Are assistants that important to artists? Interview with Loredana Calvet

Are assistants that important to artists? Interview with Loredana Calvet

by Tiziano Tancredi

Portrait. Photo © Eleonora Cerri Pecorella

I had the pleasure of interviewing Loredana Calvet, assistant to the artist Gonzalo Borondo and EXecutive Public Organization and Supervisor of the Team” for Post-Ex, an artist-run space in Rome.

The interview was an opportunity to learn more about the human and professional awareness that Loredana has gained throughout her career: from the participatory public art project SANBA in San Basilio to why an assistant contributes to the well-being of the artist he or she works with; from the future of the artist-run space scene in the capital to the role of the curator in contemporary art, passing through the practice of art direction on a project level implemented by Borondo. But above all, a chance to discover her not-so-subtle passion for acronyms.

Dear Loredana, as it is tradition for this series of interviews for Street Levels Gallery, I am pleased to remind those who read us how we met. It was the year 2017 and at that time you were Andreco’s assistant. A few years earlier, I had learned about the SANBA project for the San Basilio neighborhood in Rome carried out by the cultural association Walls, of which you were a member. In hindsight, humanly and professionally, what is the greatest legacy of that project and the insights you gained from it? What are its critical points?

Dear Tiziano, Thank you for the question, which allows me to send my thoughts back to a very happy period in my life.

Speaking of SANBA specifically, it is very difficult for me to separate the human and work legacy, as they have gone hand in hand. Indeed, this participatory public art project in the neighborhood that raised me has allowed me to meet people from whom both professionally and humanly, I have been able to learn a lot.

The welcoming capacity on the part of the citizens of San Basilio, was something I was already familiar with, and with all the difficulties and vicissitudes of the case, this quality was not belied for SANBA either: both the WALLS team and all the artists/architects/craftsmen involved, were spoiled with coffee, lunches, daily chats. An intimate, familiar, homey atmosphere was created, such as in few other places on this planet could have been created.

After all, as Simone Pallotta explained to me when introducing me to the project, “The end is never the wall, the wall is only the means to get to the people.” And for him these were not just words, they were tangible facts, which took the form of afternoons at the intercom, under the lots, on the street under the walls, talking to people, explaining, listening, getting closer.

And with that I connect to the work legacy, because thanks to Simone Pallotta, I began to understand what a “curator” is (should be) about. Until then I did not have a clear understanding of that role, for me it was a frill, a more or less necessary intellectualistic decoration, and I say this with much sincerity, I happen to think so even today in some situations.

The elegance and intelligence with which Simone Pallotta, Giulia Ambrogi, Francesca Lacroce, Chiara Mariani and all the other members or participants of WALLS have entered the fabric of the neighborhood are ways of working and methodological lessons in the artistic field that, in my opinion, everyone should always keep in mind and, above all, put into practice, so as not to fall into mirror talk or sterility or, even worse, to lead contemporary art into a dead end that can only speak for itself.

Finally, I would like to say that this was my first experience as an artist assistant (thanks to the trust of dear Liqen). And that’s no small thing, because I’m still doing it, although now in a much less fun way than then, but definitely more conscious.

Dear Loredana, I would like to ask you a double question right away that goes deeper into what you just told me. As you can imagine, I’m equally interested in the two aspects into which I’m splitting the question, because I’m convinced that they have to do with a unified vision of supporting artists in the moment of creation, both intellectually and manually.

What should a curator look for in relation to an artist? Could it be said that the contribution to the support of the artist could be mainly, but not only, intellectual?

Which role, instead, does the assistant play in relation to an artist? Could it be said that the contribution to the support of the artist could be mainly, but not only, manual production?

For the avoidance of any misunderstanding, I would like to clarify that the hypotheses I have put forward are areas of artist support that I keep in mind in a theoretical discourse, which is useful to bring some order to the discourse without a hierarchy of importance of one over the other.

In a conversation with our mutual friend Roberto D’Onorio almost a year ago, you emphasized how diverse assistants are in the art world: The assistant can be an assistant to other artists, to a gallery, can be an exhibition designer. You said: “assistants are not the figures behind the scenes but THE wings, that is, the reason why the art world can be revealed” as you hypothesized a recognition for the professional figure of the assistant.

