Generational Quadriennale, Roma 2016

There are certain events in nature that still need to be observed; actually, it is believed that 95% of our oceans remain unexplored and we have discovered only 10% of the living things on Earth. On the one hand human beings seem to privilege what they already know, on the other they like to discover new things and look ahead for impressive revelations. What I want to say with this introduction is that, if we accept this binary opposition, we might automatically lose the pleasures of discussion. Luckily, men – even when they don’t choose the path of their adventure –  take great pleasure in being able to say what they think. After all, we are not going to talk about “human needs,” we just want to chat about this 16th edition of Rome’s Quadriennale. In this case, speaking of human knowledge or science won’t be useful, nevertheless I am certain it would be fun to say something about the Italian art system. The title of the exhibition, Other Times, Other Myths, states the ambition of presenting the “new” Italian art scene. Eleven curators (selected via an open call); ten exhibitions; over a hundred-and-fifty artworks by almost a hundred Italian artists (ninety-nine, to be meticulous). “Too much,” said someone, “I don’t know,” I say. Yes, because quantity shouldn’t be an issue, should it? In my personal feeling it was actually nice to see artists – people I’ve been following for eight years now – having to relate with the biennalesque format. Anyhow, the following reflections won’t be about the artists; they will be marginally about the artists, though a dear friend of mine always says “you need an artist to make an exhibition” (actually, he is an artist and his words sound as a union’s statement). No! The following article will just reflect about the concept of cultural assets.


invernomuto, Quadriennale, Roma, 2016

Invernomuto, Black Ark, 2014, installation view. Photo: Giulio Boem


After eight years – the last edition was not four years ago but actually in 2008 – the Quadriennale comes back with a brand new formula. I have talked of the numbers, but numbers are not everything in life, quantitative data have to be read with a qualitative analysis. The outstanding deployment of resources – human resources – have to be looked at in more detail. And if at a first look the main goal of this last Quadriennale seems to be the proposition of something new, after a while a question rises in the mind of the analyst: new, but what’s new? The event has been promoted as a great opportunity for young artists and curators, a sort of aid to encourage a generational turnover and for the creation of new viable cultural resources. I feel to dissent about this strategy. First of all, because many of the artist invited had already taken part in Documenta and several biennials (Venice above all), and secondly because there is always something weird in giovanilismo (preference for youth culture).


Francesco Vezzoli, Quadriennale, Roma, 2016

Francesco Vezzoli, Metamorfosi (Self-Portrait As Apollo Killing Satyr Marsyas), 2015. Roman Imperial marble figure of a satyr playing the pipe (circa 1st century A.D. with 18th century restorations), polyurethane sculpture
2 parts: 112,1 cm (satyr); 220 cm (Apollo) Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano


The reader will forgive me if I’m jumping for a second to a kind of rhetoric closer to marketing than art. Let us assume a natural resource of amount X, someone would call it myth – in our case, X is one of the last Italian contemporary art myths (pick one, don’t be shy): Futurismo, Arte Povera, Transavanguardia, etc. – which must be entirely consumed in a given time. Since the period has a finite time, we can simplify, without any loss in generality, by assuming two periods: time I and time II (today and tomorrow). Let’s say we are in tomorrow, or time II, and we are running out of time and resources (X). Our reserve is disappearing because Italian myths have died, or because they lack of an affordable market, or because as any natural resource they are limited. What to do under these conditions? In a financial creative perspective, we will put aside myth X and create a myth Y. This new myth will also bring new time periods – let’s call them the day after tomorrow and the day after the day after tomorrow (time III and time IV). This way we would have a new amount of time again. Now, suppose to apply this mechanism to art, and suppose that who is applying this mechanism to art is an old, established institution. What we would obtain is an exhibition in the shape of an endorsement for a new generation. Pay attention, I’m not denying the logical and physiological generational turn, I have just tried to point out how this “logical and physiological turn” may have been used for other purposes: to use the natural extinction of X in order to launch Y. What I have described above could be named “generational exploitation.” This kind of exploitation is directly correlated with the number of assets – the more they are, the more they will be exploited. This is the reason why I don’t trust the myths and times of this Quadriennale.


Giulio Squillacciotti, Camilla Insom Archipelago, Quadriennale, Roma, 2016

Giulio Squillacciotti and Camilla Insom Archipelago. Spirits, Sounds and Zār Rituals in the Persian Gulf, Iran/Italia, 2016, still.
Film HD, Persian language, Italian subtitles, 60’. Courtesy of the artists


Curatorially speaking, the main project of the 16th Quadriennale is extremely weak. Eleven curators have built ten discourses without any dialog. Nevertheless, within this heterogeneous context the most successful exhibition is Orestiade italiana, curated by Simone Frangi. The exhibition is a great sign of the healthy state of (some) Italian art. Frangi has interpreted at best the task of curating an exhibition within a macro (empty) container. Instead of doing his “homework,” the curator has questioned the reason and the role of the Quadriennale within the Italian art scene. The exhibition picks up a great challenge of Italy’s contemporary society, by dealing with the representation and narration of a transnational and global idea of the country as well as of its inhabitants. For instance, Italy’s colonial past (almost ignored in Italy) is at the core of Alessandra Ferrini’s work Negotiating Amnesia, an interesting video essay based on the research conducted by the artist at the Alinari Archive in Florence. Orestiade italiana is able to talk about otherness and its suppression as perpetrated in Italy. The exhibition – well curated and well staged – follows a path that leads to the deconstruction of already acquired myths. Frangi has produced a sensible search on the Italian image in order to produce an alternative, pluralistic, incoherent portrait of the country.


Marinella Senatore, Quadriennale, Roma, 2016

Marinella Senatore, The School of Narrative Dance: Little Chaos #1, 2013
Courtesy of the artist


A number of shows addressed political questions, like Democracy in America, curated by Luigi Fassi. Or like Cyphoria – the exhibition curated by Domenico Quaranta – where the curatorial research is focused on an analytical view on a globalized world. This kind of exhibition fits in the category of “post-internet show” (have a look at the last Berlin Biennale above all). A few other exhibitions are quite interesting, like the one curated by Matteo Lucchetti, De Rerum Rurale, that underlines one of Italy’s emergencies nowadays, the use and consumption of land. Some works, like the one by Michelangelo Consani The One­ Straw Revolution (2015), show how today the capitalist system has turned soil and food into commodities, into objects of global speculation. Some others are just exhibitions, nothing more than cells in the bumbling Quadriennale’s organism.

16th Quadriennale, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, through January 8, 2017


Nico Angiuli, Quadriennale, Roma, 2016

Nico Angiuli, Tre Titoli: un film corale sulla Cerignola di ieri dentro quella di oggi, film e disegni, 2015-­2016
HD video installation, 32′ (stage photo). Courtesy of the artist


Quadriennale, Roma, 2016

Installation view of the Cyphoria exhibition at the 16th Quadriennale di Roma. Photo: Okno Studio. Courtesy Quadriennale di Roma

Discussion Un commento

  1. January 19, 2020 at 12:08 pm

    […] 35 See for instance Ludovico Pratesi, “Quadriennale ieri e oggi,” Artribune, October 26, 2016,; Michal Novotný, “16a Quadriennale d’Arte di Roma,” Flash Art, November 27, 2016,; Vincenzo Estremo, “Generational Quadriennale, Roma 2016,” Droste Effect Mag, November 4, 2016, […]

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by Vincenzo Estremo
in Focus on Europe

Wed Development by Digital Art Factory