What does the contemporary art world think about Tosatti's dual appointment?

It is a case that is unprecedented: the artist Gian Maria Tosatti, was simultaneously appointed artistic director of the Rome Quadriennale and sole artist at the Italian Pavilion of the Venice Biennale. The dual appointment drags along many problems. Here's what the environment thinks.

Of the double appointment of Gian Maria Tosatti as sole exhibiting artist at the Italian Pavilion of the Venice Biennale(in the air for some time, but nonetheless an absolute novelty) and, a few weeks later, as artistic director of the Fondazione La Quadriennale di Roma (the latter eventthe latter unexpected and unsettling) is being talked about a lot in the contemporary art sector, especially after AWI-Art Workers Italia’s tough petition demanding that the incompatibility of the two positions be established by law. It is being talked about much less outside, given the lack of knowledge of procedures and practices, as well as the positions that are going to be held. The following article aims to take stock of the situation and the issue, also going to listen to voices and opinions of different actors in the field.

Gian Maria Tosatti, an esteemed and well-known but not celebrated artist, has been chosen by Eugenio Viola and the Ministry of Cultural Heritage to be the only artist to exhibit at the Biennale’s Italian Pavilion. The event is exceptional: as a rule, it was always a multiplicity of artists who were involved in the project, through a procedure that, however, was always smoky and “by invitation”: the General Direction in charge would ask chosen and selected curators to present a project, and choose, according to its own taste and without rankings, the best one. So it happened again this year, with the difference that the winning project included only one artist. Critic Renato Barilli called it “a unique event in its extremism, which could find justification only if it were an exceptional talent, almost a bomb to be exploded in everyone’s face, but I don’t think that’s really the case.” The budget for the Italian Pavilion is 400,000 euros. But controversy arose only at a later date.

The Rome Quadriennale on September 22 appointed Tosatti himself as its artistic director, for the three-year period 2021-2024. Again, an exceptional event, since never in recent decades had an artist been called to direct the institution. Umberto Croppi, president of the Foundation, said at the time of the appointment that “with Gian Maria Tosatti as artistic director, the Quadriennale will be able to shake up its programming and consolidate its role as a reference point for the promotion ofcontemporary Italian art,” and that “naming an artist is a challenge that is, however, confirmed by the most advanced international events and realizes the intention expressed at the beginning of my mandate, that of bringing artists back to the center of the institution.” This “challenge,” this willingness to change, had not been heralded, however, for a role that was historically the preserve of curators and critics. Sources inside AWI note that if Quadriennale felt it was time to have an artist as director, perhaps it should have stated so in the call for applications, which instead turned out to be much more generic than the one in 2017 and, in any case, apparently aimed at figures with managerial experience: it is unclear, given the absence of a published ranking list, how many artists other than Tosatti himself were among the 43 applicants for the role. The director’s salary is 60,000 euros annually, with a minimum budget of 100,000 euros for 2021 and 200,000 for 2022. These are figures and positions that have led AWI activists to speak in their petition of “a centralization of power, material and symbolic” and of “an unacceptable disproportion between the public resources - and the induced income from them - entrusted to a single figure and those allocated to the entire contemporary art sector.”

La Quadriennale di Roma
The Rome Quadrennial

They are not the only ones who think this way, if Renato Barilli was already speaking at the end of September of “a risky choice, even punitive towards our art” talking about the Italian Pavilion, then adding “as if the gravity of this monotonous and masochistic-sounding hiring was not enough, I learn that this portentous Tosatti has also been designated, as sole selector, to curate the next Quadriennale, which, if possible, is even more jarring.” In almost a month, not a single voice has risen to defend the appointment and the selection. Trying therefore to recover that “plurality of voices and visions that distinguish Italian contemporary art” (citing AWI), I wanted to delve into what some professionals in the field who had not yet spoken out on the matter think and why they criticize the nomination. I say “the” appointment, because, it is clear, it is the appointment as artistic director of the Quadriennale, at a time when it was already known who would be the sole artist to exhibit in Venice, that has sparked contention. Rosanna Carrieri, art historian and activist of the Mi Riconosci association, explains that “while arbitrary, the nomination for the Italian Pavilion is a curatorial choice. The other instead goes to entrust the same artist with a position that could, or rather should, be covered by others, curators, critics, contemporaries, or even artists.” A position endorsed by critic Christian Caliandro: “if two of the top national public institutions deputed to contemporary art choose (legitimately, for goodness sake: but, as we know, formal correctness does not always also imply expediency) the same artist, whoever he or she may be, trivially this means privileging a single vision and interpretation of art in general and of Italian art today in particular, at the inevitable expense not only of other visions but also and above all of the variety and richness offered by the artistic and creative panorama of our country at this historical moment.”

This unsympathetic centralization is the main reason for the action of Art Workers Italia, which has found wide acceptance in the sector because of it. Giulia Mengozzi, curator, explains that “in opposing phenomena such as double nominations, AWI stands in continuity both with the reflection on technical tools (in this case, the revision of the system of calls for proposals already mentioned in our manifesto) and with an eminently ethical vocation, which cannot avoid reacting to events that our community of reference seems to us to perceive as problematic.” Rebecca Moccia, a young artist and one of the recent recipients of an Italian Council ministerial grant, explains that she finds the double nomination and the manner in which it took place “disrespectful to the work of all and sundry. Especially at this time, it is a demeaning message to all and art workers who, in the gravity of the pandemic context, have hoped and worked for a possible change of the system under the banner of inclusiveness, transparency, and equity.” Opinions also shared by other women artists and AWI members who have provided their views to Windows on Art, who believe it is necessary to “begin to demand clear, fair and inclusive ways of working, and to denounce if they are not adequately respected.”

Returning in the petition, and in the opinions collected, are issues related to inclusiveness and gender. Not an ideological banner, but an extremely practical one: it makes a certain impression, in fact, to note that all the protagonists of this story (Tosatti, Viola, Croppi, but also Barilli and Franceschini) are men, while the overwhelming majority of the people who signed the petition are women, who make up the clear majority of workers and laborers in the contemporary art world. The Neapolitan artist Romina de Novellis in giving her opinion on the case makes a reference to the dismissal of Cristiana Perrella from the Pecci Center in Prato, noting that “in the space of a very few days, in Italy we have received news of dismissals of women (very few in our country) directors of institutions, we have had to read articles denouncing inclusive writing and frontally attacking professional women in the sector, while only one man represents ’Italy and directs its fortunes at the head of the Quadrennial” and stresses how it is “appropriate to be outraged and to oppose these dynamics all, of which the issue of the double appointment is a symptom and a fruit of it at the same time.” And then there is another aspect to consider, the balances and damage in the medium and long term for the whole system. Rosanna Carrieri of Mi Riconosci explains further that since the contemporary art system is already “extremely closed, based on exchanges, favors, quid pro quo,” such a choice “goes to unhinge an already weak and non-transparent system of checks and balances, going to recreate a system that goes back to talking within itself. It arbitrarily excludes large parts of contemporary art and artists and reiterates unique directionality that we did not feel the need for.” Minister Franceschini’s position is awaited, recording in just a few months the third appointment that has risen to the headlines for the criticism and protests it has received, after that of Gabriel Zuchtriegel as director of Pompeii and Andrea De Pasquale as director of the Central State Archives. Perhaps, a reflection on the current centralizations of power would be healthy for the Ministry and all the sectors that depend on her example and leadership.

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