Francesco Vezzoli: Milan from an Artist’s Perspective

by Mara Sartore
March 6, 2017
Mara Sartore
Vezzoli Francesco

On the occasion of our Special Issue dedicated to miart and Milan Art and Design weeks, we interviewed artist Francesco Vezzoli. Living and working in Milan, the artist shares with us his perspective on the contemporary art scene of the city and guide us through its main cultural attractions. The artist has just presented his new exhibition with Fondazione Prada “TV70: Francesco Vezzoli guarda la Rai“, on view from May 9 until 24 September 2017.

Francesco Vezzoli’s work explores power of contemporary popular culture. By closely emulating formats of various media, such as advertising and film, he addresses ongoing preoccupations with the fundamental ambiguity of truth, the seductive power of language, and the instability of the human persona. These include a trailer for a remake of Gore Vidal’s “Caligula” (2005), starring Vidal himself, Helen Mirren, and Courtney Love; an advertising campaign directed by Roman Polanski for “Greed”, a fictitious perfume; and elaborate, site–specific performances inspired by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luigi Pirandello, and Salvador Dalí that have featured superstars like Catherine Deneuve, Cate Blanchett, and Lady Gaga. Though Vezzoli employs a diverse and varying array of media, needlepoint as remained a signature technique from the outset of his career. Initially emulating famous actors who practiced needlepoint on and off–screen—from Vicente Minelli to Joan Crawford, Cary Grant, and Greta Garbo—as time went on, it became a more profound and contemplative activity which he referred to as a world of feelings, crises, obsessions and depressions historically unified with the craft.

Mara Sartore: During the presentation of TV70 exhibition, one of the questions you were posed was “what does your artwork consist of” and your reply was: “it is the dialectic between the Prada Foundation and the Rai.” Could you explain what this means exactly?

Francesco Vezzoli: Behind this answer lies an ambitious attempt to get involved in some real politics, by comparing two realities that are structurally different and trying to ensure that one enriches the other. It’s obvious that the Prada Foundation and the Rai are two different entities. To get them to start talking has been and still is an ambitious undertaking. In addition, I find this matter more interesting than discussing the meaning of a work by a specific artist, as art historians do: I don’t make that my focus because I am neither a curator nor an art historian; rather, I define myself as a crazy visionary who wants to try to do new things.

M.S: I find it quite common now that many artists curate shows, do you think there is a crisis of the role of the curator or that it’s important to show a different, more personal point of view?

F.V: I believe that, in reality, it is the contrary, or rather, that the curator retains a lot of power, just like the art market does, to the disadvantage of the artist, who is crushed between these two entities.

M.S: Cinema has played a fundamental role in your artistic career. What does the relationship between cinema and art mean to you? Recently you said that you don’t feel like dealing with film divas anymore, but that you would rather deal with the ones in the art world like Yoko Ono or Marina Abramovic. A new star system has been created in the realm of contemporary art…

F.V: Yes, by now it is clear that a lot of artists, from a commercial point of view, are very successful and they often earn almost more than actors. There is an enormous financial system around art. Sadly, art and cinema tend to resemble each other in their reliance on this “never ending red carpet” atmosphere.

M.S: In a recent interview you declared that one of the greatest challenges for an artist is comparing oneself to history and here I return to the “TV70” show, for which I imagine you will have watched hours and hours of old archival material. What is the most radical change that you have seen between the Italy of the 1970s and the Italy of today?

F.V: I find that rather than being poor, our nation is depressed, a condition that isn’t always necessarily to economics. A strong feeling of discouragement is in the air, while in years that were objectively worse, there was optimism, a greater power of ideas. We certainly can’t say that this is the worst moment in Italy’s history, despite the media declaring this very idea almost every day. I don’t think that anybody can argue with me that 2017 is not the worst historical moment that Italy has seen. Without needing to return to the era of fascism, all it takes is to think about the civil war of the 1970s… there is no comparison, we had a separated nation, made up of violence, abductions, conflicting ideologies. But there was courage, there was energy. Today I find that, at times, this energy is somehow missing, without obviously meaning to disrespect anybody who is facing real financial hardship.

M.S: Do you think that the country’s situation is also reflected in Milan?

F.V: I’ll talk to you about Milan in my own way: I believe that Milan is one of the most interesting cities in the world, first of all because it is a metaphoric city. I mean to say that the best Italy that we have to offer is the Italy of fashion, of design, of creativeness and Milan is the city where Italy shows off her absolute values and where the industry of these values is forged. Young professionals come to study, to work and to show off their work in Milan. Milan is the only city that becomes a central hub in two specific times of the year: this happens during fashion week and during design week, when the creative industries attract professionals from all sectors to the city from all over the world. A city that lives solely on creative industries is really special, almost miraculous. In the last 20 years I have lived in a lot of cities, among them London, where I studied, Paris, New York, Los Angeles because I thought that these places could enrich me. In the past 3 or 4 years I have re-established myself here, because today I believe that Milan serves this purpose for me. I want to enrich myself by also studying my roots.

M.S: A personal note: are there some places in Milan where you like to go and that you would want to recommend?

F.V: I would recommend art spaces because in Milan, with a quick ride with uber, in a taxi, on a streetcar or by bike, you can see Museo del Novecento, Fondazione Prada, Hangar Bicocca, Fondazione Prada Osservatorio, Villa Necchi, Casa Boschi… Milan is still a livable city, it’s not just how many museums a city has that makes it special but also the distance between them. Today, with high speed trains, in a few hours it’s possible to visit the artistic treasures of Venice – Milan – Turin that far outnumber the museums in America.

M.S: A last personal suggestion to people visiting Milan, what should they absolutely not miss?

F.V: A visit to the roof of the Duomo.

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