April 2017, for the book You, Me and Art. Artists in the 21st century
Marta Gnyp: You are an art historian. What motivated you to study art history?
Demetrio Paparoni: I have never studied history of art in a systematic way. I am self-taught. I quit my studies in pharmacy before graduating because I was strongly drawn to art. Mine was a journey backwards; I was first interested in contemporary art and only thereafter in the history of art.
MG: Why did you choose to be involved specifically in contemporary art?
DP: In the seventies I used to travel to rock concerts during the summer, but I also took the opportunity to see some exhibitions. I was in my element; I was excited by the explosion of thoughts and emotions that art was able to trigger. The initial impact I felt was largely emotional. Later, when I was trying to understand what I saw, I noticed that works are like a hypertext where every detail forces you to study it, to learn things that you did not know or on which you have focused only superficially.
MG: Every artist forced you to study different contexts.
DP: The work of each artist is rooted in the history of where he or she comes from, as well as being influenced by his or her own experiences, studies and encounters. Trying to understand Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz or Anselm Kiefer forces you to explore the history of Germany. To attempt to understand Richter means you also have to learn about the tragedy of German families during the Nazi period, and about the disturbing effects on children and grandchildren of knowing how their loved ones acted during the rise of Nazism. Studying Kiefer involves realising what it means to live at the boundaries between things. Studying Kapoor means you have to enter the boundary between spirituality and science… There is much more to it, of course; I am oversimplifying. This also applies to those artists who have made their work a radical exploration of language, who force us to engage with philosophy or sociology, such as Joseph Kossuth or Lawrence Weiner.
MG: 40 years ago, many art history departments didn’t include contemporary art in their curricula. Art history was about the history of art, not analysing the phenomena and art of the present. It has changed but the question remains: are we able to comment about art from our own time in an appropriate way?
DP: I am convinced that we have to, even if it is difficult. However, I am not convinced that teaching approaches are always correct. A view that is too close-up does not allow for the consideration of complex phenomena that refer to increasingly complex scenarios. One cannot speak of contemporary art without engaging in criticism. We are witnessing the revaluation of artists who were formerly ignored or considered minor, and it would be oversimplifying to say that this is only due to market demand. The fact remains that the market benefits from revaluations and for this reason, in many cases, we see critical acclaim being used for the purposes of manipulation.
Heretics: The Transcendent and the Profane in Contemporary Art, 2007
MG: How do you approach the process of valuation or interpretation of art?
DP: Commenting on the present implies emotional involvement so it is difficult to keep distance to the various phenomena we are considering. Nowadays there are many publications on contemporary art. In addition to texts written by critics, we are helped by those written by the artists themselves, or interviews that they have given. Starting with what the artists say and the motivations they give for their works, it is possible to construct a reasonably correct matrix of interpretation. But to do this, it is first necessary to focus on the artists who have a real cultural impact. While the history of art is already well established, something that has been analysed, and therefore something you can teach simply by referring to reputable texts, the same is not true for the art of the last fifty years, which is subject to interpretation, reappraisal, debate.
MG: There is more or less consensus about meaning of art from previous historical periods versus the fluidity of judgments of contemporary art.
DP: This does not mean that the art of the past is immune to revision, that there can be no discoveries or studies leading to the re-evaluation of well-established theories, but the overall system of interpretation is essentially uncontested. Art is living matter; by its nature it tends to question established values and cannot be constrained. To put it another way: what we see in museums is in some ways an art that, although it has not lost its spiritual potential, although it provides information and aesthetic and intellectual enjoyment, and can help us understand the art of the present, cannot help us understand the present itself. Works of art, whether created yesterday or today, always contain secrets that, once decrypted, thwart their innovative potential. I see it this way: the art of the past helps us to read the art of the present, the art of the present helps us to read the present.
MG: Do you think we are still in the postmodern period in terms of aesthetics and theory?