Given your long experience as an assistant, I wish you could make this thought of yours more explicit.

I don’t think the substantive difference of the work of the curator and that of the assistant can be summarized in the binomial “theory-practice”; in fact, I don’t exclude the possibility of a curator fixing a nail to the wall or washing a paintbrush as much as that of an assistant to propose new insights and reflections when necessary.

Instead, I think the point is the main focus of the two roles. The curator’s focus is on the success of a project; his or her gaze should therefore be able to harmoniously encapsulate and synthesize an idea, a space, an artist. From this comes a benefit on a human and a working level first of all to himself, then to the artist and to the place of intervention.

The assistant’s daily energies are spent in searching for ways of meeting, understanding, deepening the artist’s point of view, to lead him simultaneously to the “earth and to the moon,” also accompanying him in the choice of those projects, those curators, those gallerists, who can help a process of formation and constant growth. The goal is exclusively the welfare of the artist.

Plus, in the case of assistants there are no ulterior motives related to fame and glory, as is often the case with curators. I am extremely proud to be “the wings,” my satisfaction is the creation of a path on which the artist can stroll or run in complete freedom.

I speak only of the assistant to artists, because that is my personal experience, but everything I have written I believe can be generalized to any type of assistant.

In the course of many of our conversations over the years, the name of the artist Maurizio Mochetti (Rome, 1940), whose assistant you were at one point in your professional career, has surfaced with some recurrence.

I have always developed a strong curiosity for his figure as well as for the piece of road and life you did together. How did you get to know him? In what projects did you work alongside him? What was the greatest lesson you learned from being around him?

The connection with Maurizio Mochetti was Silvia Marsano, who in turn had been contacted by Sauro Radicchi because the artist was looking for an assistant, since his was leaving for a postgraduate course in London.

The most challenging projects he had going on when I started working for him were a call for proposals, a site-specific work for a collector, the preparation of the exhibition “It’s only a beginning. 1968 ” curated by Ester Coen at La Galleria Nazionale and various restorations, including that of Lotus&Lotus. In between, there was all the day-to-day business (studio arrangement and archives among my all-time favorite occupations!) and pending issues of various kinds. The greatest lesson is undoubtedly about his working method: what you start, you finish; you use tools that are as up-to-date as possible (he often says that Michelangelo used the chisel, because that was the highest technical/technological tool he had); you imagine with strength, decisiveness, freedom, and he does it so well that many of his projects were unfeasible at the time he thought of them (in the 1960s-70s) and only with today’s technologies, they might see the light.

And so many other little niceties, which were revealed both as we worked together and during lunches on the terrace of his studio, during which I would tartare him with all kinds of questions, because, I take it for granted, to hear art history from someone who has lived it, is really another level of learning!

Seamlessly from the past to the present. You are currently an assistant to Spanish artist Gonzalo Borondo.

While never interrupting with the passing of time, I have the impression that his artistic practice of producing murals in public space has, since 2017, gradually veered toward the creation of monumental experiential pathways, as also reported on the artist’s website. I was lucky enough to visit two of them in person: “Matière Noire,” an immense installation inside the Marseille flea market in 2017, and “Merci” inside du Temple des Chartrons in Bordeaux built in 1835, deconsecrated in the 1970s and reopened in 2019 for the occasion.

Do you consider my perception about this transition to be truthful? Taking Gonzalo as a yardstick, is it possible to think that the umbrella term/label of “street art” to which his research and that of artists close to him was juxtaposed, was eventually encompassed and “normalized” within the broader term of “contemporary art”?

To be really precise, my signature for Gonzalo reads “Building Organization and Research ON Daily Objectives”, a role that we struggled a lot to label and write using the artist’s last name, which is why I emphasize it, smiling.

A thought I have matured over the years, which borders on the trivial and I realize it, is that if one is an artist, he or she disregards the language he or she chooses to express his or her aesthetic and ethical thoughts. So, depending on the message and also, of course, the proposition that he is given, an artist can paint on a wall, on a canvas, in two, three, four dimensions, he can speak with videos, and so on. Probably if we focused a little more on this approach, we would have fewer “sects” and more quality in the artistic proposal.

