Collector turned curator, Edoardo Monti tells AucArt the story behind his residency programme, what he's looking for in a piece of work and how we can change the art world for the better.
Where are you from & what was your upbringing like? How has this impacted your work?
I was born in Bergamo, a city near Milan and close by to Brescia, which is where Palazzo Monti is located. I spent my first 18 years in Bergamo, which is a lovely city just under the Alps with great architecture. It is very close to Milan, so that allowed me to go there quite often when I was young for shows, exhibitions and to galleries. After living there for 18 years, I moved to London and then New York, where I spent 8 years. My high-school education in Italy was Classical; studying Ancient Greek, Latin, Philosophy and Languages, so that gave me context to the art I appreciate today. I’ve always liked beautiful things and my upbringing had a huge impact on this. As a result I prefer to have less things but better quality, whether it’s design, food, art, or fashion items. This is something I’ve learnt from my family and I have definitely carried it with me through my travels and now more than ever, through Palazzo Monti.
Tell us one thing few people know about you?
I first started collecting stamps when I was very young, which I think is something quite common in kids. It’s something fun, takes up time and it requires organisational skills, which are always good to practise. I’ve since then abandoned that passion, but there was a first time when I realised that I loved collecting things, gathering, owning and cataloguing them. Owning not just to keep for oneself, but owning something in order to elevate it and protect it from being damaged or destroyed. So I started collecting stamps and other objects and that brought me to art eventually.
What was the inspiration behind turning your mother’s childhood home into the Palazzo Monti residency programme?
In 2016 I was in New York working in Communications for Stella McCartney and I was a bit frustrated with my job. I started hanging out with a bunch of artists, gallerists, curators and collectors, who are now great friends. That really made me think of what I could do with my skills, my passion for travel, creating content and facilitating projects. I had this space available and was thinking what I could do to support this community. It was kind of natural, you know. It took a year to come up with a project, a name, graphics and a programme. Then we launched and a year and a half later I decided to move back to Italy. So in short, there was this desperation to be a part of this community of people within the art world that I wanted to support and have an active role within, rather than just collecting.
How did the residency come about and what does it offer artists?
It came out of having the incredible opportunity of counting on a space like the Palazzo Monti, which happens to be a 3 storey Palace. I knew that it would be a great space for artists to be inspired by. Not only is the building beautiful, but it is also large, which allows room for 6 artists with private bedrooms, exhibition and communal spaces. It is quite unique. There is the opportunity to have private studios or shared studios and importantly, we offer a free stay. We can’t always guarantee an exhibition at the end of the residency. There are, however, different models for how we showcase the work. It could be a solo show (if that’s something we plan ahead), it could be a group show, a dinner, a performance or an event or open studios.We always have an active calendar that changes week by week, where we of course respect the artists space and time because you know, it’s not a zoo. We encourage social moments where we use our contacts to gather people and showcase their works. So a lot of support is done through the residency. We also have an incredible number of artisans that we work with who provide support when one has to work with metal, marble, wood, glass etc, which is often difficult to find in other cities.
However, I think what the residency offers through me personally, not Palazzo Monti, is what comes after. This is the time when you really have to work by keeping your eyes open, working on projects (like with you guys) to support artists past the residency. During the month I spend with them I get to know them; how they work, how they respect themselves, their space, other people, their practise and that allows me to know how the artist operates. It’s like a long studio visit with breakfast, lunch, dinner and all the between. That allows me to have an ever growing list of people that I can work with and support. There’ve been 150 artists to go through our residency so far. Not always do we end up having a strong relationship after, but with most of them, I’d say 90%, I’ve become really good friends with and are always in the back of my mind when I’m working on projects.
Your focus is on young artists, could you tell us a little more about why?
For two reasons. First of all if you support dead artists it’s not supporting, it’s just benefiting estates, galleries, collectors and auction houses that count on people to be dead to raise prices. I do believe to some extent that art should be about investing, but not necessarily just like that. I wouldn’t want to be the art dealer in a suit that sits at a desk and deals with phone calls and people that aren’t around anymore, they already have people looking after them. It’s much more exciting to find and foster talent and then support it. Whenever I find an artist who doesn’t have a huge following or is still in school, I think it’s great. In fact, the artists I’ve chosen for this month’s auction were all born in the 90s, which is why I have called the show “(Very) Young Italians’. It’s pretty much unheard of in Italy, that is, to have a show dedicated to artists that are all under 30. I want to help the people who represent the future of art and of course it’s a lot easier for me to relate to people my age. I am 28. I’d much rather be the one who made the difference to these artists’ lives at the beginning of their career.