DP: More so today than we were yesterday. The eighties were transitional years and the nineties confirmed we were entering a new era that is still in existence today. It has been said that postmodernism was born with the ending of ideological contrasts, which are known as the great narratives. I have to take a step back to explain this. During the Second World War many European artists went to live in New York and made their presence felt on the American art scene, which since the Armory Show of 1913 had shown signs of restlessness regarding the dominance of European art. A breakthrough was needed, one that would make their autonomy explicit, and then assert the supremacy of American over European art, which at the time was still spearheaded by Surrealism, with narrative and symbol at the centre of its aesthetic.
MG: You refer to the New York School and the critic Clemens Greenberg.
DP: In defining the modern and innovative character of the work of artists such as Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning, Clement Greenberg focused alongside the subjectivity of the artist first and foremost on the absence of narration, and on the literary and symbolic dimensions of the painting. Greenberg had anticipated this vision of art in his early essay Towards a New Laocoön, published in Partisan Review in 1940, in which he theorised that narrative and symbol belonged more to literature than to the modern visual arts. He thus turned the narrative dimension into the boundary that visual artists could not cross if they were intending to operate in the context of modernity. Around 1947 these principles were elaborated to support abstract expressionism and, later, in the first half of the sixties, to support post-painterly abstraction. In this sense, they constituted a point of reference for the criticism to come, both American and European. It was from these ideological assumptions that the idea of the superiority of American art emerged. The transition to postmodernism re-established the parameters used by American art to denote what was current and what was not, and therefore brought into play the role of narrative and symbolism in art. The art of the eighties had a certain restlessness as it went through this change. On the one hand there were artists who, although figurative, remained anchored to Greenberg’s principles of modernism, but on the other hand there were artists, including abstract and post-conceptual artists, who wanted to go beyond formalism. Neither group envisaged the possibility of new approaches at the level of form or aesthetics. At the same time, the shift from the “presentation” of the object to its representation has ceased to be considered a retrograde step.
MG: So, did postmodernism bring to artists the total freedom in your opinion?
DP: Outside of any ideological system, the artist has enormous freedom: there are no codes that have to be complied with in order to be considered “current”. In the context of postmodernism, this turning point nowadays affords us an alternative perspective on artists who were previously not given proper attention. Decades later, it is curious to observe that artists considered progressive at the time because they avoided any involvement in narration and symbol appear conservative today, while others, who would have been considered traditionalists because they thought the opposite, do not appear as such nowadays. It is by considering the role of narration that this turning point can be understood.Works like the Cremaster Cycle by Matthew Barney would have been unthinkable in the eighties.
Anish Kapoor, Non-Object Door
MG: Artists have also given up the idea of avant-garde.
DP: It was clear to young people who appeared on the art scene in the nineties that planning for the future, in the way that the avant-gardes thought and did from the early twentieth century until the seventies, was no longer a given. So, art took care of the here and now. To do this it could only look for the causes of present-day problems in the folds of history. It had to give more weight to the story. Hence the obvious interest of art in historical themes and subjects, in bringing them back into play, often through works full of familiar details, juxtaposed in such a way as to give life to an as yet unpublished whole.
MG: You wrote a book about contemporary art and its methods. What are the methods?
DP: Artists have always tried to apply methods to arrive at their desired result. The method adopted reflects the spirit of the age and goes hand in hand with the advances of science and developments in philosophy. In the modernist era the work of the impressionists developed in parallel with the evolution of the photographic medium, which would later go on to have a deep impact on the work of other artists, not only in terms of form, but also by indicating a way forward. For example, it allowed for performances or temporary installations to be documented. The way to de-contextualise or juxtapose the images and the automatism of the surrealists owes much to psychoanalysis and to the discovery of the unconscious; pop art adopted the methods of mechanical printing and poster design used in advertising; minimalism adopted mathematical and geometrical designs, and so on. Underlying every work of art there is a point of reference prompting the artist to find a way to construct his or her work by following a method.
