DAMA 2018: A Conversation with Giorgio Galotti, Domenico de Chirico and Martha Kirszenbaum

by Mara Sartore
November 2, 2018
Mara Sartore
De Chirico Domenico

Mara Sartore: Let’s start from the beginning. How did the idea of DAMA come about?

Giorgio Galotti: When we started DAMA, three years ago, it was a reaction to a system of art fairs that galleries like mine do not support, due to questions of position, objectives and expenses. With DAMA we are able to present a new generation of artists in direct dialogue with the history of the city, and for an emerging artist or a young gallery it means a lot because this kind of surrounding is not easy to deal with alone, in this way we are creating a kind of collaboration that could help all of us to be little bit more powerful in a complex system like that of the art world. Furthermore the focused selection at DAMA helps collectors to focus their attention on just one artist per gallery, with less than 20 artists in total, also in my opinion it helps a novice collector to understand better the vision of an artist today.
Domenico oversees the selection of the artists, developing an exhibition project that is primarily made up of site-specific interventions.
Over the years, DAMA has changed in terms of production. The first year there were works that had been formerly exhibited elsewhere and that were showcased at DAMA for their strength and thanks to Domenico’s curatorial work, but things have gradually changed.

Domenico de Chirico: Yes, this year we have given a more experimental and site-specific edge to the exhibition. We wanted to create a contrast, featuring works that are usually conceived for very different types of spaces, those “white cube” exhibition spaces. From this year, the selection criteria has allowed us to bring together artworks created specifically for this context.

Mara Sartore: This year DAMA has arrived at its 3rd edition. What’s new for 2018? Tell us about Corte?

Giorgio Galotti: Year by year we are trying to satisfy the needs and requests from the galleries or from the visitors, so this year we’ve introduced some new features, three of which are important for the growth of DAMA. First is the support from Camera di Commercio di Torino that from next year will give us the availability of some of their beautiful rooms at Palazzo Birago, where we hosted the press conference this past Wednesday. The second is the support of a group of Italian Collectors named ‘Collection of Collections’, they will start a partnership with DAMA supporting the production of one artist’s book year by year.
The third is the introduction of ‘Corte’ as you mentioned. It is a new section dedicated to open air installations. Starting this year in the courtyard of Palazzo Saluzzo di Paesana with a project by Nick Oberthaler presented by Furiosa, a brand-new independent space based in Monte Carlo.

Mara Sartore:  Why DAMA? Can you explain the origin and meaning of this name?

Giorgio Galotti: The playful idea we had was to put aside the “court ladies”. Dama is the chessboard, whose free spots are metaphorically occupied by the participating galleries. Above all this name works internationally, and is easy to remember.

Domenico de Chirico: In addition, when the galleries are reconfirmed for the next edition- and this happens for a maximum of two years – there is a move typical to the game, the galleries shift from one room to another. The reconfirmation therefore also implies a location shift and metaphorically the gallery moves to a new square on the chessboard.

Mara Sartore: Can you introduce me to the concept behind this years’ “Live Programme”?

Martha Kirszenbaum: For this year’s Live Programme, I have invited four international artists whose practices of performance and film bear a strong interest in popular culture —notably music and dance, breaking the hierarchies between what is commonly named as “high” and “low” cultures, and bringing intimacy and notions of identities to the core of the exhibition space. Warsaw-based Alex Baczynski-Jenkins presents “Federico”, a minimal choreography of touch between two performers, a performance of desire in the smallest scale, that mobilises affect and sensuality, as a means for a queer archive of touch. Moroccan-born and Brooklyn-based Meriem Bennani’s film retrospective interlaces references to globalised popular culture with the vernacular and traditional representation of her native Moroccan culture and visual aesthetics that she captures with her iPhone. Finally Berlin-based performers Tobias Spichtig performs a selection of songs in the genre of the “standard,” with piano accompaniment by Theresa Patzschke, and including some classical baroque as well as Italian pop. Furthermore presenting time-based works, such as film and performances is always a challenge at an art fair where visitor’s attention span is very limited and focused on buying artworks. This is precisely what made me want to develop the programme!

Mara Sartore: I heard about a policy selection for galleries that is by invitation only, how does it work and how do you select no-profits?

Domenico de Chirico: Yes, the selection of the galleries and no-profits come about without an open call because we want to avoid a dispersion of time and energy considering the space we work in and as principal concept behind DAMA project. An open call would require a massive selection process, that’s why we thought the best choice was to make a selection in line with our curatorial concept. Usually the first step is to confirm only some of the galleries that participated in the previous edition to give a sense of continuity and to give the same galleries the possibility to continue a sort of itinerary within the whole project. Then, the selection proceeds by considering the validity of the solicited proposals, we also try to cover a vast geographical area. Regarding the no-profits, we are interested in rewarding those who, in our opinion, are able to structure projects that are on the same level as the participating galleries. The entire selection is based on meritocracy, and looks for valid and innovative yet possibly site-specific artistic proposals. We want to bring to DAMA works and artists that are not overestimated in the art market and among the Italian audience as we are not interested in following trends. We also try to bring freshness to DAMA, something stimulating and participatory and include galleries and artists that have not had the chance to exhibit yet. For Antenna Space in Shanghai, for example, DAMA was the first time the gallery had participated in a fair in Italy .

Mara Sartore: And how have collectors reacted over the last 3 years?

Giorgio Galotti: It is great to receive their positive feedback. They see DAMA as something intrinsic to them, where they do not have the “aggressive” trade fair context  imposed on them, where it seems that they have to buy at any cost. Here at DAMA they have time to talk, to focus on and to understand the work of a specific artist. This is made possible thanks to the limited number of participants, which this year reaches its maximum of 16 galleries, starting with 12 participations in 2016, then 14 in 2017. An increasing number is only due to the presence of the “Court” section, the space dedicated to outdoor works exhibited in the courtyards of other palazzo’s or public areas.

Mara Sartore: In 2013 you moved to Turin, leaving Rome. The art week in Turin is internationally renowned and a must see event in Italy, but it has been said that from the commercial point of view it is not very lucrative…

Giorgio Galotti: The major Italian collectors are located between Turin and Veneto. Milan, Naples and Palermo also play their part, but perhaps we must get rid of the thought that opening a gallery in a specific place implies a geographically local collecting public. I love dealing in this area because there are a few galleries, and this is of course an advantage. As for the city’s art scene, in Turin there is the most beautiful museum of contemporary art, Castello di Rivoli, two major Italian art foundations, and many non-profits organisations that rely on an international audience. The support of the sponsors is also excellent. So I am fully satisfied with the choice of having my gallery in Turin, and even if I spend my life mostly in Milan rather than in Turin, I would never move the gallery to Milan.

Mara Sartore: Regarding the participation fee, how is DAMA placed compared to other fairs?

Giorgio Galotti: Being a gallery owner I am well aware of the costs of participating in a fair. For this reason, we have quantified the expenses of the building’s rent and the general organisation costs and we have divided the costs with the participating galleries. The fee is half of what an emerging trade fair could cost, DAMA is absolutely affordable despite not being an open-call project. This allows us to ask the galleries to invest more on the production since their participation fee comes to about 1500 / 2000 euros.

Mara Sartore: Since DAMA’s inception, as a gallerist what has been the most rewarding of the success so far?

Giorgio Galotti:  I would say that the most important thing for us is having the opportunity to get in touch with people and the chance to build a proper dialogue with visitors, journalists, collectors, and we believe this is the approach that emerging fairs should have. This is why we do not want to categorise ourselves as a fair.

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