A wonderful Experience
Barbara Fässler: How did you find working at a new museum that is not only physically enormous, but also has great national and international significance in all that is connected with the politics and prestige of contemporary culture?
Gabi Scardi: It was a wonderful experience, the dream of any curator. This work lasted two and a half years, and inherent with it was the awareness that I was contributing to the birth of something new, something that would be projected into the future as a truly 21st century museum. There was a need to create something very large and absolutely vital for Italy – a museum capable of being both national and international, a point of reference for both the art scene (in the first instance artists, but also curators and passionate art lovers) as well as the more wide-ranging, non-specialist public.
B.F.: The first exhibition Space that you and three other curators devised is based on the collection of the museum. In your text you write that one of the museum’s functions is preserving, archiving and creating historical memory. All of these notions are directed towards the past. How, in your opinion, can curators move between the past and the future, these two diametrically opposed concepts?
G.S.: I don’t see any contradiction here. I think the collection is a bit like the museum’s skeleton, but conservation is just one of its functions. I think that preservation is a vitally important task and a challenge for the museum, especially in Italy’s situation, where artists have undertaken very significant work from the cultural point of view, but are not visible because there hasn’t been an appropriate place to put the works. In this sense the museum preserves, passes on and also legitimates. But in order to keep alive our cultural heritage, the museum must work very actively with the present and with ways of attracting a broader audience. Contemporary art is one of many forms of cultural expression, and it is a way of viewing the present with a regard that constantly updates the cultural context. Actually I think that one of the museum’s most essential tasks is to support today’s cultural production, by helping artists working right now. We must activate that which is ceaselessly rising to the surface and turn to the public, giving people the possibility of enjoying the artworks and providing the keys to understanding them.
The collection is significant as a memory and at the same time it is a springboard from which to look forward, to embark upon the adventures of the present and future. So the works that are to be included in the collection must be chosen with a great sense of responsibility.
B.F.: Often I have observed that with important institutions it is difficult for curators and directors to acquire and exhibit names which have not yet received recognition from the market or from critics. What do you think about the museum giving opportunities to lesser known or perhaps younger artists, or those that belong to the more obscure strata of art?
G.S.: I think that they also must be given a place in the museum. But at the same time it is quite clear that an enormous responsibility rests on the people making the selection for a museum of this scale, because this is the National Museum, the largest in Italy, and not some experimental gallery or exhibition space. The selection must be based on criteria which have been founded on a very profound knowledge. But despite everything, I am convinced that any big museum must also find space for that which represents what is most current. To work with contemporary art means accepting the challenge to show what is happening today, not only that which has taken place, or what has already been legitimised and ratified.
On the one hand we must work to attract a wider audience, but at the same time we must seek to offer what we consider to be truly relevant. I am convinced that it needs a lot of courage to work with contemporary art, but those who have decided to follow this route must address the most experimental aspects, because precisely these are the most interesting and important.
B.F.: Or at least to mix them together.
G.S.: Definitely. There are no boundaries between the ancient, modern, ultra contemporary and the future. Like culture, art is an uninterrupted journey, and today’s experiments are just continuations of yesterday’s experiments. This is a particularly important message above all in Italy, a land accustomed to viewing antiquity as a virtue and believing that the new will never achieve the heights of the past, and therefore it perhaps doesn’t deserve much attention. This is definitely a problem we should overcome.
B.F.: In the works of de Dominicis I found many references to the ancient, for example…
G.S.: Yes, the ancient, but at the same time very contemporary. We are speaking here about human values that remain unchanged throughout the ages. De Dominicis experimented with an admirable ability for prescience, to be ahead of his time, and even decades later artists consider his works to be revelatory. His expressive forms are extremely stimulating.
B.F.: What is your wish for MAXXI?
G.S.: I wish for it to be a truly contemporary museum. It is fundamental that it should manage to speak to the widest possible audience, never giving up on relating how artists read and express the present, and constantly influence reality. I hope that it becomes a pillar of support both for artists as well as other people involved in art and culture, to those who need to be encouraged, strengthened, supported and promoted. This museum, because of its size and the visibility that it has, can play a major role in the promotion of art abroad, as well as showing us here what is happening beyond our borders.
I wish that MAXXI would become a joining link between what is happening in Italy and what is happening elsewhere. A museum of this scale cannot be restricted to the local level – but must position itself on the international stage. Moreover, I think it is very important for the museum to become a space of interpretation and reflection for art lovers – a place where the public can take an active role and feel included.