How have you seen the location of the Palazzo and Brescia impact your artists and the way they work?
In a way it happened how we expected it too. The palette of Brescia is light pastel, so the light that reflects into the studios affects how the artists see. As a Roman settlement, the city bears 2,000 of History to provide stimulus and the frescos within the Palazzo definitely help to provide constant inspiration too. Artists also inspire each other. We’ve seen photographers picking up clay and coming up with beautiful sculptures because another artist in residency invited them to be creative in a new medium. Because it’s an international residency the artists contaminate each other. That has been extremely exciting.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
There was a show last year called “OSSESSIONE” – obsession – with 9 Italian artists. You can find it on our instagram account. That was a huge step for me because for the first time, out of 9 artists that we showed, only 2 joined Palazzo Monti for a residency, all the others were coming from private collections, galleries or the artists themselves. All of them also were/are working with the best galleries in Italy, when it comes to contemporary art. For the first time I was able to gain trust from all of these institutions and people and collectors that were willing to give a piece temporarily to showcase. That really meant a lot because that was the first time I was really like wow, I’m respected enough to go and be trusted and gather these works. That for me was a huge step.
Do you have a preferred art form i.e painting, photography or sculpture?
Yes I do. I’m kind of old school. Maybe because I was born in Italy I am a sucker for figurative painting and figurative sculpture. Thanks to the residency I have been able to appreciate mediums that I perhaps wasn’t even considering before. I’m talking about photography, videography, digital art. It’s been 2-3 years that I’ve been into these mediums. However, I still haven’t been able to build a strong collection of these works. My collection is pretty much still just paintings and sculpture, but the residency has definitely intensified my interest in these works.
Do you create artwork yourself?
No. I would love to. I just simply don’t have the time or the talent. I do however love being a part of the production process. There is an input sometimes that the curator gives, directing, guiding, suggesting what kind of works the artists could be working on or how to conduct them. Definitely not influencing too much, but you know, giving an opinion. I also love, when it comes to bigger productions, such as sculptures and installations, to be a part of the proactive process because I know so many artisans in the area that can produce incredible works with the support of the artists, so that’s something I really like to do. A forehand production, but of course always giving the credit to the artist.
If there was one thing you could change about the art world for the better what would it be?
I would definitely try to give more chances to artists that are not given equal opportunities. When you think of the art world you’re thinking of 99% white male older artists where female representation is historically 0%. Minorities, victims of systemic racism, LGBTQI artists, artists with disabilities, natives – they aren’t represented. I don’t want these categories to become check marks that a gallery has to apply whenever they’re doing a show, like “oh yeah we need to have one gay, one lesbian, one trans, one female artist to be okay”. I simply would like, perhaps in a dream world, that people would just look at the art first, rather than their names, location, age and colour. That would really be something I would like to change. What I’m doing, or at least trying to do, is to have a very strong and beautiful Code of Ethics for Palazzo Monti, where we don’t discriminate, where we are open to any medium, artist, age and religion. You can see this being applied through the variety of artists we’ve had so far.
What’s your most memorable moment at Palazzo Monti?
The night that we presented “OSSESSIONE”. We always do these large very beautiful dinners at the Palazzo after each show because it’s a way for us to create a very convivial, community moment and also to thank the artists, collectors, curators and galleries that come from pretty much all over the world. We had so many people travelling. That day specifically on top of my favourite artists, we had over 50 friends, so that dinner was amazing and a very moving moment. Having friends with me and artists who we want to support, celebrating a show and being at the Palazzo was really the best night I could think of. It also just happened to be my birthday.
How did you feel when you bought your first artwork?
You feel great! You feel like you finally get to own something that you love and can share with your friends and look at everyday. It’s also a way to connect with artists. When you buy a work you get a chance to meet and chat with that artist, but also let’s not forget that by getting a work, you support other artists. Buying through a gallery supports an entire system; not just that artist, not just that gallery, but other artists that may come after. You forget about the money you spend and you just feel happy. It’s the best emotion. It’s also dangerous and could be addictive in a way. But it’s also just fantastic. It’s great that nowadays you can have any budget, you can support an artist with €50 or less. There’s no limit to the support you can give and what you get in return is priceless.
What is it that attracts you to a piece of work and makes it ‘collectible’?
