A second important event with the art of Gian Maria Tosatti is set to run from 23 February to 19 July 2023, when the Shed space at Pirelli HangarBicocca will host a retrospective of his works. We talked about it with Vicente Todolí, the artistic director of the Milanese art centre.
[Franco Fanelli]: How would you sum up for our readers a personality as complex as that of Tosatti? And where would you place him in the context of the artistic research being carried out on the contemporary scene?
[Vicente Todolì]: Like all good artists, Gian Maria Tosatti has a unique visual world of his own and, especially, a very different approach from what we see in other contemporary artistic studies in Italy. I started following his work from The Seven Seasons of the Spirit project (2013-16) in Naples and I found it a bit like following a film that perfectly manages to render the presence of absence itself. I was really struck by it.
[FF]:In your opinion, which works have been the greatest milestones in Tosatti’s career, making him such an important artist?
[VT]: As I was saying, one highly successful and very ambitious series is that of The Seven Seasons of the Spirit. It’s a titanic project in seven stages, in which Tosatti worked for three years on a number of emblematic but previously abandoned buildings in the city of Naples. But more recent works come to mind, too, such as My Heart is a Void, the Void is a Mirror, a work in progress that he started in 2018, which is taking shape in several countries.
[FF]:The Tosatti-Eugenio Viola duo has become a consolidated partnership and has been confirmed again at the Venice Biennale. But what will Vicente Todolí’s role be in curating the exhibition in Milan?
[VT]: At Pirelli HangarBicocca we have a policy of presenting retrospectives that bring together several works, so as to offer the most complete possible overview of our artists. With Tosatti, we discussed how to adapt his approach – which very often involves a single work in a single space – to our philosophy. And we found a solution in Hôtel de la Lune. This is a composite project that makes reference to his past works. Let’s say that we will be recreating the atmospheres of his past works, like ghosts that inhabit the rooms of an imaginary hotel.
[FF]:This is not the first time that an artist has taken on several roles, ranging from that of journalist to that of writer and essayist, and even artistic director in the case of the Quadriennale in Rome. Opinions differ on this matter: some find analogies with Felice Casorati, to give an Italian example, for he too played important roles in the selection of artists for public exhibitions in his day, and they often do not look kindly at artists when they hold forms of power. Others, however, think that Tosatti embodies the figure of the artist of the future – one we will need to get used to. What’s your view?
[VT]: I know the work of Tosatti as an artist, but not as a journalist and writer. I don’t normally offer an opinion on things I don’t know. So, as regards the artistic direction of the Quadriennale in Rome, let’s wait and see how it works out before making comments and judgments. And plenty of artists have been curators, such as Marcel Duchamp, or museum directors – here Peter Weibel comes to mind, an Austrian artist who has been the director of the ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe since 1999, or Pablo Picasso, who was the director of the Prado in 1936, although it was more of an honorary post at a dramatic moment in the history of Spain.
[FF]:I’m surprised by the fact that, at a time when the creation of works of art and the curation of exhibitions is increasingly becoming a collective undertaking (as in the upcoming documenta), Tosatti seems to be asserting a form of individualism that is so strong that it takes on gigantic spaces like the Italian Pavilion or HangarBicocca all on its own. What’s your take on this?
[VT]: By my nature, I’m not one who likes working on committees or in collectives. I personally prefer to make my own mistakes, rather than make them with others. As for the gigantic spaces, they are part of Tosatti’s art. He works on large environments, like the buildings recovered for his Seven Seasons of the Spirit. In actual fact, Hôtel de la Lune will be shown in the smallest space at Pirelli HangarBicocca, the 1,400-square-metre Shed, so the challenge facing us will be to reduce his monumental work into a different, composite format, with different worlds on a smaller scale.
[FF]: Some say that Tosatti the artist is a good set designer and that’s it. What would you say?
[VT]: We all have our own opinions. Similarly, you could say that Julio González was a great welder, Marcel Duchamp a good plumber, Gordon Matta Clark a great demolition expert, or Carsten Höller a great funfair maker. I think that’s a rather simplistic view and I don’t agree with it. True, Tosatti uses some aspects of set design, but he transcends them and makes them part of an artistic creation, in his installation, with great poetic power. As I was saying, his works are like films, in which the greatest absence is that of the director, so the spectator is called upon to shoot them, as if he had a camera, while also playing the part of the lead actor. Tosatti invites those who enter his work to impose their own rhythm, and their own narrative, like photographic shots impressed upon their memory.
[FF]:For many people, the emotional impact of Tosatti’s works is extremely powerful. Is that also true for you?
[VT]: Tosatti’s work is not only emotional, because, as I was saying, it also draws you into itself so that you can complete it. In the viewer, it arouses different things that are part of our memory and, as I see it, he captures the most fundamental aspects of human solitude and the way that this affects the construction of our memories.
[FF]: In his book Esperienza e realtà, Tosatti argues the need to “redefine art”, which would thus cease to be an object or an element of passive contemplation and become an “experience”. Because, he explains, there’s a “fifth dimension” which is indeed that of the “aesthetic experience”. Will this fifth dimension have the power to improve our relationship with the world, starting with the environment and with our interactions with others?
[VT]: At the very least, good art expands the viewer’s personal world and that’s always a good thing. I don’t know if it can improve our relationship with the world, but it can certainly improve our spirit. That’s why art can be like a hospital for the soul.
[FF]: I’ll end with the same question I asked Eugenio Viola, concerning the Venice Biennale. Why is it that having a national pavilion with just one artist is now considered cool, whereas having one with a number of artists is considered cheap?
[VT]: I don’t think I’d call it cool or cheap – fashions change, as does our way of looking at art and artists. It’s a personal matter. I’ve always been more interested in a pavilion or an exhibition with just one artist, because it means I can get to know their work in greater depth. An exhibition with many artists, on the other hand, however well curated it may be, and with interesting works, does not let me get to the heart of any of the individual artists’ works. Sometimes, some group exhibitions remind me of that Spanish chain of restaurants, 100 Montaditos, where you can choose from a hundred types of tapas, but in the end you’ll only remember 10 at best.