Having written that and going into Gonzalo’s specific case, he started intervening on the street, because that was the environment he experienced the most. At fourteen years old, it is easier for one to deal with a wall or a subway car than a museum. His research and curiosity, however, have always gone beyond the wall, which is still used as a surface for goliardic and painterly experimentation. Hand in hand over time then, it has not changed his 360-degree love of art, nor his manic attention to detail and teamwork (he surrounds himself in each project with artists and craftsmen from all walks of life to help him translate what he thinks into reality), only the possibilities he has had for declining his being as an artist into all the rest of the possible forms, going beyond walls and having the opportunity to create immersive experiences. The next step will be to create these kinds of productions in order to make them permanent, without ever giving up what the urban space has taught him, which is the beauty of free and open fruition to a super diverse audience, which is able to read, through personal experience, every level that the work gives back… And that sometimes even Gonzalo himself had not pre-seen. So I would say that what has started to change is the perception and reading that the public (standard users, museum directors, gallerists, etc.) has towards Gonzalo Borondo. He only knows how to welcome the proposals that, in light of all that I have written and even more, give him the opportunity to play, study and still work his way as an artist (because he, without a doubt, is one).

At one time, I was convinced of the need for a kind of consistency of an artist’s research exclusively enclosed within a single technique. The painter makes the painter, the sculptor makes the sculptor, and so on. Over time, and also thanks to the line of research of the gallery I work for in Paris, I realized that instead the coherence of an artist, especially in the 21st century, can focus on certain formal and/or conceptual recurrences, transcending specific techniques.
Doesn’t it seem to you that from this point of view, Borondo’s authorial practice, given the body and complexity of some of his operations as well as his constant collaboration with other artists and artisans, can also be juxtaposed with that of an artistic director?

Given the need to coordinate a large number of people in order to create an organic and harmonious work that clearly reflects Borondo’s aesthetic, surely his role within large projects is also that of an artistic director, as we specify in the catalogs. Also because that level of precision in intent, that mania towards detail, or putting everything in its place to convey a specific message, are issues that Gonzalo would never be able to delegate, because they are closely related to his thinking, to his way of making art. And I’ll tell you more, sometimes he’s also a co-producer, because the business side of big productions is always very complex to handle, unfortunately.

Dear Loredana, besides being Borondo’s assistant, you also work within Post Ex, an artist-run space in Centocelle in Rome. Described in the 2021 book “REAL Rome, 8 spaces, 54 studios” by Damiana Leoni and outlined within the exhibition “Roma Materia Nova. New Generations” held at the Gallery of Modern Art in Rome from December 17 2021 to March 13, 2022 curated by Massimo Mininni, the capital’s artist-run space scene has been an undoubted moment of artistic effervescence for at least 2 years now, a veritable hothouse in full expansion.

Going from the particular to the universal, three fairly dense questions for you: what is your role within Post-Ex and what is its characterization compared to other artist-run spaces in Rome? What do you see as the successful and unsuccessful elements of the exhibition at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna? How do you see the present and future of Rome’s independent spaces and how would you compare it to, for example, the experience of the artist-run studios you were part of at Ex Dogana in San Lorenzo?

At Post Ex, I am the “EXecutive Public Organization and Supervisor of the Team”, another acronym I am very attached to, because it was created with Fabio Giorgi Alberti, an artist who had the studio with us for a few months. So I am in charge of managing the life of Post Ex as a studio in general, not individual artists.

I think the first glaring difference with other independent entities in Rome is the size: Post Ex counts on a full 1100 square metres! This allowed the artists to give birth to the second peculiarity, which is a studio used for temporary residencies. In what we call a “white cube,” because it is precisely a cube with white walls, we host both artists who need support to work in Rome on specific projects, and international residencies promoted by Post Ex, baptized with the name EX PRESSO (recalling both the name of the space and the brevity of the residency). It all fits in with Post Ex’s goals of growing and getting to know the Roman contemporary art scene… Which, I want to emphasize as an exquisitely personal comment, does indeed exist, albeit often hidden behind the complex mechanisms of habit behind which, for comfort and tranquility, we cling in all kinds of work circles.

As for the exhibition at Galleria D’Arte Moderna, the basic idea was, of course, a good one: to present Rome’s independent spaces in the form of an exhibition and to integrate them into the institutional fabric. Each entity has responded passionately, revealing its own way of working and producing a very interesting proposal on a conceptual and visual level.

