João Laia: P420 has been active for more than eight years now. Can you tell me how the idea for the gallery developed, and why you decided to open a commercial space in such a fraught period as the economic crisis?
Alessandro Pasotti & Fabrizio Padovani: As you know, we don’t have artistic but scientific backgrounds. We are both engineers who graduated from Bologna University. We discovered contemporary art during our university years when we met, frequented exhibitions and art shows together, and started to collect books and catalogues, especially from the 1960s and 1970s, a period that we felt particularly drawn to. We went so far as to engage in retail activity around this material. From there, the step toward artworks was a short one, and within a few years we opened a gallery, without any experience or any help from anyone. We just followed our passion.
To tell the truth, we weren’t too concerned about the economic crisis. We were more than aware of the difficulties of that historic moment, but it was simply the right time for us; we had followed our path, and it was the correct moment to make the step. There are moments that just can’t be missed. With hindsight, I now realize we were lucky to establish our business during a crisis period, because it makes you cautious. You pay attention to everything and keep your expectations low.
JL: At the start you focused on historical figures, mostly from the 1960s to the 1980s, with conceptual strategies that had been less visible in recent years. Soon afterward, you began to represent younger artists, and now you lay claim to an eclectic group from various generations. Was this always the plan, or was it an organic progression?
AP & FP: When we opened, it was a time when people were starting to look back with a certain degree of curiosity, perceiving something in those decades that we had left behind a little too hastily and superficially, and which now needed to be understood better, reread, and perhaps displayed in a new way. Although almost immediately we included younger artists in our program, and our gallery was founded in 2010 with this intention in mind. In only a few years we displayed Dadamaino, Richard Nonas, Irma Blank, Paolo Icaro, Franco Vaccari, and Antonio Calderara, to name but a few. If I’m not wrong, Artissima was perhaps the first fair, back in 2010, to provide a section dedicated to what people were soon calling “rediscoveries.” Of course, that was Back to the Future, which we took part in with Peter Hutchinson (2011), Franco Vaccari (2012), and then various other faces in the years that followed. Today I believe it’s fairly clear that the program of our gallery is intergenerational, and we aim to maintain this balance. The addition of new artists depends on a great number of factors, but it’s entirely independent of their age.
JL: You often invite curators to develop projects in your gallery, especially independent curators. What do you think a curator can add to the program of a gallery?
AP & FP: We started to invite independent curators to propose and curate shows in 2013. Miriam Schoofs curated a solo show by Hanne Darboven; Simone Menegoi curated Lumpenfotografie; Davide Ferri has curated more than one show, as have Antonio Grulli, Chris Sharp, and Cecilia Canziani, to name but a few. You yourself recently curated Foreign Bodies, a two-person show with John Coplans and June Crespo. As you can see, we draw on curators of our own generation with as international a gaze as possible. We believe that for a commercial gallery, collaboration with curators is of great strategic importance. First of all, the curator offers a different point of view from our own, and so new angles on our program and the use of our space. No less important is a careful and undated gaze over the panorama of artists, and therefore a concrete opportunity to get to know new ones, and perhaps set up collaborative projects that go beyond the exhibition itself. Every time we have planned an exhibition together with a curator, we have managed to broaden our artistic horizons and knowledge.
JL: How do you view the development of Artissima over the last twenty-five years? How important was the fair for P420 on a national and international level, and what do you think are the main opportunities that the fair offers galleries, collectors, artists, curators, institutions, and the media?
AP & FP: Artissima undoubtedly remains the leading Italian art fair, the most important international showcase, with a strong drive toward the contemporary sphere yet without overlooking more historical aspects. For an Italian gallery, that is fundamental. In particular, I remember that at every edition of the fair, we have always met major new collectors, both from the national territory—there are very many of them—and beyond. It’s a fair characterized by its quality, and the attention and curiosity of the public, which are the results of a careful selection and management policy of both exhibitors and collectors. Artissima is the main event in Italy connecting galleries, collectors, curators, and institutions. It’s for anyone who wants to investigate, experience, and compare the latest tendencies. It’s an indispensable and solid mainstay in a world that is ever more virtual and social media–based.
Artissima has involved both Italian and international curators with the aim of creating sections within the fair with a precise format and a narrow focus. Over the last few years, new sections such as Back to the Future and Present Future have drawn careful scrutiny also from abroad. As far as P420 is concerned, Artissima was the first international fair to show interest in our program. It let us take part back in 2011, just a year after we opened. For us that meant achieving our first major objective. It’s easy to realize what a great advantage it gave us in terms of visibility in Italy, but I would also like to add its indispensable role in providing us with visibility among other international fairs, which we then had access to in the following years.
JL: Is there any particular story or episode concerning Artissima or Turin that sticks in your mind, and that you would like to share?
AP & FP: We still vividly remember the phone call we received in 2011 from the then-director Francesco Manacorda, who, intrigued by the first year of our program, invited us to possibly present a project at the newly founded Back to the Future section. Of course, that phone call was a strong signal for us that the path we had chosen might arouse interest, and it was an indispensable injection of trust for a new gallery in search of notoriety.