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Economy & Research

INTROPORTRAITS

A NEW IDEA OF AGENCY AS AN EXHIBITION SPACE in Taranto, GENERALI ITALIA S.p.A. + Ezia Mitolo: because investment is an art, definitely, contemporary - by Guglielmo Greco Piccolo – pics ©ourtesy Tablet Community – Ezia Mitolo – A. Raffaele Villani Transl

The city of Taranto surprises again, proposing avant-garde events without the involvement of any classical art gallery or exhibition space, especially when the venue is concerned with investments and in particular, insurance investments. The Agency of Generali S.p.A. Italy, located in the Ionic capital, already projects inside and outside of its premises the image of an institutional spirit and a commercial mission more extended than the simple proposal of a catalog of regular financial products and insurance, unlike many other competitors in national and international markets.

Generali Italy SpA a multinational giant, now present in 40 countries and it has launched an interesting initiative that is accessible to all (and this is not a small thing), breaking down that famous glossy barrier created by a certain élite that still wants the visual arts to be for a few but not for all the people. This accessibility is also expressed through the visions of the artist, Ezia Mitolo, Tarantinian by adoption but international in her vocation and expressive visual language. The inspiration for this initiative in Generali, Taranto, finds its precise identity and imaginative drive, in the person of Dr. Corrado Alessandro Morelli, whose first love is art, even before being the agency’s executive manager, to the extent of investing personally by buying one of the most representative pieces of the artistic career of Ezia Mitolo, a work that is currently still displayed in Generali’s headquarters, in XX September str., in Taranto.

This combination of visual art and of business that also aims to raises local human capital is both an innovative instrument of corporate image making and a model of international importance, especially since Ezia Mitolo, who boasts a distinguished resume, never loses the relationship between space-public-artworks, three fundamental elements that evolve in a particularly representative ‘integrated whole’. This is a marketing mix that integrates new forms of patronage, institutional communication and cultural event to refresh that now antiquated perception that today, in particular, appears totally anachronistic with business culture. This is a formidable game of ‘couples’ in which ,GENERAL ITALIAN S.p.A. and Ezia Mitolo, together with another creative duo: Angelo Raffaele Villani of Rossocontemporaneo (‘Another Me’ - MarTa Museum) and Cristina Principale (Exibart), have finally enabled a significant segment of the public to change their perception of ‘corporate culture’ into ‘corporate for culture’, without necessarily altering the original identity and mission of the main players of this exhibition.

What has been definitely fascinating has been the response from different groups of people attending, including journalists and visitors, of all ages and backgrounds, literally absorbed by the space and the works installed, not least, the interactive project ‘Let’s Interportray’, (shown as ‘Introportraits’ in the Edinburgh Art Festival in 2011 ), in which the participants experienced a direct connection with becoming an  artist themselves, or even ‘conscientious objectors’ with respect to what it means to create art and did so in an absolutely spontaneous and unconditional way. It is enough only to look, to reflect, and to listen to become an integral part of a full project that is much more than a simple commercial or cultural communication, in the more passive and less contemporary sense of its primary meaning. A well-known curator of art, during one of his lectures, projected onto a giant screen, two photos, side by side, of Albert Einstein and Andy Warhol and asked his audience: ‘In your opinion, which one of these two characters is the most creative?’

After having seen and participated in the closing event, including ‘Let’s Introportray’ in the Taranto headquarters of Generali, on that extraordinary evening of Friday, February the 3rd, we asked, more or less, the same question: how can it be possible for an enterprise, an extension of such a well known brand, to turn into a gallery, even if temporary, and to display an exhibition of an artist so unique and, in some way, complex such as as Ezia Mitolo (‘Quadrennial of Rome’, ‘Art&Maggio’, ‘Public Art Festival - EAF’, Edinburgh, ‘ItaliaModerna’ - Italian Cultural Institute Edinburgh - Italian General Consulate in Scotland and Northern Ireland) in collaboration with two communication and curating professionals such as: Angelo R. Villani and Cristina Principale, and to bring  vibrancy and creativity out of the huge audience present at the event? Is this the enterprise of the future, to project the same creative visions and communicative actions of those who operate, by definition, in the artistic and cultural scene of mass communication?

To discuss this we invited the main players of the event that is now ended after two months. Exclusively for Tablet.

 

1) Dr. Corrado Alessandro Morelli,  Thank you for being our guest. Today the old concept of running a business seems to be changed, especially for those who deal with investments in many nations as your group does. Why a contemporary art event so unique and usually seen as the  prerogative of art galleries or museums of contemporary art?

