Speaks Lorenzo Balbi, confirmed director of MAMbo: "we will transform it into a living organism"

Interview with Lorenzo Balbi reappointed until 2026 as director of MAMbo - Museo dArte Moderna di Bologna: goal, to continue to transform it into a living, participatory, ecological, digital, "all gender," decolonized institution.

Lorenzo Balbi, born in Turin in 1982, after ten years of experience at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin as a curator, has been at the direction of MAMbo - Museo dArte Moderna di Bologna since 2017, in charge of the entire Modern and Contemporary Art Area of Istituzione Bologna Musei and since 2018 also of the ART CITY program of exhibitions and initiatives, which accompanies each edition of Arte Fiera. Positions that have just been reappointed to him after the public selection at the end of his first term, and that guarantee continuity to the museum programming until 2026. News that does not take us by surprise, given the quality of the actions and exhibitions in the four-year period 2017-2021 and that helps to overcome the uncertainties and interruptions due to closures during the pandemic, with a proposal that projects Bologna into the near future.

Lorenzo Balbi
Lorenzo Balbi

CP. Balbi expected this reappointment? Was there work in progress that needed to be completed?

LB. Since I started in 2017, I have worked with the idea of not stopping at a first term. After an initial period of sedimentation and training - arriving not as a major player in the sector scene but as a young curator at his first experience of directing a public museum - I thought in terms of the future and the long term, through projects that could dictate the agenda beyond 2021. In all the decisions I made and initiatives I espoused, my direction was not to think of myself as “expiring.” Having said that, I was under contract for four years, at the conclusion of which I ran again, following all the selection steps. Certainly the work done, together with the Museum staff so far, has been a test case for my direction, and at the second interview the professional awareness acquired and knowledge of the peculiarities of MAMbo played a role. I read this reappointment as recognition.

Not only MAMbo, alsopart of the“Modern and Contemporary Art”area of the Istituzione Bologna Musei, which you chair, are the Morandi Museum and House, Villa delle Rose and the Museum for the Memory of Ustica. What are the most urgent projects?

The challenges that await us with the new term are the match with the Morandi Museum, then the establishment of an updated monographic museum that will be based in the Palazzina Magnani, and in 2025 the 50th anniversary of the founding of GAM - Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Bologna and then the half-century of the Museum. But before that, we will take care of Villa delle Rose, which is to be rethought as an exhibition space to become a training and educational center in which to channel the many educational and support projects for artists, curators and practitioners.

Among the things accomplished at MAMbo since its inauguration in 2017 are the opening of the Project Room and the opening to the outside world of the windows of the Sala delle Ciminiere on the street level, with the conversion of this environment into a fluid laboratory space for artist residencies. What do you see as the values of a contemporary civic museum?

Among the identity themes of our institution, there is definitely participation. Starting from the actions already taken and to be built, as a public museum we interpret a role on the one hand as a reference, on the other as a connector between the identities and values of local production centers. A propositional museum that is attentive to experimentation, for new projects, exhibitions and formats, and accessible, I mean inclusive, where the instances of the territory feel represented, where some stories that seem forgotten are told, where there is really the possibility of bringing content from outside. But above all, we are interested in a participatory museum, one that takes as the incipit of its action the public institutional role of community support, of openness. The museum’s action is not exhausted within its walls; the idea is to transform it from a container building to a “living organism.”

Il MAMbo di Bologna. Foto di Matteo Monti
The MAMbo in Bologna. Photo by Matteo Monti

You have done this both at the architectural level, allowing a visual dialogue between the interior and urban space, and with actions properly scattered around the city...

The idea is the overcoming of compartmentalization. In terms of perception of space, there is no difference between the outside porch and the gallery. The museum as a public museum acts in the city, goes out of its perimeter of action.

How will it evolve now? What will be the new “keys to action”?

We turn to four major themes: to an ecological turn and attention to environmental impact; to digitization, dematerialization and use of technologies; to gender equity, in communication as in structure, trivially with “all genders” services; and to the great theme of de-colonization, in the collections and in relation to policies of abatement of differences. These are certainly our goals that will punctuate the proposals, starting with accessibility.

Is there a museum leadership that inspires your current work?

Of course yes, we all have our role models but the names I will mention cannot really relate to MAMbo, because as I often reiterate “every museum has its own measure” made up of many elements, from the statutory and community spillover, to the kind of role in the context and with respect to policies on the collection and exhibitions... a museum analogous to MAMbo is impossible, its identity is given by being the only public contemporary art in Bologna. But going back to the names, I certainly look with a lot of interest at the big foreign public museums, from the Reina Sofia in Madrid, because of the governance and what it interprets in being a museum, and I admire the Palais de Tokio in Paris as well as I follow the FRACs (Regional Funds for Contemporary Art ed.) and other French museums, I think of the one in Bordeaux, Marseille or Strasbourg. The Haus der Kunst in Munich with Andrea Lissoni, then, is becoming a reference point for museum practices, and taking into account interdisciplinarity certainly the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin remains a model for curators to do design.

Il MAMbo di Bologna. Foto di Giorgio Bianchi
The MAMbo in Bologna. Photo by Giorgio Bianchi

Can the upcoming 2022 exhibitions at MAMbo already be announced?

After the one by Italo Zuffi now underway in the Ciminiere Room, we will have two other major exhibitions, by Irish painter Sean Scully and to follow a group show that was planned for last January but that we postponed because of Covid to fall 22, and working with new productions by international artists will reflect on the meaning and use of collections today. The Project Room, a space specifically dedicated to the territory, will restart in a month instead with an exhibition dedicated to the Bologna-based gallery Neon. Since 2017 in this section we have carried out several projects with different curators on significant, fundamental experiences of Bologna’s recent past and that have marked its sense of belonging. It has created an interesting network and a center of debate through which so many people have felt represented within the museum and considered in their own of experiences.

But before that, she coordinates in “outdoors” the activities of Art City collateral to Arte Fiera. As we approach the next edition from May 13 to 15, 2022, what will we see?

Starting with Tino Sehgal’s special project in Piazza Maggiore, there are a dozen Main projects in various locations in this edition, including one by Benni Bosetto with a large performance work at the Pinacoteca Nazionale, and Carlos Garaicoa at theOratorio San Filippo Neri, Pedro Neves Marques at the Orto Botanico or among others Giulia Niccolai at the Padiglione de l’Esprit Nouveau; as well as the second part of Zuffi’s project at the headquarters of the Banca di Bologna in Palazzo De’ Toschi. We have already circulated the program.

You come from Turin, what is a supreme characteristic of experiencing art in Bologna?

Bologna’s is an extremely positive context, due to the great attitude and the great work of sensitization of the Bolognese public that has been done over the years by cultural institutions, training them in experimentation in the visual arts. In working here we interface with an interlocutor ravenous for a certain type of bold proposal, in continuity with that to which the institutions precisely, associations, festivals and centers of cultural production have accustomed. The audience is there, however, and it must be foraged with content adequate to expectations. Living Bologna is a matter of “application,” it is essential to be there, to participate in the activities and to get to know those who carry them out; I moved there from day one!