I’ll say something perhaps a bit controversial. I find it a bit difficult sometimes investing in photography, videography or sculpture that have editions, simply because sometimes in objects the value lies in the fact that they’re unique, right? I think that the fact that these mediums have editions makes it feel monetary. I would much rather spend a bit more money on a work like that, knowing that it’s unique, rather than having it in series. It’s difficult to justify the price that is high when you know there are 20 – 30 pieces around. What makes it collectible then? That it’s unique. Not because I want it to be just in my possession, but simply because there’s that sense of something being precious, if it’s original and not reproduced. Again I’m totally down for it if the artist shares images of their works online. So of course works can still very much be enjoyed by everyone in this way. But I don’t think Caravaggio would have become Caravaggio if there were 25 of each of his paintings available in the world. That has an impact for me.
I am a sucker for figurative paintings and sculpture. When it comes to figuration, the first impact is very brutal. I either like it or I don’t. It’s just so important. I understand it’s fascinating to hear from artists; the story of the work, how it came about, their philosophy and the title, but at the end of the day it’s something you’re going to have on the wall and look at. If it’s something you’re attracted to, whether it’s the colour, the shape, the subject, the medium, then you fall in love with it and you want to get it. That’s a ‘collectible’ for me.
Do you believe your relationship with an artist impacts your perception of the artwork?
Yes, absolutely. That’s why I love to be involved with young contemporary artists. Sometimes you love the person and you really want to support them and the best way to do it is by chatting and talking about their work. Now there’s two bad situations and there’s one good one. A bad one is when you love the artist but their work is not great. That sucks because you feel obliged to support them, but you don’t really want to take your help from someone who perhaps deserves it more. It also sucks when you love the work but the artist is an arsehole. The best situation is when you love the work and you love the person. Getting to know these people and spending so much time with them sometimes allows me to appreciate the work more. Say there’s a work you don’t understand or appreciate that much, when you get to know the person and the story behind it, the work often means so much to you because it represents that artist.
What advice would you give to someone looking to buy their first work?
Of course like everything in the world it all comes down to money. It’s best to start looking once you have enough that you feel comfortable investing in something that may never come back to you. Let’s be honest, art in a way is like stocks, nobody can guarantee that the prices will go up and most importantly nobody can guarantee a resale value. It’s really really difficult to re-sell contemporary art so just invest in something that you like and believe in, something that after doing some research you think has a good price. Then just go with the flow.
A lot of people who want to start investing in work or collecting can’t even get into the system of meeting the right people or justify requesting a studio visit. Platforms like AucArt are really useful because you can just browse and compare. You can look and see the differences and understand why a work of 10×10 sometimes costs £1000 or sometimes £10,000 and really get to know the story of the work and appreciating it. So start with a budget and do you research. Don’t be influenced by articles and by ‘what’s cool’ and ‘what’s not’. Again it’s something that’s going to be on your wall, perhaps for the rest of your life, so just go with something that you like.
Edoardo and AucArt both support the practice of International emerging artists, if you could give an artist at the beginning of their career one piece of advice – what would it be?
I’d give very practical advice: know how to handle taxes. I know it sounds stupid, but it’s very important. Nowadays more than ever as artists have international shows with shipping. As a creative you can deduct expenses like rent, transportation, food sometimes and definitely products. I can’t speak for the world because I’m not an international tax expert, but I know that most countries have benefits for this. Yes, accountants cost money, but I’m telling you it’s a little investment which will benefit you long term. Look after your taxes – it’s never too early to start doing that.
Is there an alternative underlying narrative that has occurred in your selection of works – if so what is it?
I don’t really have one. When I curate a show I always try to not think of myself as a collector, i.e. not thinking of the works that I select as something that I would personally like to have, but instead thinking of the message that I want to give. I’ll go back to the example of “OSSESSIONE”. I analysed a different variety of psychological obsessions; repetition, gathering, cleaning, counting and I found in each of the artists that I wanted to support a reference to these obsessions. Then the works that best spoke about this came up and were called in for the exhibition. Of course there’s always a subconscious draw towards a work where you love it and use it, so that other people can appreciate it as much as you do. For ‘(Very) Young Italians’, I think the message of supporting young Italians is really strong and I found so many different mediums: video, photo, prints, digital art, paintings, sculpture, photography to showcase this. It depends each time and that’s the beauty of it. I don’t want to be the curator only known for favouring a specific theme or medium. I want to be flexible and exciting.