MG: Could you give me an example of a contemporary artist?
DP: Chuck Close, a super-figurative artist, constructs his work from a grid that enables him to reproduce a photographic image on a canvas. The fact that in the sixties and seventies Close concentrated his focus on the face of the subject in such a way as to eliminate all narrative and symbolism is inseparable from his conception of art. Certainly the use of the grid is not a novelty in art, but this does not mean that it always leads to the same conclusions. Now we all know how old the use of the grid is; it’s the way in which the artists use it, making it a personal method that changes the meaning of the work. The method determines the spirit of the times.
MG: Do you refer to the modernistic reading of the grid?
DP: Not only. In the past the grid was used to achieve as faithful a replica as possible of the image; now that a photograph is preferred for this purpose, the use of the grid leads to a more hand-crafted and uncertain image. The same method thus takes on a different meaning depending on the times in which it is used. It would therefore be overly simplistic to say that there is nothing new under the sun. The Chinese artist Wang Guangyi, another example, twenty years after Close’s first “heads”, created portraits of Mao using a grid. Unlike Close, however, who after all conceals the grid, Wang Guangyi brings it to the fore to reveal the trick behind the transformation of a political leader into a charismatic figure. In this case, the highlighted grid has the task of desacralising the depicted subject, which is thus part of a story. Aniconic painters such as Frank Stella, Robert Ryman, Sol Le Witt, Sean Scully, Gunter Förg, Peter Halley, Jonathan Lasker, Ding Yi, Liu Wei, Sarah Morris, Bernard Frize and many others have also used the grid, but given it a completely different significance.
MG: So the same method can be applied for different reasons.
DP: We must be careful not to confuse the method with the means: the method is the strategy that enables the artist to arrive at a form, results in which he recognises himself. Being aware of the method used by the artist is useful to the critic because it allows him or her to understand not only the artist’s approach to art, but also his or her attitudes. The method, for example, helps you to understand if the artist has an objective or subjective vision, an instinctive or scientific approach. It matters less whether the image was obtained by using a grid, a photographic projection, a tracing on a light table or by computer generation. What matters is that the form is the result of the process of its construction, so the method becomes a strong element in the evaluation of the work. If you go to a work by Anish Kapoor, you cannot help but ask yourself which method he used to give life to his anti-forms; when observing a photo of Thomas Demand showing places that seem real, but which are actually made from three-dimensional models in paper or cardboard, you have to ask yourself why he chose this method to represent reality; the drawings of Cai Guo-Qiang created by micro-explosions of gunpowder refer to the tradition of fireworks in China, thus denoting the weight that the artist gives to the culture of belonging; the oil paintings of Nicola Samorì, flayed with his bare hands or with a scalpel, a burin or a chisel, or forced by the pressure of one half of the painting on the other, show us wounds in the canvas of the painting where the method reveals how for this artist, painting imitates a biological process that in time leads it to age and die as living beings do. Let’s stay with painting: one of the methods used by Li Song Song is to start with a well-known image, taken from the media, and to reconstruct it as a painting, fragment by fragment, using highly mixed media, focusing on one area at a time in random order. It is only when he has finished painting the last piece that the image will take shape, revealing itself to the artist in its entirety. The method used by Li Song Song refers to the difficulty of interpreting reality through the information that comes from the media. The method is, in short, the touchstone that allows the critic to access the artist’s personal universe.
Nicola Samori, Emanti
MG: Do you think that one day we might leave behind the categorisation of mediums or categorisation into abstract or figurative art?
