The sixth edition of Rome Art Week, the week focused on contemporary art, promoted and organized by KOU - Cultural Association for the Promotion of Visual Arts, opened on 25 October 2021. From 25 to 30 October galleries and exhibition spaces proposed exhibitions and events, the artists opened the doors of their ateliers letting the public discover the genesis of the artworks and then all those projects were created ad hoc by curators, critics, operators in the sector, etc. I met the director of RAW and president of KOU, below the text of a pleasant talk.
How and why was Rome Art Week born?
Rome Art Week (RAW) was born six years ago because the perception of Rome as a producer and user of contemporary art is almost non-existent. The perception is that contemporary art is of interest from Bologna upwards and if this perception is true, the substance is not. Rome is one of the cities where more contemporary art is produced in Italy, art which is then sold in Milan to Roman customers as well. And this is a great paradox. In addition, in Rome, there are the most important foreign entities that deal with contemporary art for so it is an important fulcrum, even if hidden. It is necessary to change this perception.
Rome is perceived as the city where you come to see the Colosseum, St. Peter's and little else and then leave because there is nothing else to see. RAW was born within this context with a double intent: the first is to create a network between artists, galleries and curators and to create a critical mass that makes it clear that Rome is a city where contemporary art is done. The second intent is more political-economic because this city does not create flywheels for the economy. We go to Berlin, London, Paris not only because they are beautiful cities but because things happen. So it becomes important to make things of a cultural nature happen because this ensures that there is higher tourism than the current one and this creates benefits for many subjects: hotels, restaurants, merchants. It is therefore a manifestation of the fact that culture produces or can produce wealth.
Why the need to create a network between artists?
Because the panorama of artists and galleries is increasingly fragmented. Everyone cares about the single garden without considering that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. So the galleries are scattered more and more while the artists think each for themselves. This separation mechanism is detrimental to everyone. Contrary to popular belief, the art market is not made up of collectors or museums but of professionals (doctors, notaries, engineers, etc.) a middle class that is busy all the time making money and that does not have a large artistic culture relies on a gallery, a merchant, an intermediary because they want to buy a work of Arte Povera, of the Transavantgarde, that is, of a movement, of a group of artists.
RAW wants to bring artists together, to make them comparable. A feature that other operators in the sector, such as curators and gallery owners, also rejected. I'll give you an example. I am a gallery, I organize an event and I send my invitation to my entire mailing list. Those who come may have already bought from me, so I have no big news in terms of artists and works to offer them so if the next gallery opens on the same day maybe some of my clients will go there. And this should not be experienced as an "OMG they steal my clients from me" drama because this mechanism is also the reverse, that is, clients from the other gallery will also come to me. And this mechanism so opposed during the year, if you think about it, is then the same that is applied at trade fairs. There they gather next to each other, spending tens of thousands of euros to do something they could have done before. So RAW wants to fight this paradox by putting everyone together, creating collaborative and cooperative humus because it is about stimuli.
I guess this effort has a cost, how do you cover it?
To participate in RAW, events must be free. We make use of cooperation, of natural and voluntary cooperation. Nobody pays to participate, there is no funding. And this aspect is fundamental because we do not depend on a source which, if closed, determines the end of the event. The RAW mechanism was born very slowly without public subsidies and over time it has grown by feeding itself.
Another important factor is the quality because RAW is based on a different mechanism from other manifestations. The mechanism is to accept all those who have the minimum characteristics to be such. In this way, I give opportunities to people who are out of the market because at the beginning, such as the students of the academy. RAW is attended by curators or in any case representatives of the sector that we have defined as “points of view” and who give their preference to the events and artists who participate. These preferences give rise to a pyramid and I assure you that it has happened that young artist has found themselves at the apex of preferences. When do you get this visibility again?
During these years you have accumulated a lot of data going to define a "hidden" sector.
Of course yes! When they call you to ask which are the galleries in Rome then you understand that you are working well. Each participant has their private profile, their photo, their contacts that are present on the website of the event beyond the period of the event itself. This allows a visitor to contact and visit artists' studios, galleries, etc. even outside the period of the event.
Which operators are involved in RAW?
There are artists, galleries, museum spaces and curators. The curators section was introduced later to facilitate young curators who otherwise would not have had exposure.
How has the network evolved over the years?
There is a progressive increase every year. This year there were 510 approved applications. We started much less. I have a goal that I have not yet been able to achieve. The first was to create a network and I succeeded. The second purpose is to let the city know that this thing exists and this goal is slower as it requires investments in advertising that we do not currently have. The number of events each year is around 500 except last year which because of Covid we had 300. Many of these were open studios that have a size compatible with the health requirements to cope with the epidemic. I remind you that there was the possibility of using an online booking service, video recording of events. There was also the possibility of having an automated graphics service for invitations and posters. We supported the participants from a technological point of view to help them.
What was the news this year?
500 events in 5 days were a lot for a city like Rome because you couldn't see them. My goal was to reduce events by trying to stimulate the aggregation of artists in common open studios, consortia of galleries. The purpose was to be given large spaces where to concentrate initiatives, open studios, because the more the events are detailed, the greater the interest that is not lost in this way. I have a lot of news in the pipeline but I prefer to postpone them, move them to next year as well. My goal for this year was to consolidate things and continue to favor and support emerging artists.