How Vincenzo de Bellis has Made miart a Mirror of Milan

The birthplace of PRADA, Versace, Futurism, Spatialism, and once the stomping ground of artists like Lucio Fontana and Enrico Castellani, Milan has a long, unshaken reign as the Italian capital of art and design. With the sprouting of artist-run, experimental art spaces (MARS, Le Dictateur, PAC), and being the historic milieu of iconic museums and architecture—the Duomo Cathedral, Sforza Castle, La Scala Theatre, Palazzo Reale, and Santa Maria delle Grazie (the convent home to Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper)—Milan unites a rich past with a burgeoning present. And few would argue against Vincenzo de Bellis, co-director and co-founder of Peep-Hole—one of the city’s most-hyped art centers—and artistic director of Milan’s modern and contemporary art fair, miart, being something of a ringleader in the local scene. Last year, lured by the potential to revitalize the then-18-year-old fair, de Bellis gave an international facelift to the once primarily Italian program, including a first iteration of design. “The fair should mirror what this city represents in the world,” he told Artsy this week, in advance of miart’s 19th run. To do so, he’s brought together emerging artists and 20th-century masters, joined forces with local institutions, and, together with Massimiliano Gioni, has curated a contemporary art project in the city’s iconic Neoclassical planetarium—think constellations and parallel universes via installations and projections. Our conversation with de Bellis follows:

Artsy: How did you approach miart 2014 curatorially?

Vincenzo de Bellis:miart has two faces: inside the fair and outside the fair, which are equally important. I started with the idea that miart is Milan and Milan is miart. The fair should mirror what this city represents in the world, which is a mix between modern and contemporary art, as well as design. I created four sections to develop these dialogues and show the best aspects of what Milan offers: EmergentConfluxObject, and THENnow. What I find extremely interesting is the chronological path in which the fair is shaped, moving from the super young galleries of the Emergent section through the Masters section, which shows masterworks from the 20th century.

Outside of the fair I decided to take the approach of defining a new institutional concept, which has always been my interest since I started Peep-Hole, the art center I also co-direct here in Milan. So I started from the idea that miart should become an institution for the city for three days, supporting and giving visibility to the other institutions in town. This is the reason why, for 2014, we created a daily program of events titled The Spring Awakening, which I strongly urge visitors to see. 

Artsy: Can you talk a bit about the solo shows by both historical artists and artists of younger generations—and why it is important to offer this spectrum?

VDB: First of all I should say that it is very fortunate to have the opportunity to present the full range of art from the recent past and from the present. I think it allows for super interesting readings of the panorama of art and design. In order to show the strong curatorial vision of this fair and the care that the whole team—which is composed of curators—put into the fair itself, we pushed as much as possible for the galleries to present strong projects that people could hardly see elsewhere. I think that fairs like miart should always do this; try to show things that others cannot, instead of trying to follow the projects of bigger art fairs. We all know how much Italian art from the past generations is under the spotlight now in terms of the market. In Milan, one can show great works by these artists, and we try to do it as much as we can.

Artsy: You mentioned that outside of the fair, miart also functions as an institution. Can you elaborate a bit on how it will do so?

VDB: Let’s start from one assumption: contemporary art fairs over the years have become events capable of bringing together many aspects of the contemporary art system and, in many cases, have managed to sum up its complexity in a synthesis not easily achieved—even in other institutional contexts. 

Milan’s lacking a real public institution dedicated to contemporary artistic production; this has been somehow mitigated in recent years by the presence of many private institutions that have replaced the public entities in the role of cultural producers. In this context, my presence as artistic director hinges on the decision of turning the fair into a collection of these private experiences in order to conceive a different format for a contemporary institution, given the recent contraction that is taking place in our country. 

Artsy: On that note, can you tell us a bit about Cine Dreams, the project you curated with Massimiliano Gioni, presented by Fondazione Nicola Trussardi?

VDB: The Fondazione Nicola Trussardi is known for its great program which creates temporary events [that allow a visitor] to rediscover hidden jewels of historical architecture, which are filled with new light through the energy and vision of contemporary art. Evolving from this concept, in 2013, miart invited the Fondazione to create a joint project, titled “Liberi tutti,” which was a miniature festival of live events at the Teatro Arsenale. For this upcoming edition, we will present Cine Dreams, a special contemporary art project with installations, multimedia projections, and sound and video works conceived especially for planetariums. The evenings from Friday, March 28th through Sunday, March 30th will be animated by the works of Stan VanDerBeek, Jeronimo Voss, and Katie Paterson, which have been adapted on this occasion for a gorgeous neoclassical building designed in the late ’20s by architect Piero Portaluppi. With its installations, multimedia projections, and sound and video works, Cine Dreams will be a miniature art festival that weaves tales of constellations and parallel universes, turning the planetarium into a place of discovery where different disciplines—optics, theater, computer science, literature, and more—flow together in a journey to find new possible worlds. 

Learn more about Cine Dreams

Explore miart 2014 on Artsy.