DP: The contrast between abstract art and figurative art was radicalised by the formalism of Greenberg. As we have already said, a new wave began in the eighties, whose identity was defined in the nineties, however, when artists definitively clarified that art would not be playing its game on the opposition’s home ground. In the 1990s Jonathan Lasker told me that, whenever a painter bisects a pictorial surface with a horizontal stroke, he is depicting the horizon. This indicates how bland the distinction between abstraction and figuration can be. We assume that the intentions of the artist are to define the nature of the work, this also means that we can read an abstract work figuratively, and vice versa. The abstract geometric paintings of Peter Halley have a figurative narrative that has sociological implications typical of realist painting. This is why I actually believe that these two visions, the abstract and the figurative, can be completely coincident with each other. The fact that many artists have rejected the idea of a world regulated by contrasts indicates a turning point.
MG: What do you think about the opening up of the art world? As an art historian, are you happy about outsider artists and self-taught artists entering the art field?
DP: Those who approach art are always interested in knowing the individual artist’s history, his or her training, even if this has an extremely limited impact on the judgement of the artwork. Contamination is increasingly frequent and accepted in the arts; any contribution to the debate is considered a resource. As an artist, you accept anyone who is capable of adding to what has already been said, giving weight even to a small segment of a sentence, if this opens up new possibilities.
MG: Do you think that as an artist you need to have an awareness of art history? Can everybody be an artist?
DP: Personally, I do not know a single artist who is not interested in the history of art. After World War II, artists were already looking at the experiences of the historical avant-gardes as history of art. And today we consider the experiences of the late twentieth century to be history of art. Despite this, there are artists today who, without knowing it, repeat experiences that were widely consumed in the sixties and seventies; this is confirmation of the need to know what happened. Today, the artist and the critic are faced with a not inconsiderable problem: the art scene has expanded dramatically, artists who live in countries once excluded from our field of vision have come into play. The internet has amplified the amount of information we can access and, since there is too much information, there is too much that we do not know. This makes the contemporary scene particularly complex, much more complex than it was a few decades ago. In relation to the history of art, each artist confronts his or her own limits. The more you focus on something and study it in depth, the less you know how far it is from that perimeter; the more you enlarge the area you survey, the less you go into the details.
MG: Defining the quality of contemporary art is one of the biggest issues of our time. We don’t have any fixed characteristics of what or how art should be. Do you believe in ‘objective’ quality? Or is quality simply declared by those who have the greatest authority and power?
DP: We recognise the value of art on the basis of what our culture allows us to appreciate as such. This means that judgements of merit are somehow manipulated through a system of information that directs our evaluation. In the fifties there some critics went out of their way to show that Hopper was a minor artist. Now, there is no doubt that Pollock won because he invented a language never seen before, but it’s a big leap from that to stigmatising artists like Hopper, or the American regionalists who came before him, as something lesser. Today we know it’s not like that. Today, for example, American criticism honours regionalists by rediscovering them through the work of John Currin. History is living matter.
Wang Guangxi, 1988
MG: What do you think about the theory of art being so present in the works of many artists? Do you think artists should be educated in art theory?
DP: It seems unlikely that a good artist would not be able to justify what he or she was doing by integrating it into the theoretical debate of our day. It might be that he or she refuses to verbalise it, but it would not be the case that he or she did not know what he or she was doing and why.
MG: You have been in the art world for more than 30 years. What has been the biggest change during this period in your opinion?
DP: In terms of language, the most substantial changes for artists have arisen from the possibility to use the tools of scientific technology within their own work.
MG: You are very much involved in curating and writing about Asian artists. Is their understating of art and art history different from the western one?
DP: Chinese artists know the history of Western art better than you can imagine. In the first half of the eighties artists were still required to respect the rules of Maoist realism. The limitations on freedom of movement, the lack of circulation of books and the consequent lack of information was not comparable with other artistic experiences. In the second half of the eighties, the Chinese translation of Gombrich’s History of Art aroused great interest in the Chinese art world. In the meantime it has become easier to cross borders. All this has led to a greater knowledge of Western art both from the past and the present, knowledge that has given rise to comparison. It is no coincidence that we also find iconographic themes of the Christian art of the Old Continent in the works of artists such as Yue Minjun, Wang Guangyi, Zhang Huan, Zeng Fanzi and many others.