C. A. M. ‘I love art and, with Ezia, I developed the idea of an initiative to bring art into a new and unusual space, one that is not specifically dedicated to culture, enhanced by the intervention of the artist. I think the idea of giving life to this show was beautiful.

We have created such a beautiful combination between art that is also accessible to many agency clients and the working place itself, which is embellished and more stimulating just because of the presence of works, that can be admired from every corner of the same agency’.

2) ‘From the first moment you believed not only in the organizational partnership from the two curators’ side but also in the full participation of all the of Taranto agency’s employees, starting with the internal communications,  directed towards the audience who were truly intrigued but still extraneous to the initiative. What a kind of difficulties did you face in the active involvement of your company consultants?’

C. A. M. ‘The primary involvement was simple and straightforward, as a matter of all the novelties that can modify established habits and often boring routines. The idea that has moved us and that we shared with everyone has been twofold: on the one hand, to help the art to be shown outside the traditional and very often self-referential circuits and to introduce it into an environment where other activities, professional and human commitments are enacted, to meet a larger audience and to discover new worlds in a process of change and modernization; and, on the other hand, to transform working environments that are often cold and impersonal into places in which we can bring together the people who work there and the public to better understand the messages of the art’.

3) Our BigTeam members consist of experienced marketing and event communication professionals, very often used for institutional purposes and for corporate communication. They found the layout of your headquarter very similar to those of some international galleries of equal extension and structural characteristics. It is a pure coincidence, or actually, must, a company like yours absolutely have in its institutional catalog also other visions today?

C. A. M. ‘First of all, the original conception of the offices of an Insurance company has changed. Until now they were always "restricted" by the owners of condominium buildings in intermediate floors because they were conceived of as mere administrative and bureaucratic offices. Today the perspective is completely changed; Agencies must have commercial space that are large, visible and facing the road; places traditionally used as exhibition spaces. Having put these environments to commercial purposes but  having nothing to exhibit, from the material point of view, there came this precise idea: to create a mix between art and business, providing the local agency to artists, whom we really know, for the exhibition of their works’.

4) Why just Ezia Mitolo in this start-up between art and investments?

C. A. M. ‘The choice of Ezia was spontaneous and simple. First of all, Ezia and I we are very close in a great friendship and, then, I am an admirer of her creative approach, involving an  overlapping of several arts - sculpture, painting, drawing and images. The mode of expression used by Ezia needs open confrontations with the public and offering her the full spaces of my agency Generale Italy S.p.A. gave her this opportunity’.

5) What do you imagine is the future of Generali, Taranto, in the duality of, ‘business and culture’, in a field like yours in particular. Could you share with us some of your visions?

C. A. M. ‘I have, of course, a double vision. The strictly professional one, brings me to approach a very specific customer segment that, perhaps, until this very moment didn’t know that Generali Italy was professionally involved in specific insurance coverage, particularly dedicated to works of art for exhibitions (in fact we are, just in this area, the first insurers in Italy), the transport of works of art and the protection of private collections.

As regards the use of the agency’s space for events and artistic initiatives, the success of this initiative, in particular, inspires me to continue in the unconventional use of our working environment. We tend always to minimize or to complain about the good things in our city because we are still deficient in this or that. I can offer a space to artists that I could easily define as "independent" from the opportunism of those who want us to know their "position within the art system" (writers, painters, photographers, sculptors etc.) and I can have a showcase bringing, I repeat again, art into an unusual environment, which is exactly where people live and works’.

 

Ezia Mitolo is an artist who, in addition to her fascinating and international c.v., has a very strong training alongside characters such as Francesco Somaini, Nicola Carrino, Arnulf Rainer, not least, Karel Appel, Anish Kapoor and George Baselitz, to name just a few. And she has been reviewed in magazines and newspapers such as Flash Art, Artribune, Drome, Republic, Exibart and Juliet. Here she talks about her experience in sharing her artworks in a space that is very different from an art gallery.

 

1) Ezia, on behalf of Tablet community, thank you for being with us. The chemistry between you and the space of Generali in Taranto was born almost immediately, despite you being an old acquaintance with art galleries, national and international events, and festivals, in Italy and abroad. Why, in the end, you did decide to exhibit in a branded company space, albeit a very international one, such as Generali Italy, instead of in a usual art gallery?

