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A. Moret - Writer and Art Critic

"When in Rome" Interview with Pierpaolo Barzan- For Your Art (March 2011)

A. Moret interviews Italian art collector and founder of the DEPART Foundation Pierpaolo Barzan in Los Angeles to discuss When in Rome: Thirty Works of Art Between Then and Now. Opening April 20 the exhibition will take place at the Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles with support from the Hammer Museum, LAXART and ForYourArt.

A. Moret: As the founder of Altay Scientific you produce and distribute technologies that promote scientific learning in schools. What inspired the leap from science to contemporary art?

Pierpaolo Barzan: That happened just by chance. A friend of mine was a collector and introduced me to contemporary art. I always enjoyed going to museums and seeing art shows, but I never thought about actually owning a piece of art. So I started out as a collector and then I bought the first piece and I was hooked. My company manufactures vocational equipment, science equipment. By the way I was just in San Francisco for the NSTA, the National School Teachers Association, and so I have to do with equipment that in a way nurtures the next generation in science. I think that contemporary art has a very important role in our society because it basically keeps the idea of status of creativity in our country, and in a way true art and culture moves on to the next generation.

A.M.: How is contemporary art regarded in Italy?

P.B.: In Italy we do not invest in culture and education as well. My company only sells a limited amount of product in Italy and to other countries like the US or China or Europe. [Italy] does not invest in culture and even though that should probably be our main asset to attract tourist and investments. We have a fantastic heritage, but we are not able to shape the next generation, so we have stopped investing in art and education in the 70’s and 80s. And we do notice that we don’t have an art scene anymore. When I speak about contemporary art, I speak in a much broader way and we try to embrace the contemporary in general- art, design, architecture and in Italy we do not have a new wave of new architects, designers, and artists in general and this happens in science unfortunately. Unfortunately. We have a couple of Nobel prizes but that was some time ago. We had fantastic artists in the 50’s and 60’s and fantastic designers and architects at that time, but when this generation passed away we were not able to train and nurture the next generation so now we have a lag.

A.M.: Was this “lag” that you’re describing the motivation behind establishing DEPART?

P.B.: DEPART is a very small attempt to contribute to the creation of a creative discourse that can help shape the next generation of artists, designers, and architects. It’s a provocation more than anything I would say. We do not have the means of a much more comprehensive discourse in Italy, but we did some interesting exhibitions that had a very strong following. The name DEPART stands for “discussion, exhibition, productions” and that’s what we do. We organize exhibitions, we produce art through an artist in residency programs and we organize seminars to open a discussion about the status of contemporary art in Italy.

A.M.: The artists in the show work in many mediums. Do you feel that they will create a new wave of influence for contemporary artists in Italy and Los Angeles?

P.B.: It helps. Some of the artists are coming here to produce artworks so they will be exposed to what’s happening in LA and hopefully that will benefit their career and their practice and at the same time these artists can be seen and appreciated for what they are doing in Los Angeles.

A.M.: I’m interested in why you chose LA as the site for this project because I see Italy as the bedrock of civilization and honoring the past whereas LA is a fantasy world looking forward to an unclear future.

P.B.: First of all you made a good point, Italy is a bedrock of civilization, but what happened to Italy is what happened to Egypt. People go there to see pyramids and not to see what’s happening today. I think it’s very important for Italy to invest in the future and preserve and its heritage, we are not doing of this unfortunately.

A.M.: But you’re out to change that.

P.B.: Yeah. Well, ours is a small contribution but we were able to capture the attention of the Italian audience and the support of local institutions, for example this exhibition When in Rome is sponsored by the Provincial Government of Rome and for me it’s very promising that an Italian institution contributed to this project and really helped make it happen. That means that we have politicians in Italy that have a long-term vision, unfortunately very few, but the President of Provincial Government of Rome is the new face of Italian politics.

A.M.: La Provincia Di Roma has really played an integral role not only in executing When in Rome but in making DEPART a part of Italian culture.

P.B.: They started to support our activity from the very beginning and in the case of this project they really wanted us to organize this project to bring Italian artists outside of Italy. And going back to your question why Los Angeles– because Los Angeles, I think nowadays, is probably one of the most intriguing cities for contemporary art. Also there were a lot of show of young artists or more established Italian artists in New York, but very few Italian artists are exposed to Los Angeles. It’s important to bring this exhibition to LA than any other city in the US.