Diego Viapiana is an art gallerist www.nuovagalleriamorone.com who lives in Milan, Italy. I wanted to chat with him because, like me, he’s very passionate about art and travel. He has some very strong, yet right on target beliefs about art and world culture. Here’s our cool chat.
MICHAEL: Hey Diego. First of all, you're just like me. It looks like you travel around a lot and spend a lot of time visiting art fairs and museums and looking at art. I know why I do this, but why do you do it so much?
DIEGO: Hi Michael, I travel the world visiting museums, art fairs and artists' studios. It belongs in my life, especially my work. It helps to open your mind and horizons. I have always called myself a “gallerist,” not an art dealer. This way, I can learn about new realities and see the things in person, especially with works and artists I do not know. A direct relationship with the work becomes fundamental; it must move me, must tell me something. Only in this way can I make suggestions in the gallery that persuade me and that I feel are mine. I observe carefully all of the different languages, from painting to photography, from installations to specific projects. Of course, as well as visiting the fairs, I participate with the gallery in some of them.
MICHAEL: Do you come from an artistic family? When did you first become aware of art? Was it as a child?
DIEGO: No, I do not come from an art family. In my house, there was my brother who loved painting and I had an uncle who was a painter, but surely this did not affect my decisions in life. My first experience with art had taken place pretty early. I was a teenager and I was on a school trip to Assisi and Ravenna. I was delighted to see the frescoes by Giotto in the Basilica of Assisi and then enjoy the various mosaics in Ravenna. So I decided to take advanced studies in this area, but I was still a kid. Full consciousness and awareness of my future came after. The years at university formed me and I tried to go to see art - when I could - the works that I was studying.
I realized that the only way to learn about our history and the history of art was to live the artistic evidence left by time and by different authors. From this I understood that my life had to be linked to "Beauty,” what could be more beautiful than art?
MICHAEL: You know, almost everyone I know who is involved in the art world was exposed to art early as kids. It's like soccer. Many adult soccer professionals played soccer as kids. Do you know many people who found art later in life?
DIEGO: Honestly, I think people will sooner or later find their way. Personally I do not know anyone who works in the art world who did not have an early start. Many Italian galleries are family run. For generations, it’s a job that’s handed down, but especially a passion. Without this passion, you cannot carry on the work.
MICHAEL: What do you think about the art world and how it functions today? Blue chip art is in the stratosphere with regard to prices while many gifted, living artists are struggling.
DIEGO: Today the art world has really changed compared to fifty years ago. Today, I speak of the “system of art” more than the art world. In recent years, I think that artworks have become instruments of financial speculation. The art market is in the hands of merchants holding and placing on the market products for profit and the artist has also changed. He was once addicted to his job. Today, there are many examples in which the artist is seen as a “Superstar.” I think we have lost the human side of art. Art today is business. Collectors today believe a lot of the marketing trends. These values are at work at auctions - even for young artists. The curators carry on through the good and the bad weather (supported by personal business interests) in their questionable choices. In this time of global crisis, I hope and believe that art should go back to being a means of communication and sensitivity.
MICHAEL: It seems to me that we could change things a little if people weren't so brainwashed about art. So many people think art is only for the wealthy and therefore they link art to money. I think gallerists could make much more money if more people understood art.
DIEGO: Exactly. I agree with you. Even if the art market has always been something for the elite, it’s also for those who want to collect. I can tell you about the situation in Italy, which I know well, but unfortunately most people do not visit galleries. Often the greatest flow of people happens on the day of the openings. There are very few collectors who have the pleasure to know and talk with the artist. In my case, I always try to organize the gallery as a cultural center and only later as a commercial structure. In the past year, I organized together with the staff several book presentations and cultural events within the gallery. I gathering in my mind a quote from Jean Arp: "Art is a fruit that grows in man, like a fruit on a plant or a child in its mother's womb." I believe that in a world and a society in crisis, flattened by standardized mediocrity, art can be - metaphorically - an anchor of salvation for the human soul.
MICHAEL: I would love to be a gallerist, but it also seems exhausting and frustrating. You have to spend so much of your time teaching people about art, dealing with artists and their issues, paying gallery bills, selling art, etc. It seems like a LOT of work, no?
DIEGO: I believe that all the work done with passion and love are not tiring and frustrating. The day of the gallerist is always busy, I do not mean only to the practical work of the gallery. Commitments - especially economic - are many. The days are not always pleasant and full of success. In fact, there are many problems. In life, I have been taught, metaphorically, that in the morning you are a soldier and you get through the day to reach the rank of general. My greatest satisfaction is to do a job that’s a passion, but also to "feed" many people, including the staff of the gallery and the artists. The risks are many, but at the end, with dedication and love for the work, the results will come.
MICHAEL: Fantastic. That sounds great. That should change the perception that many artists have about galleries. Some artists think galleries only want to take advantage of them.
DIEGO: I do not behave like many gallery owners who rent their space to artists. I never rented the gallery to any artist who wants exposure. Usually I work in this way - we choose the artist or the exhibition to make and invest with a catalog and a strong promotion of it, because we believe in what we propose.
MICHAEL: I don't know how often you get to the U.S., but what do you think about America and how do you think Europeans are different from Americans?
DIEGO: I've been several times and tried to deepen the art market in the United States. I also collaborate with different dealers for the American market. I believe that every part of the world has a different art market.
While in many parts of the world, art is seen as a cultural object, the Italian problem is that art is synonymous with luxury. In America, as in other parts of Europe (just think of the English and German markets that have a privilege tax compared to taxes Italian) they are investing heavily in modern and contemporary art. The gaming of contemporary art was invented by Americans. You were the first to put contemporary art in your museums.
If you look at the results of the auction of the same Italian artist in three different markets, the prices are completely different because in Italy collectors prefer not to extend themselves so much for tax reasons, while London and New York auctions achieve results that would be impossible to achieve in Italy.
MICHAEL: I understand. How do you think Americans are different from Europeans as people? I do think Europeans are different, but I want to hear your thoughts first.
DIEGO: Of course, the mentality of Americans and Europeans is different. Europeans have a history of thousands of years. America is a relatively young country that has been "colonized" by culturally different populations. The American dream was to find opportunities in a new land. This is also true in the art world.
MICHAEL: Finally Diego, what are your goals for the future? Would you like to open art galleries around the world? Retire wealthy and travel? Curate for top art museums?
DIEGO: My future goal is to work well and launch my artists on the international art market. In the future, it would be interesting to open galleries in other parts of the world, but I’m Italian and I would like, first of all, to establish myself in my country.
MICHAEL: Cool Diego. I wish you the very best. Thanks for chatting. www.nuovagalleriamorone.com