MG: What is so specific about Chinese contemporary art?
DP: In the artistic field in China, over a period of about twenty years, artists have entered postmodernism, rapidly consuming the experiences of modernism. This explains why Chinese artists have often simultaneously used very differing language to express themselves. A Westerner who had been going around galleries in Beijing or Shanghai for the last thirty years could have confused a personal exhibition with a collective exhibition. At the same time, if on the one hand the Chinese artists have used our own language, on the other they have never lost the connection with their artistic tradition, from landscape painting to calligraphy, from the manufacture of porcelain to woodwork, through to Maoist realism. If you talk to Chinese artists, many of them tell you with a certain pride that they were influenced by traditional Chinese art and, in particular, by the artists of the Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties. A pre-modern artist who has influenced and continues to influence the training of contemporary artists is Qi Baishi, who died in 1957. It is necessary to look at the contemporary scenario from the point of view of an Asian to understand the full extent of the great artistic revolution experienced by China. Suffice it to say that, although not repudiating their culture, they face languages and iconographic themes that were once alien to them.
Li Songsong, Big Girls
MG: Do you believe in a global art history?
DP: To think that a global history of art can exist is to believe that there can be single models of reference for all; I do not think this is possible. On the other hand, it is possible to have a history of art that tackles the art of different geographical areas in different chapters, analysing the points of contact and the differences. The interests that revolve around art make it very difficult to write a global history of art, because we are still in an American-centric system. Damien Hirst explained it very well when he said that if English art continues to be important, in a few decades we will consider Hamilton and not Warhol the father of pop art. Think how different a chapter on pop art could be if it were written by an English person rather than an American.
I do not think we will ever be able to conceive of a global history of art because if there is one thing that indicates a difference between populations, it is the arts. Let’s ask ourselves some questions: when visiting big international exhibitions do we always recognise the area the individual artists originate from? Of course not. At the level of form, at the level of language, in many cases we have doubts. But if we explore the individual works in depth, the differences emerge easily, because the sense of belonging is a feeling rooted in each individual. The sense of belonging affects both the method and the content, which in turn affect the language. I do not think that in the future this will cease to be the case.
MG: I saw a photo of you and Arthur Danto. He declared the end of art because art needed philosophy to be understood. Do you agree with this statement in our time?
DP: Arthur Danto and I have been friends for a long time. For about fifteen years he collaborated with the magazine of which I was editor, Tema Celeste, with writings and conversations that we regularly published. It is also thanks to him that the art of the eighties and nineties has partially freed itself from formalist theses. Danto’s attention was focused on what allowed one to recognise something as a work of art, in a particular historical moment, something that previously would not have been considered as such. He was also interested in the way and the extent to which the historical context affects the nature of art and its definition. That these questions were pertinent then and that they remain so today demonstrates that a painting from the past remains recognisable as a work of art even if seen in a photographic reproduction. This is not so with Warhol’s Brillo Boxes, the central object of Danto’s investigation, or with many current works. Inevitably, thoughts run to Duchamp and his readymades, especially those dating from between 1915 and 1917. Danto has focused his attention on the Brillo Box works because they do not presuppose a manipulation of the object, they are silk-screened wooden boxes that faithfully reproduce Brillo cardboard boxes. In a supermarket, no one would have taken Warhol’s copies for works of art. This is a leap towards Duchamp’s readymades, whose content lies in their conceptual manipulation. Duchamp does not exhibit a urinal for what it is, but turns it into something other than what it is. Danto believes that Warhol and not Duchamp was the first to witness Hegel’s predicted death of art and this is because Duchamp’s objects are aesthetically uninteresting but not trivial, while those of Warhol, explains Danto, are just banal. The difference between Duchamp and Warhol, according to Danto, is the fact that Warhol’s Brillo Box work has a purely philosophical justification.
