Italian curator and founder of “NERO” Luca Lo Pinto recently joined the curatorial team of Kunsthalle Wien. Find out more about him from an interview in which Luca talks about his projects and shares his interests.
Kristina Kulakova: What is your opinion of the contemporary art scene in Austria? What do you know about it so far?
Luca Lo Pinto: I was only here three times before, so I have a general kind of knowledge. Apart from the most obvious figures, I am very fascinated by the performance artists from the Vienna Group and Oswald Wiener. If we make a comparison with the Viennese Actionists, they performed with language than with their body.
KK: What do you bring?
LLP: I hope to add my kind of approach to things. It is the first time that I am working within an institution on a regular basis after ten years of freelancing, so first of all I want to get the real sense of how things work within an institution and what’s the identity of it. Of course, I did collaborations and organized exhibitions with institutions but working permanently within one is a different thing, especially in terms of the responsibility and the relationship with the audience. I think it is a very interesting point. As a curator at the institution you can really shape something. If you think about music metaphorically, working within an institution is like creating an album and not just a single song. This is something very stimulating: trying to build an identity and to use an institution as a discursive tool and to engage people. One can do it in many different ways. I am very open to a variety of languages in an exhibition, and I am very glad to work with Nicolaus Schafhausen because he has a similar vision.
KK: What kind of art interests you? What draws your attention?
LLP: I always place myself as the first spectator of what I do. I am interested in art that is surprising and helps me to discover something absolutely new, not just having additional knowledge to what I know already, but to really have a different point of view on things. For me it is about embracing everything: art, literature, theater, life, people, and individuals.
KK: What is your special field in art?
LLP: I always like to play with different instruments, that’s why I run a magazine, make books, organize festivals, and curate exhibitions. It’s always hard to define a special field for me; I am really open and not specifically interested in one thing. In the last five years, for example, I was working on an editorial project called 2014, but for me it’s conceived really as an exhibition. It is a time capsule publication that is released every five years, but all of the content has been collected five years before. So it is playing a bit with time and temporality and how it influences our way of seeing things, how reading interprets not only art but also how we look at things in general.
The magazine is conceived in the same way: It’s more a publication and a magazine of a magazine; there you can talk about anything, and I think it reflects this openness.
In a way the artwork is really one of the most open fields, which is willing to embrace anything, so I like to consider it as a large scenario, where you can insert different elements. In general I like to be surprised in this regard and to create a certain ambiguity, that things are not flat, that you see it not just from the front side.
KK: What project did you learn from the most?
LLP: The magazine is just a project in itself. It’s something that goes behind you, and it is an irrational thing. I founded it together with my friends from university. It is like a baby for us – so it’s like asking a mother: What do you think about your son?
Talking about exhibitions: I am very happy with a project that I did two years ago in the house museum of Giorgio de Chirico in Rome. First of all, I’ve always been fascinated by these sort of spaces. Not because it is different – I never approached them with an exotic attitude, which is very popular nowadays in contemporary art (everyone is bored with a white cube and wants to find something else). This particular space is very connected with the idea of a portrait; you can discover someone in a different way through private things. Giorgio de Chirico lived for 30 years in this house in the center of Rome until he died. Compared to other house museums it is quite special because it was also his studio. They’ve never had contemporary exhibitions there, so I proposed to organize one and invited several artists to contribute new works. The exhibition was a year long, which was very important for me because sometimes the idea of an exhibition being on display for only two to three months sounds crazy. Often when you make an exhibition you have many regrets after: Oh, I could have added this and changed that. I thought it was very interesting to play with time and to extend and employ this to be free in a way. And having an exhibition on display for such a long time allowed me to change the plot of the exhibition. I started with 20 works and then I added new pieces and invited new artists to participate. There was no press release because I don’t like the idea that the first thing a person must do when entering the show is reading. I did not want to alter the way in which the museum was functioning: You have to book a tour and then you walk through the exhibition with the guide who explains everything about the house and the objects. So I asked them to do the same with the works included in the show. The subject of the exhibition was not only Giorgio De Chirico, it was more complex. I wanted to add new layers and interpretations to it.
