Eye on the Gallerist

An interview with Mario Peliti

by Ludovica ROSSI PURINI

Mario Peliti_photo by Alessandro Albert

Mario Peliti (Rome, 1958) is an architect by training, is an editor and communications consultant.

He was the director of the Galleria Minima Peliti Associati from 1995 to 2002, an exhibition space of only 23 square meters within the Palazzo Borghese, dedicated to art photography. In the span of seven years, the small gallery has shown 43 exhibitions presenting the photography of Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, Sebastião Salgado, Gabrile Basilico, Gianni Berengo Gardin, Mario Giacomelli, Mary Ellen Mark and Bert Stern, to name a few of the most famous. He created the “European Publishers Award for Photography,” a contest sponsored by six publishers (of Italy, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Spain), now in its 21st edition.

He oversaw the publication of an additional 100 volumes (see www.pelitiasocieatieditore.it), developing a rather thorough knowledge of contemporary Italian and European photography, and consequently a rapport with the most representative artists from the past decades. He created the Reportage – Altri Festival (for which he appointed Toni Capuozzo the director) and coordinated the 2009 and 2010 editions, taking on the additional responsibility of the exhibition program.

In 2013, along with Paola Stacchini Cavazza, he opened the Galleria del Cembalo, dedicated to photography and its relationship with other forms of artistic expression, also within the Palazzo Borghese. In 2006, he began a total photographic reconnaissance of Venice.

LRP: The great masters of Italian photography in this moment are very well-known abroad; what caused this phenomenon?

PELITI: Exclusively due to their talent. In my work I collaborate every day with collectors, gallery owners, publishers and curators of every country, and when something good suddenly appears, or an original idea floats through the air, we all breathe it in simultaneously and a common feeling emerges. When the talent is there, it emerges and establishes itself. LRP: Your optimistic consideration about the establishment of talent spontaneously leads to a question about the relationship between great Italian photographers and their home country of Italy.

PELITI: Extraordinarily, Italian artists emerge despite Italy. I love to say (but this is an old story that echoes that no prophet is respected in its own home) that an Italian becomes famous in Italy only if he was already famous abroad, specifically in France. Whether it be illustrator Mattotti or the photographers Giacomelli or Basilico or the architect Renzo Piano, we can only conclude that the reason for this phenomenon lies mainly in the fact that others pay more attention to what we create and those same Italian artists learned to sell themselves abroad, being certain of the inability to entrust their fate to public Italian institutions.

LRP: If instead we look at the next generation after these grand masters, what type of observations can we make?

PELITI: Even today’s generation of 40- and 50-year olds have chosen to go abroad to take the next steps down their career paths. Paolo Pellegrin and Alex Majoli, with the entry to Magnum, Luca Campigotto with his move to America and the same Paolo Ventura in America has brought out his most original work. The same discussion applies for the most interesting youth, take for example Beatrice Pediconi who has already presented her work in important museums and private institutions abroad.

LRP: What characterizes talent in the arts?

PELITI: In my opinion, the trait that distinguishes the artist is a true and real pain that drives him or her to express it in no other way but art. Campigotto calls this a defect and refers both to a sort of melancholy and a concealed and more profound artistic meaning. Clearly this intention can not immediately be recognized by external empathy but the artist cannot do anything but live it and express it. It is the duty of a good art dealer to understand and present the intentional meaning without ambiguity. Ambiguity in art never pays.

LRP: Public Italian institutions and art. How do you see the future of culture in a period characterized by continuous budget cuts?

PELITI: The situation is very serious and you can’t even accuse the State in a simple way because I realize that having sufficient funds required to fund the restoration of a Michelangelo drawing or to purchase a photographic collection is not even imaginable. I can at least stress, with specific reference to contemporary art, that the opening of new museums has confirmed the attitude of investing more in the home of the artwork rather than the art work it is intended to house. A museum can consist of collections in a physical space lacking personality, but a museum that is simply a building without a collection is simply a kunsthalle. This is because there is no doubt about the fundamental objective of conservation in a museum.

LRP: How does this relate specifically to photography museums?

PELITI: I am against the idea of a photography museum because it does nothing but put those who use the same medium together regardless of the artist’s intentions. For example, I would find it more logical that the work of an artist like Gabriele Basilico, being able to fit into various types of collections, would find itself inside a museum of contemporary art for some theme or in an archive of documentation of territory or in a museum of architecture for other reasons. But for it to be in the same photography museum alongside photos by Helmut Newton does not make any sense, given that the only reason for this choice would be just to put artists who work in the same medium together. I am not alone in this opinion; the Museum of Modern Art in New York has a photography department, and the Beaubourg Museum acquires photography in relation to the contemporary art collections exhibited in it.

LRP: Returning to the question of talented young photographers, is there still anyone in Italy who dedicates themselves to social photography?

PELITI: The problem is that social commentary is always the result of a condition of political passion that does not seem to exist in Italy today. Or rather there is, so to say, an intellectualization of political passion that lives with a photograph that, in the past years, has become more introspective and lacks a deep political idealism because our contemporary society provides fewer stimuli than before.To clarify this concept, an example is the recent work of two young photographers, Tommaso Bonaventura and Alessandro Imbriaco, which relates to the pervasiveness of the Mafia through images that do not directly detail the strength of the criminal association, but instead reconstruct its immanence in an indirect way that requires the caption to understand the meaning. The civil passion in this case is pushed to the maximum limit of conceptualization, but is no less strong than what was displayed in the extraordinary work of Letizia Battaglia, which exposed the mafia.

LRP: A few days ago I read an interview with visionary director Peter Greenway who claimed that being able to watch does not mean being able to see and that despite the overexposure of images our era has lost the ability to read and interpret them. Do you agree?

PELITI: It is very true that we analyze what the world has to offer less and less. I love to use the example of listening to music. Before, when it was not possible to reproduce a performance, the listener’s ear was trained to express their aesthetic judgement. This happens even today with images: we have an enormous amount of visual information but we know less about how to process them. I am an undisguised nihilist and I cannot disagree with Greenway.


Ludovica Rossi Purini is a Columnist for the Italian Journal