Exhibition Contemporary Chaos, 2018
MG: You operate as an art critic and curator. Which role do you prefer?
DP: Curating an exhibition is fun; writing is much less so. It is very tiring. I’m more gratified by the idea of having written a good book than to have curated a good exhibition.
MG: Why is art criticism having such a difficult time, in your opinion?
DP: The art scene has become much larger and everything changes quickly. Being informed about everything that happens is very demanding, not to mention that gaining a prominent place in the art world also involves a commitment to public relations. Making sense of everything that has been seen, transforming it into writing, requires attention, time and concentration. Moreover, compared with previous decades, much has changed in the way artists are approached. Today the relationship with the artist is increasingly mediated by galleries or by those who represent them and the logic that regulates the work is not always linked to cultural dynamics.
MG: Can this cause problems for you as a critic?
DP: I’ll give you an example: in 2017 I published a book on the representation of the devil in the art of yesterday and today. I wanted to include in the book some pictures by Basquiat and Mapplethorpe, but the persons responsible for the artists’ estates did not allow it. Which is strange, considering that the book has a very rigorous context. Aside from the numbers, it’s absurd in my opinion that you have to ask for permission to publish an image; what is incomprehensible is the fact that I regularly published works by these artists when they were alive. Now, with the understanding that copyright is an inalienable value, with the understanding that it is normal that a business is created around the work of artists to keep the foundations of their work alive, the fact that the estate may or may not grant you the right to publish is a limitation on the freedom of criticism which can create conditioning. Nobody is interested in going against those who, in the future, might not grant you access to a loan for an exhibition or to an image for a publication. Personally, I think that once a work is in the world, even more than in the past when it has been historicised, the artwork no longer belongs to the artist but it becomes a common good. But I also understand that artists have every right not to accept being placed in a context in which they don’t recognise themselves. Decisions made by artists are dictated by cultural interests, those made by people who represent them are not necessarily respectful of the artist’s thoughts.
The Devil: Atlante Illustrato Del Lato Oscuro: Da Giotto A Picasso, Da Pollock A Serrano, Dai Tarocchi Ai Videogiochi, 2017
MG: Do you think that art has become more popular recently or is this an illusion?
DP: Art has become more popular thanks to the digital revolution, which has greatly amplified its catchment area. But before the nineties, Warhol and pop art were already marking a transitional moment of this nature. In the sixties, in the home of a student, you could find a poster reproducing a newly created piece of pop art. A moderately wealthy collector could have a high-circulation signed screen-print. Certainly, there is a big difference between a reproduction and an original, but it is a fact that a penniless student and a rich collector could look at the same images. It was a phenomenon that was previously unpublished. It is since then, and since Warhol in particular, that artists have aspired to be perceived as rock stars. Today it is not surprising that artists dream of long queues of visitors wanting to get in to their exhibitions, the same queues as those at the gates of a rock concert given by a popular band. It was the artists themselves who favoured the idea that art should be for everyone.
MG: Don’t you think that art has always been elitist and this is one the inherent characteristic of art?
DP: Art has always been elitist due to the simple fact that the possession of an important and costly work helps to define the status of its owner.
MG: What role do you think public museums should play?
DP: A museum’s mission is to conserve and protect the best art and make it accessible to all. What museums preserve are the foundations from which successive interpretations of generations of artists to come will follow. This means that the relationship between historicity and contemporaneity is necessary. In this sense, a museum is the crucible in which, just as in a chemical reaction, different elements, and in many cases opposites, interact, giving life to new compounds. A museum is not a cemetery of illustrious works; it should be seen as a place that continues to generate vitality.
MG: Which have been the most interesting exhibitions you have organised?