E. M.   The reason for the choice and the chemistry was, initially, sentimental. My father, who passed away several years ago, worked for nearly two decades, at the headquarters of Generali Insurance in Taranto and, since then, that place has always represented for me an inexhaustible source of memories and affectionate feelings; then, the friendship with Corrado Morelli, a sincere lover of contemporary art and an admirer of my work (years before he even bought one of my works, exhibited here) and my high esteem for the way in which his Agency’s has reached its tenth anniversary here in Taranto. The brand, intended as a concept related to products, services and business was, frankly, the last thing I thought about. I always identified the winged Lion, holding the book/Gospel in its paws, primarily with the work of my father; that symbol was always familiar to me, that Lion that, like him, him was dedicated with passion, commitment and rigor to his profession. The brand is a name, representing a set of values, a symbol, a combination of elements through which products and services are identified. The Lion of the Generali and all that goes with it, has always given me a sense of ‘protection’. It may seem naive, but that is how I feel.  Anyway, as I generally love challenges and I almost always conceive my projects as  installations, the idea of  exhibiting in spaces not used to housing contemporary art, was also a very exciting and fun opportunity.

2) You very much love the audience, any audience, anywhere in the world. You have shown this in France, Italy and Scotland, where you have revived your works and interactive projects in which the public  becomes an essential part. Your audience, even when they meet you for the first time, undergoes a transformation to participate and communicate with you to produce new visions. Having never taken a brush or a piece of charcoal in their hands. they have fun with you, beyond language differences, to produce spontaneously extraordinary results. How important for an artist, any artist today, is the support of and dialogue with an audience?

E.M ‘I love the public because without them there would be no communication and exchange. And I speak of the active audience, one that you put into play and that is really reflexive  in front of a work of art and that asks questions, the audience that can metabolize and "bring in" a new experience. My first interactions date back to the early 2000s, when some of my installations began to "move", to come to life through an active participation of the viewer. At the  Rome Quadrennial in 2003 I introduced "The Sibilant Griffins", an installation of large sculptures in which the audience had to blow to hear their hissing, obtained with mechanical gimmicks and not by digital means. From there, I continued to need to carry out projects with the involvement of the public; a mix of creating sculptures, drawings, video installations that, through action, demanded an aesthetic/ emotional exchange between the participants and the work. The relationship with each other, through an interactive experience of aesthetic/emotional exchange, can reduce loneliness and isolation; and it can also shorten, in a shared spontaneous action of real contact/exchange, the distance that characterizes the complex and often alienating system in which currently we all move, beyond the false proximity offered by social networks etc.The participation, especially of the "layman", in this type of experience also raises awareness towards a more conscious reading of the communicative languages of contemporary art that are often difficult to understand without direct experience, without a "to do" closer to that of the artist. "Intraportraits", a sharing of subjectivity, is an on-going project started in 2009 which I will recreate at every favourable opportunity. It is a mobile project, changeable, and the result is always different and powerful. The project mainly takes the form of an installation of designs, named "Introritratti" in which I drew, starting from the impression of my mouth, (a place of communication, metaphorical dialogue with oneself, of psychic nourishment) my "intro-portrait ", or," portrait within, "inner portrait”, without overshooting the canons of representation. Then I thought it was such an intimate and profound work that I would like to share it with the community; thus was born ‘INTRORITRATTIAMOCI (LET’S INTERPORTRAY’)’, a bit of a tongue twister. And in fact, with a little lipstick smeared on their faces, a piece of charcoal in their hands and sharing such intimacies, "something" melts, to become "something else." When this happened and the public responded, numerous and willing to get involved, it left me full of adrenaline and poetry. The ten metres of drawings made during the interaction will also be permanently installed in the downstairs o of Generali. My trace of what remains. A great compliment.’

3) Our BigTeam much appreciate the excellent balance the between structural installation of works in different rooms of the Generali Italia Agency while respecting the image of the brand and, above all, the incredible range of all your works that are on show. It looks as though everything began at the same time and that everything, absolutely everything, was the result of a unique project which had already been conceived. How do you explain this?

E.M.    I received with great enthusiasm, together with Cristina Principale, curator of the exhibition, the proposal from Corrado Morelli to exhibit in the new office on the ground floor. This space has a very minimal and essential décor, setting distinctly challenging problems such as the hall of mirrors from the floor to the roof, the glass balustrade, or the high ceiling of the staircase. As we thought about the type of arrangement, we decided to make a "timely" move and to involve the volcanic Angelo Villani; then we started with the selection of the works, according to the accessibility and hospitality of the office spaces. The exhibition, is "told" in stages, "chapters" in fact, showing some of the essential steps of my poetic research, through some thirty works. This choice was dictated mostly by the desire to tell the story of my home town (mostly of my campaigns against the environmental disaster the city has faced over many years and of those people I know who are still committed to its enhancement, potential and beauty) through various stages of my artistic career, beginning in the late eighties and early nineties, and to show a more complete and comprehensive view of my research. The installations integrated harmoniously, almost naturally, into the spaces of the office and fitted as if they had been created as part of the structure.

