Conversation around Italian Style

In conversation:

Stefano Fossati, director ICI Hong Kong
Fabio Cavallucci, curator
Elisabetta Zerbinatti, assistant curator
Fabio Rossi, gallerist
Wiliam Figliola, gallerist

Elisabetta Zerbinatti: “Hello to everyone out there. Welcome to this conversation about the origin of the Italian Style project. Today I have the pleasure to introduce those who made it possible to start this inquiry into the very meaning of the Italian Style: Stefano Fossati, director of the Italian Cultural Institute in Hong Kong and creator of the project; Fabio Cavallucci, curator; Fabio Rossi and Wiliam Figliola, gallerists. I’m Elisabetta Zerbinatti and I’m the assistant curator of this project.

Now, I would like to start this whole conversation with the Director of the ICI, Stefano Fossati. It’s really interesting to understand and explore the origin of the commitment of the Italian Cultural Institute in Hong Kong that is based on supporting and promoting Italian contemporary art and design. Director Fossati, how did this collaboration start and what were the first steps?”

Stefano Fossati: “The Italian Cultural Institutes are offices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Their role is to promote Italian culture and cultural relations between both  the country where they operate and Italy. The cultural program of an Institute is made yearly following the guidelines of the Ministry and the Embassy, but each director has a certain degree of independence. And this independence gives the director of an institute the opportunity to adapt their program to the local cultural situation. 

And if you live in a city like HK there are lots of themes you can explore. Since my arrival at the end of 2019, I have had a chance to start collaborations with some of the most important cultural associations and Institutions here: the Hong Kong International Film Festival, Opera Hong Kong, HK Philharmonic orchestra, the RTHK, just to mention some of them. 

I also had the great opportunity to start a collaboration with three galleries run by Italians, which are also well known internationally and on the Hong Kong cultural scene: Rossi & Rossi, Novalis and Massimo De Carlo. So first of all I decided to support some of their exhibitions of Italian artists. But at the same time, I quite soon understood that the best way to approach the “right audience”, the audience we were looking for, were the art fairs.

So, last year we organized a booth at ‘Fine Art Asia’ that took place at the end of November (27-30/11/2020), and this year we planned a bigger event on contemporary art on the occasion of Art Basel HK. Our basic idea was to “use” the international exposure that those kinds of fairs have, to promote Italian art; in other words to encourage the private galleries to do more than what they usually would have done, supporting them financially. In brief, these ideas were at the origin of the present project.

EZ: “Now, I would like to discuss with Fabio Rossi and William Figliola, from your point of view, how the project started and how do you feel about the Institute’s support and contribution to the promotion of Italian art?”

Fabio Rossi: “So, I think that this collaboration really started with the arrival of Stefano Fossati here in Hong Kong and I’ve had the chance to follow his interest in promoting Italian art and design, leading to connecting with with the local community of Italian galleries based here in Hong Kong, and find ways to promote and to support what we’ve been doing here for a number of years. Therefore, I think that really the beginning was just some casual conversation, but with the intent of creating some solid support that would benefit the galleries. And it would also introduce the Hong Kong audience to artists and designers who they might not be particularly familiar with.”

William Figliola:“I must say that Fabio and Stefano started to work from the beginning of this project, I was involved later. I started my collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute for some exhibitions with Novalis Gallery and, later on, specifically last year, we ran this project in collaboration also with Rossi&Rossi Gallery at ‘Fine Art Asia’.

EZ:: “I would like to delve deeper into the Hong Kong situation. How do you think Italian art and design is perceived in Hong Kong? Because Fabio was saying that with this project he believes that we may also introduce some new artists and designers to the public…” 

FR:“I think at a certain level of the society Hong Kong people travel a lot, so they’ve been to Italy and they love it. Hence, there is a part of society which is already quite familiar with Italian art, culture and design. But of course, there is always room for a bigger audience. Consequently, from my point of view, these kinds of projects that take place throughout the year in different galleries, different events, like Fine Art Asia, Art Basel Hong Kong and then culminating next year in a bigger show, create great support and interest. Not just in a selected audience, but in the general audience as well. And I believe that having the support of the Institute is quite invaluable, because of course they can support us not just financially but they can also bring some added value in terms of reaching out to the social media and also different channels.”

WF: “I totally agree with you, Fabio. And I think that in the last two years the Italian Cultural Institute has been doing quite a good job as compared to before. Also, because this historical moment is quite difficult for everyone, so they are supporting us in communication and helping to promote young artists, young designers, and this is very important. From my point of view, in any case, art and design in Hong Kong is growing a lot, because more people have started to know and to understand our DNA better. Not only with art and design, but with music, literature, also because the Institute is doing quite a good job. In fact, it’s the first time that I’ve seen an institution working in this way. They are involved in music, movies, art, exhibitions, so I honestly think it’s quite interesting.”

