Rome, #quadriennale2016: the best map of the Italian contemporary art is still too lazy

Stefano Pirovano


Rome. Eight years after the last edition took place – in 2012 a book was published as a substitute for the exhibition – the “Quadriennale d’arte” is back at the monumental and now finally refurbished Palazzo delle Esposizioni to map the Italian contemporary art scene. This year the quite ambitious task was accomplished thanks to the help of 99 invited artists and 10 selected curators, who were supported with a 2 million euro budget, half provided by the Italian Ministry of Culture itself (the MiBact). The curators were nominated at the beginning of 2015 by a jury composed by some respected Italian art personalities, including artist Giuseppe Penone and art critic Angela Vettese. Then each curator organized a group show, turning “Altri tempi, altri miti” – which is the general title of the Q’16 – into a group show of ten different group shows. That is genuine Italy, a country composed of many different parts, positions, identities.

From this point of view the Q’16 is perfectly mirroring the highly scattered Italian contemporary art geographical and cultural environment. As a matter of fact also in Italy art is polarized by the main cities – which at the moment are Milan, Rome and Turin –, but a persuasive idea that may come to your mind while visiting the show is that even if all these artists come from the same country, and most of them are living in these three cities, they are speaking very different artistic languages, each one representing specific positions apparently derived by a wide variety of cultural backgrounds – and that is clearly an upside of country’s mentality. Nevertheless, while the last edition of the Berlin Biennale was the comforting outcome of a specific cluster of ideas and what we may call “visualities”, the Q’16 plays a polyphony of independent voices that are apparently tending to converge into families of specific cultural and visual interests. Probably that is why the role of the curator is so relevant here, and you may have the feeling that artists are playing a somehow minor part, especially the young ones – even in the official papers released by the Q’16 the names of the curators come first. And as far as we know it’s always easier for our brain to memorize a single name rather than ten (D. Kahnemann, Thinking, fast and slow).

In order not to fall into the trap, and comment on each show, we may suggest to consider this surprisingly harmonious body as a whole and take it as an intelligent, well curated, and quite exhaustive index of what is going on here. From this perspective the choice of having many curators at work is certainly a winning one. Differently form a similar map recently traced at the Triennale museum in Milan (Ennesima, 2015), this one sounds trustable and objective, even if most of the artists here represented were also included in the Milanese version.

And the body is telling us than despite the Italian art market may seem quite weak and small in size if compared to the main European markets (France and Germany), the quality of Italian artists remains high. Many of those included in the Q’16 are having their careers out of the country, or are represented by international established galleries. It is the case, for instance, of Martino Gamper (Franco Noero and Modern Institute), Francesco Vezzoli (Gagosian, Franco Noero), Luca Trevisani (Mehdi Chouakri), Luca Vitone (Nagel Draxler and Pinksummer), Massimo Grimaldi (ZERO… ), Marcello Maloberti (Raffaella Cortese), and Marzia Migliora (Lia Rumma) just to name a few. And it is the case of some talented emerging artists such as Alek’O (Frutta galley), Nicola Martini (Francesca Kaufmann) and Andrea Romano (Gaudel de Stampa). These names are the evidence that the best ones among the generation of artists born in the 1970s and 1980s have been able to cross that same perimeter into which the Q’16 itself is inscribed.

Moreover, the sometimes outstanding quality of the artworks on exhibition provides a quite stable basis for those who are still looking for a main dealer to work with. It is the case, for instance, of Sabina Grasso (DER Sabina) who since she left Studio Guenzani in 2013 has been working on a stimulating artistic project focused on the mimesis between life and art. The touching four-channels video installation that she presents here is just a part of a larger psychological scheme she is patiently drawing and that sooner or later will need the help of a proper gallery. And here is the point. Would the Q’16 be able to help talented artists such as Sabrina Grasso, but also Beatrice Marchi, Diego Marcon, Alessandro Agudio, or Alterazioni Video, to get the attention of the main international dealers/collectors/museums?

Of course it should do it, and it actually does to a certain extent. But in order to improve its effectiveness it ought to be able to open some doors that are still closed. Like, for instance, the Turner Prize is doing this year in London, or the Berlin Biennal’s last edition did for the Berliner contemporary art community. Last Tuesday, while attending the Q’16 overloaded opening, we saw some respected international writers and art dealers, but we would not say yet that the Q’16 has gone as international as it should. The point is never how much money you spend, but how you spend it – the English version of the catalogue will not be ready until the end of October.

October 26, 2016