Cristina Principale, historian and art critic, reviewer for ‘Exibart’ and curator, for some time already takes care of the work and the creative process of various artists, not least Ezia Mitolo, and has c;ose;u followed the exhibition at the Generali Italy agency inTaranto.

1) Dott.ssaPrincipale,  we are happy to see you in Tablet2.0. About the exposure for this event. The work of almost thirty years of an artist such as Ezia Mitolo would require a retrospective in a museum of contemporary art. How was it possible, with just a few of the artist’s pieces, to literally transform a business into a new container of events?

C. P. The project was born out of a spontaneous coming together of minds between myself and the owner of the Generali Agency and collector, dr. Morelli, who keeps in his office a large drawing on canvas signed by Ezia Mitolo in 2005. I was excited to share his interest in Ezia and even more impressed by his belief in the ability of art to permeate everyday life and to enrich it. He has quickly chosen to exceed the boundaries of a traditional view of museums and to install these works in the Agency with unusual effects, in order to bring the public to contemporary art even in communities where they are not looking for it! Where else could this be possible other than in an environment dedicated to work and business meetings?  Knowing closely the work of the artist, we distilled the show into as few as thirty pieces dating from 1997 to 2016, based on the "chapters" of her 30-year career.

2). If you had to define in a few words a body of work so wide ranging and varied as Ezia’s, what would you say?

C. P. ‘A study in constant progress, which possesses the power of metamorphosis as the exhibition in the Generali Agency demonstrates very well. ‘ ‘Ezia’s body of work always appears to me to feature at least two elements: the desire to touch the objects of the world – and this comes from an original vocation to sculpt, her first artistic medium– and the ability to always explicitly express to represent the soul of objects, that which is otherwise intangible. The power of the message lies in making visible emotional processes in which, on a closer look we find ourselves, universally; I believe that her work has the ability to transform the "here and now" into "anywhere, anytime".

3) An historian and art critic usually focuses in reviewing or, if you prefer, offering other visions of what could be the creative action of artists who are almost always exhibited in museums or art galleries or in fairs. Might not writing about an event held within an agency of investment and insurance products be risky for someone who does a job like yours?

 

C. P. ‘In this context, quite different from one dedicated to interiority, I have focussed on the dialogue with the city to reflect back to city the experiences of Ezia Mitolo as artist, and activist committed to the environmental cause in Taranto, and thus to deepen awareness of this aspect of her valuable work. This, indeed, is the task of a curator, who has the privilege to choose, organize and present through her eyes, in preparation for the meeting with the public. In ‘Generali for Art’ the accompanying text for visitors was a direct tool to illuminate the relationship with the expressiveness of the artist. In Taranto, where the importance of culture is evident in the very air we breathe, I believe that art can and should be everywhere!’

The architect Angelo Raffaele Villani, head of the communication and event promotion agency Rossocontemporaneo, has greatly contributed to the success of this team of partners, all very different yet tightly integrated together.

1) Thank you too, Angelo for your contribution to our magazine. Someone called you ‘last minute man’ after learning of the installation at the prestigious National Archaeological Museum, the ‘MarTa’ of Taranto where, with the cooperation of all the artists invited to participate in the event called’ Another Me’, video installations that had to be perfectly integrated among the existing spaces and collections. Now, with this recent event, installed in the office of Generali S.p.A. Italia, you have could indulge a little bit more of your time in the different stages of its realization. What have you particularly enjoyed with your involvement in this exhibition?

A. R. V. ‘Firstly thank you for the "last minute man", which could be true. This is what happened at MarTa with ‘Another Me’, but, frankly, I never imagined that I might deserve this "coveted recognition" from a foreign magazine. So, thank you very much (the interviewee laughs).

