The Gallerist: An Interview with Martina Simeti
Martina Simeti is not afraid to defy convention. Raised in a family of artists, she’s always forged her own way—be it as a UN project manager or running a bookshop in Rome. In 2018, she opened her eponymous gallery in a former silversmith shop in Milan’s Via Tortona neighborhood, focusing on the exciting intermix of conceptual and applied art and happily blurring the lines between disciplines. We spoke with Simeti about the inspiration behind her inventive boundary-blurring program, and her future plans.
Was there a particular object or experience that first sparked your fascination with art and/or design?
As a teen, I was at my friend Tantra Mosconi’s place when I fell from a Bruno Munari Abitacolo. It was a piece of art—oh sorry, of design—but as a bed it was not so stable. It must have made me think about art versus function. Only the consequences came much later.
What inspired you to open your gallery?
I had ideas in mind that I did not know how to combine; then suddenly I started having visions of shows. I can be impulsive, and it's all been very spontaneous. The only thing I knew is that I would create something I hadn’t seen before.
For those less familiar, please explain your approach.
We focus on the intersection between conceptual and applied art, with projects in which art dialogues and merges with elements that touch the body, daily life, and other expressions, including design and fashion. The program includes solo and group exhibitions, a residency, productions and special projects. The first residency invited New York visual artist and fashion designer Susan Cianciolo to Milan. The next one will involve Gaia Vincensini, a talented young artist from Geneva. Then it will follow the solo exhibition of french artist Mimosa Echard which is the first big production and I am very excited about it.
Why did you choose to focus on conceptual and applied arts?
I have a problem with definitions, and I figured I could challenge them with the gallery. For example, I had fun organizing the show Meme pas peur (Not even afraid), which featured body ornaments by artists. It was an invitation to a blind date without formal certainties, where the conceptual, sensorial and technical met in an investigation of the links between ornaments and art—not to strive for a common, shared definition, but rather to invite people to look at the differing perspectives from which these realms come together in ever more diverse contexts, and speculate about the evolution of categories and the borders of art. There will be a second edition of Meme pas peur curated by the artist Davide Stucchi, though I’m not yet sure where it will take place. This is a nomadic project that has to take place as a satellite of the gallery’s program and, by definition, it has to occur in venues whose function is not yet defined. Although its title Meme pas peur is programmatic for me broadly speaking.
How do you choose the designers and artists with whom you collaborate?
When their work tickles my brain and I develop some sort of affection for it. It’s ideal if there is a good dose of irony, too. Art for me is about opening new perspectives.
If you had to choose one or two individuals or organizations, whom would you say has most helped or influenced you throughout your career?
Bruno Munari and Leonardo Da Vinci. Honestly, I had other careers before this one, so it’s hard to say. But I admire very much Bruno Munari for his unique irony and capacity for making fun of things—including himself. Once he was asked, “But why do you Maestro do these ‘things’ on paper that are worth much less? Why don't you use oil and canvas that are worth much more?” As a result do you know what he did? He produced various paintings using different types of oils (cod liver oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil) and associated them to different types of canvases (jute, cotton). Through those works, exhibited at the Venice Biennial in 1998, Munari makes fun of complex hierarchies and orthodoxies of art and commerce, thus raising the fundamental question: How do we judge creativity?
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since launching your gallery?
I like to mix personal and professional. It does not always work. But the artists and people with whom I collaborate are very dear human beings to me and part of an extended family.
What are you most proud of thus far in terms of the gallery’s work?
That it starts making sense to people. They were confused about the line at the beginning. As the program unfolds, it’s becoming clearer and I’ve received warm feedback, which pleases me. But above all I am proud of the pool of artists I am working with on new projects for the gallery: Sylvie Auvray, Mimosa Echard, Ducati Monroe, Curtis Santiago, Davide Stucchi, Gaia Vincensini, they are all incredibly forward looking.
Recommendations for can’t-miss spots in Milan for art and design lovers (when things will go back to normal)?
The Triennale, where the recent Corrado Levi show was a blast, and the Achille Castiglioni Foundation. But also go see Federica Schiavo Gallery’s new space and pay a visit to FANTA, a very dynamic young gallery, although right now one just would want to go out for a walk in the Parco Sempione and pass by the De Chirico fountain (I bagni misteriosi) which reminds me so much of my childhood.
And any other, more general tips - always for when we will be able to go out again?
Oh Yes! There is a restaurant I fell in love with before quarantine started is Immorale in Via Lecco: pure gourmandise! And go rowing on the Naviglio Grande. Finally, the open market in Via Benedetto Marcello on Saturdays—and that neighborhood more generally—is my favorite, with a vibrant, multicultural atmosphere that reminds me of the area where I also live in Paris, in the 10th arrondissement. It's right in the center of Milan, with some architectural masterpieces from the 1930s.
Beyond your own projects, who or what is exciting you most right now in the creative world? Who or what should people be paying attention to at the moment?
Inequalities at the global level are under our own eyes. Something ought to change.. the current crisis is bringing this necessity forward. The art world as a whole is not sustainable and in my view it should be more engaged on the huge challenges faced by humanity. We should let the artists speak.. they are usually very radical, while the system should be consistent with the voices they promote and sell. So, to answer your question, what I find exciting is that we are becoming political again.
Thank you, Martina!
Article published on the April/May issue of ICON DESIGN. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.