Interview with Marco Altavilla and Paola Guadagnino
In a time when galleries tend to be global enterprises, Rome-based gallery T293 still finds its potential and identity in their locale. Rather than running from one fair to the other, Marco Altavilla and Paola Guadagnino aim to create a sort of private ‘Kunsthalle’, a place of cultural production in open dialogue with the public and with other disciplines.
How and when was the gallery born?
T293 had its first phase of activity between 2001 and 2006 as an independent gallery in a small space in the heart of the historic center of Naples. In the first few years, the synchronicity of the location and the artists produced incredible results and generated unique experiments.
Who are the founders? What is your background?
The space was founded by Paola Guadagnino as an artistic research laboratory based on the example of certain international realities. The art studies, combined with a continuous social commitment, characterizes Paola’s training, while I attended DAMS – Drama, Art and Music Studies at the University of Bologna and worked as a critic until 2006, when, together, we decided to transform T293 into a commercial gallery.
Where does the name come from?
From Via Tribunali 293, the civic number of a venerable Neapolitan building, the result of a centuries-old stratification, near the apse of San Lorenzo Maggiore. In 2002 the space had a pioneering aspect, being the only place dedicated to contemporary art in the historic center.
From Naples to Rome, can you tell us about the passage?
Naples was initially an extraordinary resource, especially for artists. The gallery grew and received international recognition for its outsider and contentious character. The city satisfied our desire for humanity and resistance, as we measured ourselves against the scarcity of available resources. The need for change and an opportunity for growth led us to Rome, where, after a period of adjustment, we are rediscovering the initial spirit.
What kind of spaces has the gallery occupied?
The small space in Naples had a huge personality and we hoped to find in Rome something that could have the same unconventional force. So after moving twice from 2010 to 2015 the gallery currently occupies a former metal depot in Trastevere, a very large space dominated by a large exposed beams, a hard and severe presence, which gives the space a very strong character. Initially conceived as a single exhibition space, it is now divided into various rooms, which allow greater flexibility of use.
What was the first exhibition of the gallery and why did you choose to open with that artist?
The exhibition of Lorenzo Scotto di Luzio in 2001 was the inaugural event that catapulted Paola, then twenty, into the art world. Lorenzo had the patience to share this unusual debut and, as in a ready-made operation, he transformed a small apartment in the historic center into an exhibition space. A rather precarious start, but suitable to satisfy a need to do something new and vital.
How has the group of artists you represent evolved? Who were the first artists and who were added later?
Since the beginning we have had great collaborations with amazing artists like Claire Fontaine, Patrizio Di Massimo, Simon Denny and many others. We are interested in their determination to carry out an ambitious discourse aimed at reflecting the contradictions and imbalances of a tormented reality. The group has evolved a lot over time, but all the changes that have affected the list of artists have been from an impulse for growth and a impetus for new research. The new programming represents for us the opportunity to add new phases in the collaboration with artists already on the list and at the same time to present the first solo shows in Italy of promising artists like the American painters Joshua Miller and Trey Abdella, the young Taiwanese talent Hao Ni and the extraordinary Lito Kattou, a Cyprian artist based in Athens. In June, we will show Tendai Mupita, an artist from Zimbabwe, with whom we will open a new exciting research chapter on the African scene.
What is the common thread that unites your artists?
We are interested in artists who succeed in capturing and isolating moments, abstracting them from the flow of the present, building powerful images that are always new, in progress, in speed. Their languages are not necessarily similar indeed complexity and contrast is what makes the program interesting, moving. For us, dealing with the program is almost like managing a living organism.
A happy moment and a difficult moment that you remember in your work as a gallery owner?
In this work the moments alternate rapidly and usually correspond to the conclusion of collaborations and to the birth of new relationships that, a bit like loves, are bearers of joy but also include disappointments.
What are the challenges for a gallery today?
There are two ways of running galleries, now it is clear: a hyper-structured and elephant-like slope and a more measured one that is still very attentive to quality. The challenge is to launch artists outside of a brand and make their thoughts circulate, to reactivate attention and interest regardless of the market. We like to think of the metaphor of the Neapolitan Sartoria. We prefer to move with the sensitivity of the tailor who sews the artists’ exhibitions, communication and even dialogue with collectors. We would like to bring back the spirit of the curious collector who looks to the future and to a cultural investment, a bit like it was until around 2010.
How can a gallery renew itself today? How do the strategies change?
For years we have been thinking about the future of the gallery in distant places. Now we have rediscovered a potential in our identity and in the place where we live and work. Where we are now can bring what interests us and this is a way of imagining the future we like. More than changing strategy, it is a matter of returning to our origins. And returning to our origins also means returning to a spirit that marked our training phase during the 1990s, thinking of the gallery as a sort of private ‘Kunsthalle’, as a place of cultural production in open dialogue with the public and with other disciplines. To mediate the comparison between historical and research, discovery and rediscovery we have created the project ‘Also on View’, which consists of programming moments that dialogue with design, music, art history and publishing.
Who is an artist from the past who you would like to invite to dinner?
We would like to invite all the artists of the past, but not in a starred restaurant, perhaps for a simple pizza.
If you had not become gallery owners, what would you have done?
We honestly don’t know, it’s hard to think of another job that can make such a life of beauty.