EZ: “Then, I have a question for Fabio Cavallucci. Maybe you can tell us more about this Italian DNA William was mentioning, because you were appointed to curate these exhibitions: the one that will take place next year, but also the one in Art Basel. So, you were the one who proposed this theme about the Italian style, thus our DNA. How did you come up with this theme and what was the thought process that led you to suggest that?”

Fabio Cavallucci: “I’ve seen because of the present pandemic situation that has highly affected Italy since the beginning, there was a chance among the Western countries to turn this difficult situation into an important platform to speak again about Italy. And we have to admit that in the last few years Italy and Italian culture, art and style have been rather out of the spotlight.

EZ: “And why style? Why not discuss only art?”

FC: Well, first of all, my general idea is that art is not separate from other cultural fields; all of them, all cultural fields, are an expression of the same inner human creativity. Which of course is defined in many different languages, but it’s also a time in which all languages probably should be expressed as connected, as connected as never before.

Secondly, I think it is more interesting for everybody to speak not only about art, but to join art with other aspects of culture, like design and fashion, that we also have to admit are already more visible all around the world.”

EZ: “Of course, this is the starting-point, because we will be working on this theme the whole year. We will have many other conferences, interviews and also exhibitions that will be gathered together as well on this website. 

But, in order to start, I would like to know what you perceive as Italian style. Indeed it’s a very difficult concept, and very complex to define. But, do you think that there are some characteristics that are a common thread of the Italian style in many circumstances, from everyday life to pop culture, etcetera? And also, why do you think there is such a thing as an Italian style that may not be as defined as it is in other cultures?”

SF: “Very interesting question. Italian Style is of course an elusive concept and my personal objective is not to define it. I’m just trying to show what artists and designers from Italy can offer; their contributions. And possibly encourage them to work with their colleagues from Asia and collaborate with them in common projects.”

WF: “Italian style… Maybe, if we want we could trace its history back to the Renaissance. Everybody knows Italy. Everyone has been to or would like to visit Italy, and its magnificent cities like Venice, Florence, Rome. So I think our DNA and Italian style started from Michelangelo, Leonardo. Followed by the Art Nouveau and 1930, with art deco. Not to mention movies, Federico Fellini and so on. So, we do have a lot of points to discuss. And altogether, these points make that Italian style. And that just because we cannot display food otherwise…”

FR: “And wine!”

WF: “Yeah and wine! Exactly, all the world knows Italy for these reasons. And, also because I think that we have ‘our’ point of view. Our bond withthe environment, with our land is completely different compared to other places. Plus, our taste is unique. Even if we wear a simple jacket or just because we know how to choose one painting over the other. All these small details shape our DNA. It is in our instinct. So, the Italian style, as Elisabetta said, is a very big point and to describe it is not an easy task.”

FR: “I couldn’t agree more with you, William. The Italian style is in a sense a very diverse concept and in a way it reflects the diversity of our country. We are so diverse. And maybe that’s why we can recognise the beauty of things, because we see so many different aspects of it. It’s in fact almost the very diversity of Italy which makes it even more interesting somehow. And, on top of that for whatever reason we travel all over the world. Whether as explorers or just looking for jobs, somehow we have exported ourselves everywhere, whether it’s America, Australia, Asia. Therefore, we expose other countries to what Italy is about and what we are about. 

In fact, for example, if you travel to the US and if you go to almost any museum in America, from Toledo to Cleveland to New York, etc., every museum will have Italian art. And that creates that interest that continues and sustains itself. And of course, last but not least, fashion, movies, music, opera and visual arts as well as design, as William said, characterise our country. Hence, the Italian Style is a very interesting concept, but a very complex one as well. So, we will leave it up to Fabio Cavallucci who will surely be able to handle it well.”

FC: “I thank all of you for being so confident about my ability to deal with this concept. But frankly speaking I’m a very specific kind of curator: I try to deal with things that I don’t know, not things I know. So, when I started to think about Italian style, it’s because I don’t know what it is. And I hope that all the perspectives of this process will be very interesting, because there will be a long discussion on this website and many people will intervene. I hope you also intervene again. But still, I suppose that in the end we will probably not solve the problem. And at least at the moment, I cannot say exactly what it is. It’s something that is a feeling, an atmosphere, a behavior. We can only use general words to explain this concept. But I think it will be very difficult and probably wrong if we try to define and to make every part of this concept clear. At last, I hope it is an interesting field of discussion. Certainly not only for Italians, but also for people in Hong Kong and people from all around the world.”

EZ “All right! I thank you all for dedicating your time and for participating in this chat. We will be talking again very soon. Stay tuned!”