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It is time to put your ambitions aside and fight for Rome

October 30, 2018

The Macro museum (Rome’s dedicated contemporary art museum) has since September 30th been run by Giorgio de Finis, after a 5 year period with no appointed director. De Finis’s appointment has been controversial for two principle reasons. Firstly he was appointed by the 5 star movement governed council of Rome without an open call (in keeping with the policy whereby the mayor elects museum directors). Secondly, he is operating a completely open policy: anyone can show there. The art and news media have been openly hostile to him and the museum. Critic and curator Mike Watson responds here to the ‘Macro Asilo’s’ critics, among them Raffaele Gavarro and Massimiliano Tonelli, asking for unity against the far right.


Robert Pettena, Ignazio Giordano, Valeria Rugi, Francesca Sandroni,
Live Performance. Grotesque Games, photo by Robert Pettena, 2018


To the Macro’s critics:

I cannot be quiet longer. Having had experience as a critic and curator at the Macro in 2012, 2013 and 2018, and having written over 100 texts on Italian contemporary art for major publications, as well as having curated at several Italian galleries and foundations and at the Biennale di Venezia and Palermo Manifesta, I feel I need to weigh in on the debate around the Macro Asilo, not least as it is a useless distraction at a crucial time. So here is a response following Raffaele Gavarro’s Artribune text, ‘Il Macro Asilo e la politica italiana e romana’, the latest among many made by a group of critics and curators critical of the Macro.

I will write in English for clarity and as I no longer live in Italy. I am sure you will follow me fine. I of course can see why you (Tonelli, Gavarro, Vedevotto) and many others are criticising the Macro Asilo project, including the way in which Giorgio de Finis was chosen without an open call as director of Rome’s municipal museum. I know some among you have for years fought for an open call appointment of a new director. Though I disagree with you, both in your reasoning and methodological approach to politics within the art world. Let me firstly remind you that while the former director, Pietromarchi, was sympathetic to an open call for a new director which would take place some time during his tenure, he never actually set a date for that call. He also intended to run as a candidate in the open call. That is to say he intended to apply for his own job. And we can assume that a man who has gone from the Maxxi to the Macro and back to the Maxxi, and who has also curated the Italian pavilion of the biennale would have won his own open call, if he had not been ousted by Sindaco Marino’s giunta before it could take place. So the situation prior to De Finis was never really more likely to bring a genuinely open appointment.

Aside from this, let us be realistic about what an open call means in Italy, and perhaps in many countries. Open calls tend to favor people already in the art system, who are know to the panelists who judge the call. In Rome, where people tend to gain work positions through a nepotistic favour system, the idea of an open call is particularly naive. Though if any of you have a way of making a call genuinely open, I would be interested to hear it. Until then, lets be clear that the Maxxi’s open call, which resulted in the appointment of Hanru, has hardly made the Maxxi an open and democratic cultural center. Hanru has to answer to a number of permanent curators who no one appointed, and is now himself working alongside Pietromarchi… not a good situation for Italy’s national modern and contemporary art museum.

So if we really look at Italy and the recent history of appointments in Rome, the appointment of Giorgio de Finis is not in itself unusual, and in no way worse than what has passed before, not least as he is offering a space in which ANYONE CAN DO ANYTHING. As such his museum is really the most ‘open’ one can conceive of. You may have your doubts about this format, though what it effectively achieves is that it goes one step further than the open appointment of a director, by making the entire museum a tabula rasa. You are complaining about the lack of an open call, when the entire museum is now open.

Now hold that idea in mind, while I now consider the irresponsible charge that the Macro Asilo is a reflection of the political situation today, and more particularly (as Massimiliano Tonelli has reflected) of ‘populism’. Firstly, the term populism itself is very hard to define. In essence it means government for the people, or a politics designed to appeal to the masses. However, it has come to mean a form of right wing politics that plays on people’s fear. Whilst I can see how we could define the Macro Asilo as populist in the sense that it ‘is a museum for the people’, it is not in any sense populist in the right wing sense of a popular government that rules by exploiting people’s anxiety, and it is irresponsible to suggest that the Macro Asilo is in any way linked to this pernicious form of government. Similarly, while the Macro Asilo’s management may reflect some of the horizontalizing practices of the 5* movement, it does not reflect the racism of some of its political partners. Given this confusion, I think it is much more useful to see the Macro Asilo as historically inspired by the avant-gardes of the 20th century. It clearly follows in the line of Duchamp and Beuys… i.e. it takes one step further the democratisation of the arts such that anyone can make art from anything AND EXHIBIT IT. Now, I absolutely fail to see how such an approach can be compared to the political populism of Raggi or Di Maio or Salvini, because De Finis is offering a platform for everyone whereas the 5*-Lega coalition is dividing people. I would even go so far as to say that the Macro Asilo is the largest and most open presence opposed to Salvini’s hateful rhetoric that exists in Rome today.

Contrary to what Raffaele Gavarro states in his text Il Macro Asilo e la politica italiana e romana, the Macro precisely is assuming a ‘posizione critica di fronte al potere’ (which Gavarro calls for)… and not only to the current powers that govern Rome and Italy, but to POWER ITSELF, as it rejects hierarchy via its openness.

This brings me to my final point, which is that Rome and Italy now face a severe threat of a continued shift towards a politics of cruelty and exclusion, which has disturbing parallels with the government of Mussolini. You as educated arts professionals don’t need telling that his government, amongst other things, colluded with the Nazis in deporting Jews, gays and political dissidents to death camps. It is that same strand of politics which are confronting in its early form, and it is that which needs a response now from the art world. I would urge anyone of the left – and anyone from the right who opposes the inhumanity of Salvini and of historical fascism – to stop fighting over the directorship of the Macro and to accept the generosity of an open museum for all, so as to use the space to rethink Italy’s future, whatever your political background is.

You all need to focus your anger at the spacciatori, the mafia who profit from heroin, the racist policies of the current government, the corruption of public life, and the degradation of Rome. Instead you are attacking the man most well known for openness to foreigners in the Roman art world. And you are impeding a project that could give a voice to everyone. It is time to put your ambitions aside and fight for Rome.

Mike Watson

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 30, 2018 10:02 PM

    You’re asking for compromise and accommodation with a critic who invokes a Soros conspiracy to discredit an arts event?!!!!

    I have accepted to give a Lectio Magistralis at Asilo on December 1. And I don’t compromise with conspiracy theorists, fascists or racists, either inside the Museum or out.

    Get a spine, Watson.

  2. October 30, 2018 9:56 PM

    You are asking for understanding and compromise with a critic who invokes Soros conspiracy theories to discredit an art event?!!

    I accepted to give a Lectio Magistralis at Asilo on December 1. And I don’t compromise with conspiracy theorists, or fascists, or racists of any stripe or any aesthetic persuasion, inside the Museum or out.

    Get a spine, Watson.


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