Regarding the beautiful exhibition organized at Generali S.p.A.’s main headquarters in Taranto, in which the Ionian artist, Ezia Mitolo, displays a long path of particularly creative visions and insights, I think there are different moments of interest for me in being among the main actors. Primarily, there was the decisive proximity to one of the most interesting artists of the Ionic and Apulian area, her boundless energy and her generosity towards a territory that is often arid and hostile towards everything new and exceptional with respect to the normal rules. Secondly, my interest in the artist’s creative development, that I always followed and appreciated for years; a progress that I often helped and promoted in recent years, since my return to Puglia. Then there is the pleasure (or duty, I would dare to say) of assisting and promoting the work of Ezia Mitolo and the pleasure of being part of an experimental but successful team, in a mix of positive synergy. Starting from the curator Cristina Principale, to Corrado Morelli, agent and representative of this historic insurance agency, and including the  volcanic artist Ezia Mitolo, this is  a real effective team, in which Rossocontemporaneo has had the pleasure to be included. And, last but not least, the desire to offer alternative places of beauty in this city; a mission from which Rossocontemporaneo, in the role of "cultural agitator" of the Ionian territory, together with partners, could not refrain from experiencing. A gamble that produced the desired result. Even now, at this very first exhibition and cultural event, the headquarters of GENERALI itself is an alternative site of beauty, in which it will be possible to develop a calendar of exhibitions and cultural entertainment, a fertile ground from which to raise the fortunes of this city which has many contradictions but, also, great potential. We enjoyed everything: from the idea of bringing art into an unusual place, the challenge of doing this in a particular territory that has always been the priority for our  cultural mission and, not least, the energy of everyone involved; a wonderful combination of know-how, confirmed by the public response and the large number of enthusiastic participants. The same has happened at the closing event, for example, where the artist Ezia Mitolo staged a perfect moment of interaction between contemporary art and the neophyte enthusiasm of many participants.

In fact, just this final moment of ‘INTRORITRATTIAMOCI (‘LET’S INTROPORTRAY’)’, stimulating the maximum involvement of the public, has become the flagship of the lyrical celebration of a project that is, in itself, already convincing.’

2) You are quite an expert in communications. How is really possible today to understand and transmit the communication of the work of any artist through an established brand such as Generali S.p.A. Italia, without confusing their characteristics? In short, how would you convince a company that today needs new patrons that it needs an event of art and artists? Many entrepreneurs and artists are still very skeptical about combinations like these, because it can raise some conflicts of interest. Is this wrong, perhaps?

A. R. V. ‘Among the several Rossocontemporaneo souls, communication has played a key role, over 15 years of collecting previous experience, and not all of them solely in Puglia. The marriage of art and culture and the business world is a fact, established over centuries. We remember the Italy of the City Councils, from the fifteenth century onwards, up to the houses of the Medici in Florence, or the Malatesta’s, the Este’s, the papacy, the Bourbons, others. Periods of cultural magnificence where patronage became a practice whereby nobles and clergy (the Lords of the time) competed, boasting the presence in court of known and promising artists, securing the most diverse art and cultural performances. The beauty of the arts then became a symbol of power and  status, of exclusivity. The production of beauty, as a necessary element of the celebration of strength, became the implicit message of social control.

Today we would say: marketing operations? Well: often yes. On the one hand we need to be surrounded by beauty and to enjoy it in the first person, on the other to propose it as a manifesto of status.

This practice of promoting art, very much alive in the past, today suffers from a general cultural and intellectual decline, even if important business entities (see the cases of Fendi in Rome Fontana di Trevi, the Della Valle Colosseum, Sanpaolo Foundation and others), however, promote major recovery, restoration and, in general, the protection and promotion of beauty.

Today, another type of contemporary art patronage, with more accessible thresholds, is played between professionals and small businesses. Now the same galleries are patrons, investing efforts on the promotion and dissemination of artists whose research is considered in line with its canons of interest and with the tastes of its customers.

Today the interests of  "market" itself is the engine needed to stimulate mutual cooperation. On one side the company, that needs to assert itself, to explore areas of visibility and new audience, as well, as making the its "noble" mission often a bit ‘too utilitarian’. On the other side, the artists, who are  trying to fit into a nonstandard channels unrelated to the classic circuit represented by fairs, galleries or and other places, gravitate around the institutionallised cultural sector. In this specific case, in our sector, we have an insurance agency which certainly puts the world of beauty in contact with a user who does not always accustomed to frequent visits of museums and galleries, and this is not always a due to a lack of personal interest. In this case, we have produced a contrary movement: it is not the user who moves to the Art, but it is the Art that comes into the user’s home. This practice is now more and more widespread. Items needed: vision of the actors in the organisational process; willingness to get (re) involved in different visual reading, a space in which an  office is transformed into multi-site scenario, where the comparison goes beyond utilitarianism of ‘service’. People experience a new involvement, vibrant, truly vital.’

About Gugliemo Greco Piccolo

Art director, corporate reviewer and cultural connector, for a number of years working in the field of corporate image, brand design and cultural communication events; cultural informer and visual art reviewer, particularly expert in the movements and the evolution of comic books as an art form with a strong social impact, over the last 30 years, in Europe and throughout the world; possesses an impressive private collection of regular series, graphic novels, special issues and cutting-edge comic magazines and American International. For Tablet 2.0 he is technical coordinator for the UK.

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