beginning in this way.”
Both directors intimated they would be happier with more state funding for their institutions. Mind you, the Turin facility does not exactly appear to be ready to get out the begging bowl.
“The GAM is not well supported by the state because is belongs to a foundation (Fondazione Torino Musei), which is supported mainly by the municipality,” explains Passoni. “It is also supported by the regional district [authority] and especially by the two most important bank foundations in the area – Fondazione CRT and Compagnia di San Paolo.”
Pratesi says his art center also receives financial assistance from various official bodies and individuals with local interests, but does not get any help from the central government. It is a situation which, considering its global reputation as the home of the Renaissance, Pratesi feels may surprise non-Italians.
“Strangely enough, Italy is still considered in the world as an art nation, but our government is [not very] interested in promoting culture. Pescheria is a municipal institution, so it is supported by the city of Pesaro and some private sponsors, but ignored by the state.”
Meanwhile, Pratesi surprisingly feels that we are more in tune with arts on the global front than in his own culturally feted country.
“Unfortunately, I must admit that Italian art institutions are more static, more closed and local, less open to dialogue with the international audience,” he says, pointing out that he is keen to make his own institution more receptive to outside influences.
“Pescheria is a small but active center for visual arts in a region that has been culturally isolated for centuries and had no chance to develop a contemporary culture.
Our goal is to promote contemporary art in any possible way. Israeli institutions have a different nature, because the territory is so active, and aware about our times, that it is impossible to make a comparison.”
As a major arts institution in a large European city, Passoni says the Turin gallery has a duty to promote local art as well as introduce Italians to current and historic works from around the world.
“The main role of the GAM in past years was to promote, especially, contemporary international exhibitions, and at the present time to improve the contemporary local scene, too. We are a municipal museum, founded in 1863, which evolved into a museum with international ambitions [that stem] from the Fifties. In the past, we have also presented exhibitions of 19th-century art.”
Passoni also believes in grassroots investment and marketing, while allowing local artists and the general public to feed off a varied cultural diet.
“Any cultural institution should promote knowledge about the area in which it developed, collect the artworks of their artists, and juxtapose them with the national and international trends. Then [the institution should] give the opportunity to show the art of the national or international scene, especially of the past century, with an intensive exhibition program. And the museum must promote an intensive, various, multipurpose educational program for all school levels, with the aim of enhancing the loyalty of its public in the future.”
IN SOME ways, Passoni and Pratesi represent very different sectors of the Italian cultural community. Their respective institutions operate in contrasting urban environments, serve consumer hinterlands of differing scales and attract different clientele volumes. While GAM draws 80,000 to 110,000 visitors a year, in 2011, 20,000 members of the public bought admission tickets for Centro Arti Visive Pescheria.
Pratesi notes that the latter figure represents a sharp rise in interest over the last decade.
“I started my job in 2001. At that time we had scarcely 3,000 visitors in a city with 90,000 inhabitants. Last year we reached 20,000 visitors.”
Meanwhile, Passoni says he tries to keep the public coming in by varying the GAM’s offerings.
“[The number of visitors] depends on the programs we decided to promote in the various years. More historical exhibitions means more visitors, more contemporary programs bring in fewer visitors.”
Galleries and museums the world over naturally devote much of their time and resources to furthering the interests of local art and culture, and the Italian institutions are no different.
“We promote young Italian artists, and give them the chance to have a solo show specially conceived for our space, with a catalogue and a good press office,” says Pratesi.
“Cultural heritage is related to Italian identity, and we are very aware of it.”
The GAM also invests heavily in these areas.
“I think that this purpose could be defined as the most important for us,” says Passoni. “[That also applies when] our cultural heritage is highly impacted by foreign art, as I showed right now with the exhibition ‘Strangers,’ dedicated to the politics of increasing the international collection of our museum after the Second World War.”
Passoni has been on the GAM staff for over two decades and has moved up the ladder steadily.
“I have been here since 1990. I started as curator of the collections, especially of the 20th century. At that time the museum was a civic, municipal one. In 2003, after it joined the new Fondazione Torino Musei, I was appointed as deputy director.”
Passoni says he has acquired many tricks of the trade during his tenure.
“I’ve learned that such a steady institution, the museum, can have different governance models – it can be a public museum, then it can be transformed into a special, autonomous institution, with a dedicated president and board (as occurred between 1998 and 2002), but with administrative public rules. It can also be part of an extensive museum group in a private foundation, as we are now.”
Based on that experience, the director says more changes can be expected down the line.
“I’m sure that something new is going to happen in the future. A museum changes its administrative rules, its budget management, its language, its way to offer itself in the communication world, and so on. And the collection doesn’t remain the same either, in its development, or in the way it can be interpreted.”
OF COURSE, the DCSA-sponsored visit was not just about having a bunch of Italian arts professionals over here to take a look at some of our artists’ work, and our cultural facilities, and grab some felafel in the interim.
The exercise is also very much about arousing interest in what we have to offer and, possibly, getting some Israeli art over the other side of the Mediterranean.
Sadly, not all the institutions represented on the trip have the wherewithal to display Israeli works, although they appear keen to send exhibits our way.
“My budget is very low and unfortunately it is difficult to afford shows with international artists,” says the Centro Arti Visive Pescheria director. “Actually, I am thinking of proposing to the Tel Aviv museum a show called Double Identity, about Italian video artists of past generations dealing with the concept of Italian identity today.”
The GAM’s ability to exhibit Israeli works is also financially limited, but Passoni says he is certainly not averse to the idea of a two-way street.
“This could be a very interesting opportunity, but actually every project of this kind is submitted to a strict budget review, and this fact becomes more significant in the importance of a cultural exchange.”
Naturally, however extensive the agenda, a trip of a few days to a foreign country can only provide a glimpse of what that country has to offer, and how bilateral arts activities can develop. Even so, the Turin-based museum director is confident that we can expect plenty more Israeli-Italian cultural cooperation.
“Our synergy with the Israeli cultural institutions is just starting,” says Passoni.
“First of all, this occasion was an important opportunity to conceive an innovative approach for our young association, abroad.
AMACI started in 2003, and includes 27 museums, galleries and exhibition structures.
I think that something will happen, in relation to the particular programs of each institution.”
Pratesi also went back home with a positive experience.
“I was particularly impressed by the collections of the Jerusalem [Israel] museum, that are really conceived for an international audience. All the trip was really impressive for the excellent level of professionalism.”
Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy director- general and DCSA head Raphael Gamzou was suitably buoyed by the Italian curators’ visit and response.
“Our attaché in Rome knew that the AMACI museum officials hold periodic gatherings, and she suggested that they hold one of them in Israel, and also use the opportunity to get to know Israeli art. Happily, they agreed. This kind of visit strengthens ties between the arts communities in Italy and Israel, and will surely create an opportunity for our artists to exhibit in Italy.”
Judging by Passoni’s and Patresi’s reactions the interest certainly appears to have been sparked, now it’s only a matter of the Italians putting their budgets on the line.