Letizia Ragaglia is an Art Historian specialized in museology and contemporary art, curator of contemporary art projects and commissions. Since 3 years she holds the director role at Museion, Museum of Contemporary Art in Bolzano, for which she curated, among other things, the exhibitions of Monica Bonvicini, Isa Genzken, Carl Andre and VALIE EXPORT. And, unlike some might think, she manages to live in the digital divide and combine her favorite past times, doing sports and dancing, with the art world.
Could you please tell us something about your experience at Museion? Has it always been your dream to pursue a career in the art world?
When I was 10 the school took us to see an exhibition of Hundertwasser – a crazy Austrian artist, who painted houses with bright colors and who had developed a project of a house with a garden on the roof, where he spent time naked – a video in the exhibition showed how the garden was “fertilized” by the toilet of the house. I was so attracted by his “different” way of looking at everyday life and I decided that I would love to work with this kind of people. Obviously at that time I didn’t know what a curator was, because the word didn’t even exist in the late Seventies, but what I have always loved about my job is meeting artists who broaden my vision and open my mind in a new way every time. As a curator and now as a director, Museion has given me the chance to work closely with a lot of artists. We are a small museum, but this is a positive thing: we can take really good care of the people we invite to work with us and we often produce new works with the artists and buy them for our collection, which means that the collection bears witness to our history. I’m not interested in taking on shows that are a ready-made “package”, where you don’t have the chance to interact or develop a relationship with the artist.
Could you please tell us something about the Claire Fontaine Collective exhibition?
It’s the collective’s first exhibition in an Italian museum. The title M-A-C-CH-I-N-A-Z-I-O-N-I (machinations) references the machine metaphor that underpins capitalism with its relentless production/consumption cycle, but the show also reveals different aspects of the Collective’s work. I like Claire Fontaine particularly because as a collective and in all “her” work (the collective presents itself as a female “ready-made” artist) she combats the figure of the artist on a pedestal, drawing on a kind of “sacred” inspiration to create art. Claire Fontaine often quotes works of other artists she admires, with a twist. The show, for example, includes Wrestling Mat, a reference to the floor pieces of Carl Andre (the previous show at Museion) as well as a work called Lever, which also takes its name from the American artist’s piece comprising 137 identical bricks. The show’s “main draw” is a work featuring an outline of Italy made of thousands of match heads, an “inflammatory” material that highlights the country’s current instability, alluding to the catastrophe that always seems to be just round the corner.
Is “avant-garde” still a useful category when it comes to understanding contemporary art?
You can use it, why not – I still believe that an avant-garde exists, but in different terms. The people who were called avant-gardists in the past are the ones you can now find in the spaces between the clearly defined areas of the art system. There is positive, globalized acceptance of contemporary art, but this has unfortunately flattened contemporary art languages even despite the variety of media and the opportunities for artistic expression. Nevertheless there are still artists around who are capable of breaking new ground, giving you unexpected experiences in the most unexpected places and moments – this is what avant-garde means for me today.
What is a typical working day like for you? Any special perks?
Fortunately there is no such thing as a typical day for me. The only “typical” thing is that I don’t get up early, so I am rarely in the office before 9 in the morning. I almost always have something to do late at night – which for me is the time I find I can concentrate better, do my research work and write without being disturbed. If possible I try to physically “offset” my working commitments with sport or dance.
My days can be very different: full of meetings with different people in the team, to prepare shows, or discuss problems related to the curtains or climate control. Or I might spend the day with the artist or guest curator who is visiting us, sharing ideas and showing them the museum, the collection and also the local area. Out of the office I might be visiting an artist in Berlin, an art fair in Turin or a curator in China.
Are you interested in fashion? Do you think that fashion can be considered art?
I have no doubt that fashion can be considered art in many cases! Art is connected to society’s capacity for imagination, a widespread form of creativity that fashion is undoubtedly part of. I’m not a fashion victim, but I love catching the new collections in magazines and I could spend ages ogling shoes that catch my eye. I’m very interested in the work of young designers and I always find it very refreshing to do some window shopping to keep me up to date when I’m out of town.
What are your favorite fanzines – magazines – books?
I’m very traditional: I read artforum and Frieze, but I’m a fan of the Italian free press like Mousse and Kaleidoscope, even if the latter is a former free press. I love domus and I’m always happy when “Zeit” comes out on Thursdays, with its Feuilleton. I also read the Sunday culture supplements in Il Sole24Ore and Corriere della Sera.
Books: I couldn’t wait to read the third book of Haruki Murakami’s novel “IQ84” and now I’m trying to finish the last David Foster Wallace book, though for me Infinite Jest remains a masterpiece.
Do you think the most exciting developments in contemporary art today can be identified within any specific area?
Not at all. I think that you can encounter exciting contemporary art in the most unexpected places – there are no rules or specific areas. What I will say is that there are undefined, in-between areas, where you are not really aware of what’s going on and you realize slowly or only afterwards that something is happening or happened that changed you slightly – that’s my experience of art today.
What are your fave art venues/galleries in Italy? Why?
I love Rivoli Castle, because I think it is a really unique place with a great collection. I find always something interesting when I do a gallery tour in Milan, Turin, Rome or Naples, but the most interesting venues in Italy in my opinion are the incredible open air projects like Burri’s Cretto in Gibellina (Sicily) and some amazing private collections – like the park of the Gori Collection near Pistoia – that are accessible to the public, where you can find some real surprises!
Who’s the woman you’d like to see featured/interviewed here?
The artists goldiechiari.
File under: Interview