DP: I have dealt on several occasions with the theme of the impact of the telematic revolution on art. The exhibit Timer (2007) at the Triennale di Milano and the exhibit Surreal versus Surrealism at the IVAM in Valencia (2011) highlighted how society has become increasingly abstract and surreal. Timer highlighted the impact on our imagination of live television broadcasts during the Second Gulf War and of the live television coverage of the attack on the World Trade Center. In the nineties I worked for a long time on abstraction, but in 2018 I curated an exhibition of figurative painting at the Stelline Foundation in Milan because it amazes me that in big international exhibitions this expressive form is too often given the role of servant in relation to contemporary art.
MG: Whom do you consider the most relevant artists of the last 40 years?
Gerhard Richter, Chuck Close, Anish Kapoor, Damien Hirst, Matthew Barney, Jeff Koons, Maurizio Cattelan, Olauf Eliasson, Takashi Murakami, John Currin. These artists have had a contagious effect on the West. The situation in China is very different, where there are extraordinary artists who, although they have paved the way for change, have not had a real formal influence on the work of young artists. It should be considered that the development of contemporary art in China has gone hand in hand with its enormous social changes; changes that have allowed artists to create works of art that they could not have imagined previously. Those same protagonists of the new scene, who would have had to give formal direction to the younger ones, have themselves changed their language several times, reflecting the continuous evolution of Chinese society. An example for everyone is Wang Guangyi. When talking about this a while ago with Li SongSong, one of the most significant artists of his generation – born in 1973 – Song Song told me that, according to him on a conceptual, but not formal level, Ai WeiWei will exert a strong influence on new generations, adding “at least this is my hope”. It is symbolic to remark how distant the work of Li Song Song is from that of Ai Wei Wei. This makes it clear how much Chinese artists feel the need for art to play a role in the country’s political evolution. In any case, in China when it comes to ideas, artists who have been actively involved in the 85 movement, Huang Yong Ping and Xu Bing in particular, and later Zhang Xiaogang and Liu Xiaodong, have been influential on subsequent generations. In Russia I honestly cannot tell you. Obviously, the list of artistic giants could be much longer. There are artists who have no impact on other artists, but this does not detract from their work.
MG: You wrote a book on Chuck Close. What do you think about the recent reactions of museums towards his work in the context of the #Metoo movement? Do you think that art should be looked at through the prism of morality? Is there any connection between aesthetics and ethics?
DP: When I learned the news, I wrote a post on my Facebook page: “The Washington National Gallery cancelled the show of a giant of the second half of 20th century, on grounds that have nothing to do with art. This is an attack on art and on its capacity to have a higher existence than the life of its artists. Will paintings be sent to the stake soon? Will Gaugain and Schiele disappear from museums? What about Caravaggio and Bernini? Those who took this decision at the National Gallery are not mad, they are lucid enemies of culture.” There is not much to add, except that these gestures of extreme puritanism conceal an extreme hypocrisy, so much so that those same people who have censored Close for as-yet unproven events unrelated to his art would nonetheless be careful not to get rid of his work.
MG: You have written mostly about male artists. Is there any reason for that?
DP: When I curate an exhibition, I choose the artists according to the project. Should I do a count to see if the balance is politically correct? Should I also pay particular attention to ensuring that all social and ethnic balances are respected? If that’s what you think, it’s ok by me if you think of me as a politically incorrect critic. In the recent exhibition “The New Frontiers of Painting” that I curated in Milan, only seven out of 34 artists were women. You’re right: that is not many. Surely I am a victim of a culture that leads me to look at work in a one way rather than another. Things will be different for the younger generations (I hope).
MG: Where do we go from here?
DP: The most significant innovations, if they can be considered such, are coming from science, which offers tools and techniques that allow you to create extraordinarily interesting exhibitions both in visual and conceptual terms. I am thinking of Eliasson, for example, or Frederic de Wilde. On the one hand, science has radicalised the idea that one can use the language one wants, in the freest way possible; on the other, the task of designing the future is now entrusted to science. Artists will certainly not stop working, trying new paths, but I think no one can predict today the direction they will take.