love is shining life is thriving in the good life
FRANCESCO VEZZOLI celebrates his remarkable career with The Trinity, three exhibitions opening in Rome, New York and LA offering an all-encompassing view of the Italian artist’s obsession with mysticism, celebrity and religion.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the MOCA in Los Angeles, Francesco Vezzoli directed Lady Gaga in a smoke-filled performance of her ballad Speechless featuring a butterfly-adorned, pink piano and most of the Bolshoi Ballet. When i-D invited him to produce a cover for The Pain and Pleasure Issue in April 2009, he stitched an original tapestry of Miuccia Prada - his perhaps most legendary to date. So it’s no wonder that this year, when Francesco Vezzoli was faced with the challenge of putting on a retrospective of his work, spanning over two decades, it’s no small undertaking. Opening at the MAXXI on the 29th of May, Galleria Vezzoli - the first of three exhibitions - will feature 90 works by the fabled artist, before The Church of Vezzoli, the second instalment of the retrospective lands at New York’s MoMA PS1 in the autumn. It’s followed by the final chapter, Cinema Vezzoli, at the MOCA in Los Angeles towards the end of 2013, retracing through the three cities Vezzoli’s personal journey in a career that saw a young Italian artist develop into a globally recognised art sensation. Born in the Italian town of Brescia in 1971, Vezzoli earned a BFA from Central Saint Martins in 1995 and soon began turning eyes on the London art scene with his novel take on embroidery. After returning to Italy, his pieces - which include tapestry, paint, sculpture, performance and film would eventually take him to America where Vezzoli’s thought-provoking work with entertainment and fashion manifested his position as an enfant terrible of modern art. In the media-crazed world we live in, infatuated with fame and fan culture, Vezzoli is the artist who makes us take a step back and consider our surroundings. Whether his images of wisdom are directed at the entertainment world, like his late-90s series of celebrities’ faces embroidered with bloody tears, or at the fashion industry, where he has expressed his social commentary in productions including a fake perfume launch with an accompanying fake commercial by Roman Polanski in 2009, starring Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams, Vezzoli continues to act as an eye-opener, offering new perspectives on the modern-day media circus. On the cusp of the global takeover that will be Vezzoli’s retrospectives, Nicholas Cullinan, the Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, spoke to the artist about his impressive catalogue of work, the three exhibitions, and the media’s power in modern society, which continues to inspire and motivate his art.
INTRODUCTION ANDERS CHRISTIAN MADSEN INTERVIEW NICHOLAS CULLINAN ARTWORK FRANCESCO VEZZOLI Francesco Vezzoli self portrait for i-D, 2013. 224 i-D THE TIME IS NOW ISSUE
Francesco: So, its 5pm in the afternoon… who will you be in this interview, Ruby Wax or Barbara Walters? Nicholas: Definitely Barbara Walters. In fact, I went to a film documentary last week about Richard Nixon and at the end of the screening Barbara Walters gave a talk about her encounters with Nixon. So I’ve seen her live, I’ve learnt from her, I know how to do it. F: Well then, I should be seated on a couch, dressed properly and well lit. N: I’m imagining you soft focused with a halo, good back lighting and bouffant hair. I’m going to ask you about your feelings and emotions. F: I think that’s exactly what a museum curator should be asking an artist like me for a magazine like i-D… so you can start. N: Excellent. So, the first thing I’d like to talk about is your new project. It might be good to begin with the different iterations of the exhibitions between Rome, LA and New York and how it manifests itself, changes and how the three venues relate. F: We recently found the perfect title, The Trinity, and it’s three - I would say - equivalent challenges. In the first step we are trying to take the futuristic spaces of Zaha Hadid at MAXXI and turn it into an 18th century gallery. The show is properly named Galleria Vezzoli, and we’ll fill it with all the old works and videos. We won’t have big screens or typical projections, but the videos will be played on plasmas that are being offered to the visitor by Canovian sculptures. So in order to match up with the challenge of turning Zaha
Hadid’s architecture into a place fit to host neoclassical sculptures, I thought of buying a church in the South of Italy and transporting it to the courtyard of MoMA PS1. There I can transform it into a religious structure that runs my little films. The third step will be to either take over one of the oldest cinemas in Los Angeles downtown, possibly the one founded by Mary Pickford for United Artists in the late 20s, or build something of a similar flavour within the boundaries of MOCA. So it’s the idea of Trinity and of my work being a triangulation between art, glamour and religion. N: It’s the perfect holy trinity for you. So this is essentially a mid career survey or retrospective? F: I know, it’s terrible… It’s mid-career, but not mid-life right?! N: Sorry, I didn’t mean that you are old… However, it is a major undertaking to look back at all of your work so far. In some way it’s a real retrospective but - as you always do in your work - your aim seems to be to transform each show into a mirror of the peculiarities of what surrounds you and where each exhibition manifests itself. So Rome is the identity of ancient palazzi, galleries and old master paintings. While LA is the tradition of Hollywood. Is that what you’re doing? Trying to turn the gaze from your own past to the present you are now in? F: Yes, I’m totally, utterly bored by the idea of a retrospective. But that’s totally natural because who wants to look back? This is not an intellectual thought. But it’s a necessity, especially for museums and curators. So I take it as an excuse to create new challenges. Your description, your analysis of it, is perfectly fitting. I’m looking at my past but I’m reframing it into my future, which is about the past, by the way. N: In a way, each guise of the exhibition is a new work. F: Yes, you’re hitting the right spot. My projects are a lot about the relationship with institutions. I never thought about it, Anna Mattirolo [the Director of MAXXI] wrote that in an essay for the catalogue: it’s always about how I’m relating to the place where I’m hosted and this time more than ever. In the past, for example, I looked at the Guggenheim Museum and thought, ‘this looks like an 18th century theatre, let’s make a play inside here,’ or I looked at the Gagosian Gallery in Rome and thought it would be a perfect perfume booth in a mega Barney’s store. So, for me it’s a lot about that. It’s basically how do I relate to power? My art is about that and when it comes to a show, it’s a question of how I relate to the power of the institution that is hosting me? N: Are you nervous about seeing all these things together? F: Frankly, the challenge of building the church, the cinema, the gallery… it’s such an undertaking, that it’s like a painkiller. It’s like building a new house. You check all the furniture and you think, ‘oh, I did buy a nice carpet and a nice couch and I’m going to keep them.’ But in the end you are concentrated on the new house, its spaces, the walls, and the contractors are a mess. So it’s fine. I manage not to think back too much and in all honesty the healthier aspect of that is I’m throwing everything behind my shoulders and I’m really looking forward to what’s going to be after this. N: The exhibitions will draw out certain themes that recur in your work. When you look at all of the work that you’re including, do you think there are threads through all of them or are they quite different projects? F: Most of the great art that I like, not all of it, but the ones that I love and admire deeply are all about power. So looking back I have realised that I have worked a lot on the relation with the power of institutions, but even more precisely the power of the media. I’ve come to the conclusion that if there’s anything to save in my work it is that. I’ve been studying the media and how they’ve influenced, how they’ve shaped, and how they’ve been the most meaningful power of the last 20, 30, maybe even 40 years. This strong conviction has functioned as a way to say, ‘ok, you’re done with that.’ i-D THE TIME IS NOW ISSUE 225