After that project I was invited to the residency of the FRAC Champagne Ardenne in France. FRAC is an institution that is based on the collection, and last year it was their 30th anniversary. As the exhibition space was closed for renovation I decided to deal with the idea of collection. Most of the time a certain amount of the works from the museum’s collection are not available for the public. I discovered that at the Metropolitan Museum only 5% of the works are shown. The way they affect collective knowledge is just through images. So I decided to deal with works from this collection not as objects but as images. I collected all the images of all the works in this collection and then printed a picture of each work with a caption in A5 format. Then I transferred this meta collection within another type of collection, which was a Carnegie Library in France. I inserted each document in a different book and put it back on the bookshelf – they are still there and always will be. It is not written where they are because it is not a conceptual trick. It is more like a message in the bottle that you send. Someone will one day pick up the book, encounter it, and then do something with it: take it out, move somewhere else. I don’t have control over that. I like the idea of the broader public being your audience. There was no opening of this project; I just did one lecture about it. There are 800 images of the works in 800 books, and this is not random: I chose a book according to the work and selected books in the library, which were published in the last 30 years – so it is sort of a portrait of FRAC in that time.
KK: Who defines art history?
LLP: History has always been written by individuals, that’s why we never have to forget how our knowledge has been built. I always fight this idea that there are things, which are like God that you cannot touch, especially for people who are not into art. Duchamp was an artist who is considered to be art for everyone, but then the same people don’t accept or consider far more classical artworks in that way. This is just the power of a piece, which is not granted. Of course, history is something that is not only created by the art historians who write the books, it is influenced by institutions, and individuals run institutions. When a person within an institution decides to buy an artwork, it is a big responsibility. At the same time, I think that the role of museums 50 years ago was very different. If a work got into the Art History Museum, it was accepted in a different scenario and became something different. Nowadays museums have lost their power in a way.
Art never exists like an art history piece. There are several stories that art can tell. And it is something important to understand: If you work within an institution it is very different to making shows at your house, in an off space, or in a gallery, because it is very niche kind of thing. Repositioning certain artists from the past is also very important; art history can be always rewritten and nothing should be taken for granted.
It is also very important to stress this individual approach to things because sometimes museums buy works for their collections out of the relations of the museum director with an artist or a gallerist and so on.
KK: Do you collect yourself?
LLP: I have a big collection of books (around 3000 books and they are not only about art). I haven’t read all of them. I like to leave things to be discovered in the future. Otherwise, it is boring to know everything. For example: I have never drunk a cappuccino in my life because I don’t like to discover everything at the same time. So maybe when I’m 45 – if I’m still alive – I’ll wake up and decide, okay, today I will have a cappuccino.
KK: Contemporary art now costs more than ever. Is art more valuable than ever before?
LLP: I think that this is very hard to say. Recently I was looking at the results of a Christie’s auction: Wade Guyton was est. 1-2 million and a wonderful work by Donald Judd was est. one million – they were really next to each other! I think that this is very interesting. The market and the value of an artwork are changing. Take Jeff Koons, for example, at certain moments he was really in troubles, but then someone decided to invest in his works and now he is one of the most expensive living artists. Before the 80s art was not a job. If you wanted to be an artist you would have to do a lot of side jobs to make a living. People became artists out of necessity. Now one wants to be an artist to travel, go to parties, and it’s really cool to be an artist. Of course, this tendency is not very good, but I think time will be the final judge of this. If you think about it, really useless and bad art won’t survive on the long term. What is crazy and is happening for the first time in history is that works from artists who are in their 30s went to auction and were sold for half a million or even a million. This is very new. Pollock, whose art is now the most expensive if you look at the rankings, never sold a painting in his life for more than for 10 000 dollars. Abstract Expressionists started to rise in price only after the death of Pollock.
I am not interested so much in the art market; I find it boring to spend time talking about it. I think that art has become too professional. I always think: What if museums and galleries wouldn’t exist anymore? How many artists and curators will continue to work with art?! If it is a necessity you do it anyhow, not for money. I would still continue doing what I like to do; I cannot consider a real job.
KK: What will be the first project you will realize at the Kunsthalle?
LLP: It will be an exhibition of Pierre Bismuth in February.
Luca Lo Pinto (1981) has been a curator at Kunsthalle Wien since May. He is founder and editor-in-chief of NERO. He is a regular contributor to the online cultural magazine Doppiozero and has written for several catalogs and international magazines (Flash Art, Mousse, Palais, Purple, Rolling Stone). He has curated a number of exhibitions in Europe and the United States.