Post Ex chose the aforementioned “white cube” studio precisely because it is one of its trademarks, around which a series of 15 mini-personal exhibitions were planned by each of Post Ex’s temporary or permanent residents.

So far, so good, as always, it is “in hyperuranium”.

Now let’s play an imagination game: think of 15 artists, all different in their artistic practice, all super precise and demanding, all in love with their work in contemporary art, who have to prepare solo shows lasting 5/6 days each, inside a Museum of Modern Art run by the City of Rome and Zètema. Yes, any organizational dynamic you can think of, I’m sure that”s correct, and adding a pinch of extra theatricality, given by myself being “in the middle”, you will have the objective reality of the facts.

However, the response of the audience was enthusiastic, everyone who came by expressed curiosity and appreciation. Most importantly -for me- the artists were satisfied and happy with both their work and the way their idea was restituted and received.

Regarding the present and future of independent spaces, let’s say that I feel like we are seeing again the dynamics of attention and involvement that were implemented for urban art. I think it is a moment of renaissance, also due to the socio-historical situation that has engulfed us in recent years, but I also think it is right and smart to seize this moment, because undoubtedly, like everything, it is only passing. My hope is that, as on some levels has happened for urban artists, this moment will leave in the fabric of Rome, nationally, and even in individual artists, some positive roots that can permeate and proliferate over time. Even if only this way of looking, of experimenting, of privileging the artist’s studio more than other art venues, of wanting to unhinge the city dynamics I mentioned earlier, would remain, it would be worth all that we are experiencing.

The only connection to my experience at Scalo San Lorenzo as a studio is that I got involved because of the same need, which is to have a studio of my own in exchange for help at the organizational level. Other than that none, but really none, of the dynamics are even remotely comparable, because the goals behind the birth of the two spaces are absolutely different. And the founders and main protagonists of the two stories are also certainly different. Although, as I have often confessed even at Post Ex, I do miss the San Lorenzo Factory a little bit, but my nostalgia is almost exclusively directed at the artists, because they are really all people with whom working is so pleasant!

My part of gratitude for this experience is undoubtedly there, because in every person as in every situation there is 5% of good and it is up to us to make it grow. From Scalo San Lorenzo I kept Gonzalo Borondo and also Post Ex, because the artist who called me there was Luca Grimaldi. My scouting upbringing has taught me to make the most of what you have, and in this case, I think I succeeded pretty well.

The author

Tiziano Tancredi

Tiziano Tancredi (Rome, 1989) is a contemporary art curator interested in the anthropological, sociological, and architectural relationships that visual arts establish with public space. He holds a bachelor's and master's degree in Art History from La Sapienza University of Rome. In 2014, he collaborated with Nuda Proprietà at the Rialto Sant'Ambrogio in Rome. He has curated numerous solo exhibitions (including Truth's Trasforma at the Horti Lamiani Gallery, Revolutionary Profiles with Giovanni Argan of the artist Leonardo Crudi, and ADR's Double U at the Parione9 gallery), written critical texts for catalogs, articles and reviews for contemporary art magazines, led seminars and lectures, conducted guided tours, and managed communication (press office and social media) in the museum, gallery, and festival settings. He is a co-founder of the Dialoghi Artistici collective, with whom he carried out the E-CRIT project, an informal online dialogue on contemporary art that involved 15 artists of different generations in three different seasons between 2021 and 2022. In 2021, he curated the Lupus in Muta project, a double mural by artist Lucamaleonte on the facade of the IC Borgoncini Duca "Via G. Manetti" and the "I Cuccioli di via Silveri" nursery school, both in Rome. Between 2021 and 2022, he worked as an assistant at the Galerie Valeria Cetraro in Paris. His first curated group exhibition, titled "The Personal is Political | The Political is Personal," featuring works by Collettivo FX, Federica Di Pietrantonio, Guerrilla Spam, and Verdiana Bove, took place at Fiera di Verona from February 21 to 24, 2023, on the occasion of the XXI National Congress of Spi-Cgil. Since 2021, he has been collaborating with the Street Levels Gallery in Florence, conducting a series of interviews with some of the most interesting personalities in the Italian and European urban art scene. He lives and works in Paris.

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