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Installation view, Thomas Braida solo show at Monitor Studio, New York, fall 2014 (image courtesy the artist and Monitor, Rome, New York)

ROME — The best way to get to Monitor gallery is to avoid the crowded road that runs by it and venture instead into the maze of alleyways of the city center. Passing by the myriad of columns, Renaissance plazas, and Baroque churches, you’ll arrive at the immaculate space with almost a sense of relief.

Paola Capata inaugurated Monitor in 2003 with the aim of showing video art in Rome. Over the years the program has changed slightly, opening up to a wider range of media and turning the gallery into the cutting-edge space that it is today. In particular, Monitor has become a reference point for a group of young Italian artists including Francesco Arena and Nico Vascellari, whose works are starting to gain attention in the wider art world. But Monitor — which emphasizes curatorial endeavors and often features site-specific installations — also counts among its ranks the artists Ian Tweedy, Nathaniel Mellors, and Guido van den Werve, giving the space an international vibe.

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Installation view, ‘Nico Vascellari: Bus de la Lum’ (2011) at Monitor, Rome (photo by Massimo Valicchia, courtesy the artist and Monitor, Rome, New York)

“The eternal city” has a peculiar relationship with 21st-century art — its exceptional heritage often seems to overwhelm more recent artistic expressions. In 2010 the Zaha Hadid-designed MAXXI, the National Museum of the 21st Century Arts, opened its doors to the public, and while it might sound incredible that the most important Italian museum of contemporary art was inaugurated only four years ago, MAXXI’s late birth confirms the difficulties of presenting present-day art in Italy. Yet it also shows an increasing will to place the country and its capital on the map of the international art scene.

In the wake of the museum’s opening and the feeling of excitement it generated, a considerable number of new art galleries opened in the capital. The financial crisis caused most of them to close in the following months.

In spite of difficult times, Monitor has kept on bringing fresh air to the Roman cultural scene. In part this has meant looking for new opportunities outside national boundaries, and in January 2014 Capata opened a temporary space in New York, where she’s presenting Slide Show, a series of solo shows with the aim of promoting some of the gallery’s artists. I visited with Capata to talk about her gallery, the Roman art scene, and her experience in New York.

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Francesco Dama: Ciao Paola! Let’s start from the beginning. You were 29 when you opened Monitor, which at the time was an innovative concept and didn’t quite look like a regular gallery …

Paola Capata: Things have changed during the past 11 years — thank God — and Monitor was of course part of the change. The gallery has kept its cutting-edge identity, which is still pretty strong. I decided to keep this feature, despite the difficulties you face when you are the only gallery in a city trying to raise and support young personalities. I truly believe this is still the most interesting part of the job.

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Paola Capata (photo courtesy Paola Capata) (click to enlarge)

FD: You once you said that the works you exhibit require a “curatorial web.” What does that mean, and how do you put this into practice?

PC: We favor curatorial practice, and we always exhibit projects that are decisive to the artist’s career. After 11 years of activity I can tell that some of the best works by the artists we represent were shown for the first time in our space. In the past we collaborated with curators such as Luca Lo Pinto [curator at Kunsthalle Wien], who introduced us to the work of artist Alexandre Singh; Ilaria Gianni [curator at Nomas Foundation, Rome], and the London-based artist collective Form Content. We worked together on projects with strong content, promoting artists including Nina Beier, David Maljkovic, Simon Dybbroe Møller, and Stefan Brüggemann.

FD: How do you balance the curatorial emphasis with the market demand?

PC: Well, I mostly like to work with very strong personalities, and when I meet an artist, I like to think about long-term development of his/her work. All the artists I’ve decided to work with have shown me a really strong belief in their work and practice. The artistic vision is more important than the market. The market is functional, in order to raise and keep the “vision.”

FD: I often come across articles in Italian blogs and magazines inquiring about the “state of contemporary art” in Italy. If you overlook the expression, which doesn’t mean much by itself, the implication is that contemporary art in Italy is struggling. I personally see the Italian art scene as deeply contradictory, if not schizophrenic (an observation that seems to apply to many other aspects of the country as well). On the one hand, you have talented artists, some lively publishing houses, and international events such as the Venice Biennale; on the other there’s heavy taxation, a poor and leaky system of state funds, and the general impression of immobility. What does leading a contemporary art gallery in Italy mean today?

PC: You are totally right — it means all of those troubles, and I think the artists’ vision mirrors the reality of the time. Unfortunately, despite some rare cases, Italian institutions do not support their artists. I wish I could say this attitude is due to the difficult situation we live in, but it isn’t. This is a phenomenon that started ages ago: we simply don’t trust ourselves. On the other hand, of course we have great artists. The international market is now recognizing Italian artists who were not taken into consideration in the past — not even in our country — but we are talking about artists active in the ’60s and ’70s. In the younger generation, there are a few artists (still in their late 30s or early 40s) who have developed a strong and coherent project, despite the total absence of support from institutions and the public. The extreme variety of their works may not be the strongest for the market, but unpredictability is the most powerful resource we have and we should really play a lot with it.

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Installation view, Alexandre Singh, ‘Assembly Instructions The Pledge’ (2011) at Monitor, Rome (photo by Massimo Valicchia, courtesy the artist, Sprueth Magers, Berlin and London; Art Concept, Paris; Metro Pictures, New York; Monitor Gallery, Rome, New York)

FD: Let’s talk about your decision to open a temporary space in New York. Why there?

PC: I chose New York because Monitor has always met with a good response in the North American market. Several artists from the gallery have been selected for exhibitions and events in the city (Performa has hosted us more than once). New York is a vibrant and fast-paced city with a great potential. It’s still the best place to meet artists from all over the world.

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Francesco Dama

Francesco Dama is a freelance art writer based in Rome, Italy. He regularly writes for several print and online publications, and wastes most of his time on Instagram.