A new gallery for contemporary art has opened in Via del Vantaggio in Rome. A street which was well-known for its galleries in the postwar period, when the artists of the so-called “Roman school” used to meet in the Bar Rosati in the nearby Piazza del Popolo. The new gallery is called Lira. A name that might sound very Italian, but actually behind it is an international gallerist: Viennese Emanuel Layr.
Layr anagrammed his name and opened his new gallery in October 2015 upon the invitation of a couple of very active Italian collectors, Ilaria and Flavio Ferri Bozzi, who are interested in creating a dialogue between the Roman and the international scene in this small but beautiful space that functions as a sort of “gate” to the city.
“When Ilaria and Flavio Ferri Bozzi told me about their idea, it was a fantastic coincidence because I was already thinking of opening a space in Italy, and in particular in Rome.” Emanuel Layr’s connection to Italy came about through his presence at art fairs such as Artissima in Turin and Miart in Milan. “In my experience Italian collectors are very knowledgeable and open to works whose form and content go behind the traditional work of art. They do not limit themselves to buying, but they also like to meet the artists and support them in their production.
There are active foundations promoted by collectors who run exhibition programs that go beyond just showing the owners’ collections. For example Fondazione Memmo of Fabiana Marenghi Vaselli Bond e Anna d’Amelio Carbone, Nomas Foundation of Raffaella and Stefano Sciarretta, and Fondazione Giuliani of Giovanni Giuliani. And there are also interesting magazines, such as Cura and Nero, which are not only great quality, but active in organizing events, as well. There is a special energy in Rome. The scene is intense and dynamic.”
The Eternal City is of course also a preferred destination for artists. “For every artist who deals with context, Rome represents something very strong. It is the exact contrary of the white cube: a concentrated environment filled with history and art. The opposite of austere.” For example Julien Bismuth, who will have a show at Lira Gallery in Spring coinciding with a performance at Villa Medici, combines his current investigations with an analysis of the historical context of Rome. Even if the artists shown at Lira Gallery are the same Emanuel Lays shows in Vienna, the projects are tailor-made for Rome. “You cannot ignore the context when you see Lisa Holzer’s examination of male representation,” Emanuel Layr explains. “In the case of Stano Filko and Kiki Kogelnik, two artists from the 1960s representing two different tendencies, I loved the idea of letting them clash especially in Rome.”
Bringing together disparate artists in a harmonious way is something very characteristic for Layr’s program. “I don’t want a mono-culture, but a group of various voices singing together. I don’t want repetitions, I like diversity.” Emanuel Layr began his career as a gallerist in Vienna in 2002 after running an alternative space together with friends from university for three years. “The model of the alternative space didn’t give me enough perspective in developing a program,” Emanuel Layr tells.
“I had the feeling that I needed to find a model where I could work for a longer period, and more closely with artists.” So Layr founded the gallery “Layr Wüstenhagen” together with Thomas Wüstenhagen, who left in 2011. Since then, new artists have entered the program, such as Lili Reynaud-Dewar, Philipp Timischl, Lisa Holzer and Benjamin Hirte. Today the program includes 15 artists, who often work together on collaborative projects and also curate exhibitions at the gallery. “One of the challenges of my work is to formulate both commonalities and oppositions,” Emanuel Layr says.
The space in Rome now gives Layr the opportunity to also discover Italian artists. “I’ve already seen some great projects. Roman galleries like Frutta, Monitor, and T293 have great programs. In Italian postwar art, from the 1950s to the 1980s, there is a lot to discover, as there is in contemporary art.”
But is Emanuel Layr’s Italian venture a temporary project, or are you here to stay? “My motivation is to show a commitment to this country, and I don’t think this will end abruptly. For now I want to keep it open. It may be something else, and it may be not just temporary.”