Milan - Interviews

Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys: Elegantia. An Interview with Curator Francesco Garutti

4 months ago

Triennale di Milano is presenting the first solo exhibition hosted by an Italian institution of the work by Belgian artists Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys.

On the occasion of the opening of the exhibition, I met and interviewed the curator of the show, Francesco Garutti who shared with us the development of the project, the relationship with the artists and his involvement in the contemporary art scene.

Carla Ingrasciotta: Give us a brief introduction to the show. How did the collaboration with the artists come about, where did you meet and how did you all plan their first institutional exhibition in Italy?

Francesco Garutti: The idea of a show in Milan with Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys was among the projects we had been considering together for a long time. In the beginning, we imagined a 1970s Milanese architecture: the icy atmospheres of glass and aluminium of the late modern city. Then Edoardo Bonaspetti invited us to conceptualise a show for the Trienniale spaces and so the project of “Elegantia” was born. So the idea of building a precise space, an environment  in which to situate the mental space of Jos & Harald, has been of central importance, as you can see, since the first moments of this Milanese adventure.
In all of their projects – I think about their solo show at the Kunsthalle in Basel, to the show at Raven Raw in London or MoMA Ps1 and at the CAC in Vilnius with White Suprematism – space, place and their related stories and stereotypes are the inspiration to produce and imagine a psychological and deformed parallel world.

C.I.: The show stands out for the special relationship that the sculptures and work of De Gruyter & Thys have with the architecture of the Palazzo della Triennale. In fact, this bond between art and architecture constitutes one of the focal points of your curatorial research. Could you tell us about the specifics of the preparation and your exhibition selections? How much of your research is in this show?

F.G.: The show itself is a work of art, a single piece/space to be observed and to pass through. “Luftspiegelung” is the German word often used by artists to explain the project for the Triennale. A mirage of a show, a reflection. Perhaps a dream. Dazzling white, abstract and guided by geometric principles, “Elegantia” is a generic “fine arts” show that, after few instants of exploration, reveals itself to be brutal and fake, imaginary and psychological. And the architecture of the exhibition, designed and constructed together with the artists in rigorous dialogue with the Triennale space, has a central role in building the set where this restless dream takes shape. It interested me a lot to take another look at some recent series of works such as White Elements (2013 -) or the watercolours of Fine Arts (2015) inside this troubled mirage. I am very proud to have succeeded in recreating the complete series of designs of Les Enigmes de Saarlouis (2010). It consists of a gallery of faces that observe the visitor in both rooms of the show. Dilated pupils, bulging eyes; a Pasolinian and Lombrosian look at the hypothetical inhabitants of a small town on the border between France and Germany. Once more a kind of apparently classical display: a gallery of portraits that, after a while, reveals its disturbing nature.

C.I.: During my visit, I was particularly impressed by the metaphysical, almost dystopian atmosphere that one experiences viewing this show. Each element in the setting speaks with the others in architectural harmony. I am thinking in particular of the room with the fountain, where it really feels like you are walking around a square, it’s like being catapulted into a metaphysical city by De Chirico. Yet there is no shortage of unruly and disordered elements. What is the message that lurks behind this space?

F.G.: The space of the show is deliberately false and artificial. The forced and constructed perspective of the enfilade is evident in the new work CAPUT, specifically designed for the Palazzo dell’Arte. It alludes to the rooms of a generic pre-modern building, an artificial and mental expansion of the Triennale.
The fountain you mentioned, “De Drie Wijsneuzen“, 2013, is “an interiors’ fountain”, keeper and guardian of a lot of the shows by the Belgian duo in various institutions around the world since “Optimundus” – the great solo show by Jos & Harald to the M HKA in Anversa in 2013. The three white faces that spit water are casts of mannequins found among the shops on a commercial street in Germany. The physical atmospheres of the imaginary insides of shopping centres and the threatening classical monumentality of the white faces blend with one another, giving body to a work that fills with sound Elegantia. The picture of flowing water is hypnotic, both a sweet and obsessive sound together.
The show – as de Gruyter & Thys argue – could be described as a production without an artist, generic and deformed like the mental image of an art show might be.

