Book Hook: Italian Conversations

Text and pictures by Rachel Simkover, cover photo by FGA

Italian Conversations: Art in the age of Berlusconi

Fucking Good Art #29

For the 29th issue of FGA (Fucking Good Art) editors and artists Rob Hamelijnck and Nienke Terpsma ventured out on a travelling residency/Grand Tour of Italy, visiting seven cities in three months last year around the same time Maria was there sending us postcards. The hefty publication is the product of their travels and conversations with the art community and aims to provide an investigation of the current artistic, social, and political climate (hence the title “Art in the age of Berlusconi”). Each section (one for each city) opens with a diary excerpt describing Rob and Nienke’s daily activities at the location.  The diary is followed by a conversation with their “Cicerone" -location guide- reflecting on the visit and their observations. The rest of the content includes transcriptions of conversations with artists, curators, critics, and project space initiators, additional reading material to provide some background context, and selections from artist’s projects reproduced. As an added bonus, concluding the issue is a specially curated listing of Italy’s independent non-profit private initiatives, a valuable resource for anyone planning a visit.


Bologna’s Elisa Del Prete (of Nosadella.due) sums up the defining features of the Italian contemporary art situation: the art education is poor, there is no state support for art, the power is in the hands of the galleries not the public institutions, and “isolation” pertaining to both the lack of an internal structure connecting the different pockets of art initiatives around Italy and its seclusion from the international environment. These four themes carry out through multiple conversations with different players in different cities. In Germany the two poles of the art world are the institutional/art market side and the alternative project space side, but in Italy the distinction between the public and the private is more relevant. This is where Berlusconi’s legacy is felt; his utilization of media control and centralizing information is unfriendly, to say the very least, to cultivating an active contemporary art setting with public funding.


But why should we care about what is going on in Italy?


There are many reasons! The driving force behind Rob and Neike’s interest in executing the project was the alarming budget cuts for culture elsewhere in Europe, their native country Holland has experienced a 50% cut for contemporary visual art and England a 25% cut. The present situation in Italy could potentially be the future for the rest of the world so it is worth taking a look at their ways of dealing with the lack of public funding and perhaps use Italy as a model for a sustainable system. One possible way to look at things is to use the idea of the Slow Food movement as a metaphor: instead of striving for fitting into the mold of large-scale institutional internationalism, maybe it is possible to reformulate the art system.


And if the Italian system is not supporting the artists, where do they go? To Berlin of course (there is even a diagram detailing the Italian’s experience in Berlin by Francesca Boenzi and Marco Bruzzone)! But maybe moving elsewhere and avoiding the problems is not the best answer; it seems like there is a lot of potential in some of these inexpensive and beautiful cities…let’s all move to Turin!



FGA #29 can be purchased from Motto, ProQM, and Do you read me?! in Berlin.


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