C.I.: There isn’t long until the next edition of miart, an event that, each year, revives and strengthens the Milanese art scene but that sometimes tends to exclude the emerging voices of “un-represented artists”. What is your point of view in situations like this?

F.G.: Art fairs are economic motors for the city’s art system. Any artist – even if not represented by a gallery – or any independent space takes advantage of the explosion of the market and of shows that are the result of these fairs. On a different side, an interesting and complex theme to be studied on the issue that you mention of “un-represented artists” – but perhaps more in general about the emerging scene in a city like Milan – is another: the artist’s studio. It’s really difficult for an emerging artist in Milano to afford a space to work in. The studio as a space of production, construction of the work but also of presentation. The studio as a place to experiment, to be wrong, to exchange information, ideas and vibrations, to build the collective context of one’s work. The proliferation of low cost spaces that can potentially be used as artist studios is the phenomenon that, in the second half of the ’90s, has transformed cities like Berlin and more recently Brussels. I don’t see it simply as a practical and physical matter, I think about the need to build an undergrowth of thoughts. The studio is a necessary spatial device in this sense. Universities and Academies should perhaps deal with  this type of issue. And in this sense I cannot avoid to think that Milan is a city full of underused or vacant buildings.

C.I.: Milan is your hometown. What are the most interesting places for art in your opinion and that you would recommend to art lovers visiting Milan?

F.G.: Private galleries, private foundations. Commercial galleries and heterogeneous private collections of different nature – art, design, photography –and sizes are fundamentally the icon and image of the art system in a private city such as Milan. Even the PAC – the public space par excellence for the contemporary in town– contains, in the design of Gardella’s marvellous architecture, the atmosphere of a bourgeois villa looking out onto a park garden. It is a kunsthalle that resembles an enormous apartment. Decidedly interesting for every curator and every artist. It’s as if Milan indirectly suggests that it’s not part of its nature to construct an enormous museum container to store all that is contemporary in the city, but it invites us to imagine to carving out even its public spaces format along the lines of small international institutions, more flexible, born of a precise idea and plan. Of course without panicking about the possible hybrids between public and private.

C.I.: Along with Vittorio Dapelo, you are involved with the activities of THEVIEW Studio, a space that deliberately deviates from the artistic conception of gallerists themselves and of their exhibition contexts. Could you tell us something more about this space? What collaborations are going on there? And what are the next projects in the pipeline?

F.G.: To tell you the truth, the fundamental point of departure is that THEVIEW Studio is not a space. There is an office, a place from which everything starts, but the point of departure of its founder and manager – Vittorio Dapelo – is really to move in an undisciplined way, “among” things. Being a “producer”, next to the artists and to their ideas, imagining together with them the places and corners from which to get inspiration and in which to work. The five solo shows of 2015 – Epaminonda, Wächtler, Stucchi, Cramer, Law – in the small iron and glass pavilion of Sant’Ilario have produced a great film exhibition in the Palazzo Durazzo “Pavilion Suite” (2016), in the ancient heart of Genoa. Both architectures – the space of an abandoned flower shop in front of the sea and a marvellous private building in Via del Campo – are just two of the possible places in which THEVIEW Studio has placed its projects. The future is still secret.

Carla Ingrasciotta

  • Jos de Gruyter e Harald Thys and Francesco Garutti. Courtesy of La Triennale di Milano Jos de Gruyter e Harald Thys and Francesco Garutti. Courtesy of La Triennale di Milano
  • Francesco Garutti Francesco Garutti
  • Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys: Elegantia, installation view at the Triennale di Milano Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys: Elegantia, installation view at the Triennale di Milano
  • Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys: Elegantia, installation view at the Triennale di Milano Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys: Elegantia, installation view at the Triennale di Milano
  • Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys: Elegantia, installation view at the Triennale di Milano Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys: Elegantia, installation view at the Triennale di Milano

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