5 Minutes with Marco Galvan

We spoke to our in house curator, Marco Galvan, about growing up in Italy, the exhibition that changed the course of his career and finally his latest guilty pleasure.

Tell us a little bit about your background  

I was born in Vicenza, a small town 40 mins from Venice where I’ve lived most of my life. After I studied Languages at BA, someone suggested I look into a curatorial course at the School for Curatorial Studies in Venice and I thought why not? I applied and whilst I was writing my dissertation I started attending the course. It was 1 year and at the end of the course we had a collective show. It was my first show in Venice and I was very excited, I have to be honest. I felt like it was something bigger than me and all very quick; I was only 22. Whilst I was working at the exhibition that this was the path I wanted to follow. So I decided to apply for an MA here in London. I received my acceptance letter 3 days before the MA started because I was a late applicant, so I had 3 days to find a room, book tickets and move, essentially picking up and re-locating my whole life. I moved here in January 2018 and I did my MA in Culture Criticism and Curation at Central Saint Martins. That’s basically how I arrived, or became who I am now, from the point of view of education.

Credited to Vìctor Rakosnik

My parents did not work in art and were not very interested in it, though they are now because of me. They used to buy paintings from a small gallery in a very small city in the mountains from a local painter. This is the only memory that I have of me as a kid in a gallery space. I would say that I’ve always been trying to surround myself with creative situations. During the summer I used to play with my cousins and sister, crafting Pokémons and creatures in Papier-mâché, we used to create these small sculptures. The creative instinct has always been present. I think I had to develop and discover it myself because there wasn’t really an external source pushing me in that direction.

Yayoi Kusama – Narcissus Garden, 1966, 1500 mirrored plastic balls, Venice Biennale

I think it’s very important for a curator to have an interest for what he/she may not understand. To transform a moment of ignorance or fear into excitement and curiosity, a willingness to learn, let's say.

When and what was your first memory experiencing an art work?

I encountered art through time. When I was 21 I met somebody who was in the field and used to have a gallery and was very involved in art and architecture. She told me that I should pursue this path and that she was seeing something in me that I think I was starting to see myself. So I was given the confidence to go into curating and I actually decided to embrace it. I remember that my first time experiencing an art work was in 2011. I was in Madrid with my mum and my sister and there was an exhibition at the Reina Sofia Museum. It was Yoyoi Kusama’s ‘Narcissus Garden’ which was an installation consisting of a garden filled with metal spheres, I was really attracted to it. Yayoi Kusama’s work is quite spectacular in itself, so if you can imagine for someone unfamiliar with contemporary  art it felt incredibly impactful. That artwork was impressive to me. I remember reading it was presented at the Venice Biennale in the mid to late 60s and I thought, wow. From there it all started. I got really into art in general and more so in contemporary art, researching and all that. Even though I took a different path at uni, that’s where it all started, with that exhibition and  artwork in 2011.

How did you get into curating? Did you always want to be a curator?

I think it was something very implicit that kept growing and growing and then at a certain point when it was ready it just flourished, quite literally. When I finished high school and they had these entry tests for uni. I actually tried the Biology test because I wanted to be a researcher for Cancer, I imagined myself doing that because I’ve always been very attracted to Science in general; Biology, Zoology and Astronomy, but then I didn’t get accepted. I knew I had passions, things I was actually good at. In this case I recognised I might be better at Art. Science was an interest, but I couldn’t work with that. I’m too distracted.

Who or what inspires you the most?

People. People around me and everyday life, that’s literally it. What I live everyday, the experiences that I’ve lived, the people that I meet, the stories that I hear.

What is it about being a curator that you find the most interesting?

I would say that most of all it’s collaborating with artists. Then when it comes to an exhibition I like deciding what art works to include in the exhibition, discussing with the artist what and where to put these artworks. I think it’s very interesting to discuss this  because you could have two entirely different visions or interpretations about how one artwork could work in relation to another  and when you discuss it you find the best solution to create the perfect dialogue. At the end of the day the artwork is an object in space and I think curating for me is as if I am writing in space, ideally. You learn a lot, whether it’s about art, whether it’s about point of views, whether it’s about someone as a person, their life experiences; it’s incredibly stimulating

'Public Toilet' by Sang Woo Kim, Venice 2019
'Public Toilet' by Sang Woo Kim, Venice 2019

You’ve curated shows with all types of mixed media, but is there a medium or style you’re most attracted to?

No. If I like a project or what an artist does I want to collaborate.

I’ll give two recent examples of shows I curated last year to show the diversity. One was ‘Public Toilet’. This installation was a solo show in Venice by Sang Woo Kim, the British-Korean artist. It was  a site specific project where a fake public toilet was created with all artworks appropriated, so it was very much contemporary installation art. That project was very interesting for me in terms of working with installation sculpture and working on the concept around it. It was very challenging from the point of view of the audience as well and amusing to see how they reacted to it. People genuinely thought it was a public toilet, so they were quite literally using the toilet as if it were functioning. Other people were thinking it was a toilet shop and others who were in the field, *click* understood it just like that.  I started researching about that as well, how the audience interacts with contemporary art in general. 

I also curated this project and show called ‘Memoryscapes’, which interlaced photography and memory. It was conceived by  4 young CMS graduates (Lara Coromina Parcet, Andrea Alexa Cavallo, Emmanuela Ambrosone, Dorin Azougy). It was essentially trying to understand how collective memory as a mechanism works. We brought this work together with the Pole Gallery, a project by extremely talented artist Orfeo Tagiuri, which is literally a gallery on a pole. These images were found as slides in Brick Lane, a friend of mine took them, catalogued them and didn’t know who they belonged to, all together  forming a collective memory from different people. At the end of the project a series of new images were made out of software that created a collage between all of the others. When you look at these photos you have additional reactions related to your own personal memory and experience. This whole project was about that. These photos were then exhibited at the Pole Gallery in Australia and Bali.

So, I’m very open – design, photo, installation. I did a show at the Zabludowitz collection with their collection. In the exhibition, called ‘In The Shadow Of Forward Motion’, we had sculptures, paintings, photography, videos by artists such as Jake & Dinos Chapman, David Wojnarowicz, Larry Clark, Matt Collishaw and others. I’m attracted to whatever I feel is very appealing and could convey a strong message to the audience. 

'Memoryscapes' The Pole Gallery, 2019
'In the Shadow of Forward Motion' Zabludowicz Collection 2019

What are the 3 main things you’re looking for in a piece of art?

It always changes. I don’t have a rulebook. What I like to know and discover about an artwork is the story behind it, the reason why it was made, if there was something specific that drew the artist to use those specific materials. There’s always a story – whether it’s – I was bored so I decided to create this artwork or something more deep. It’s always interesting because it tells you something about the moment in the life of the artist.  When I look at an artwork I’ve learnt to train my eye, I’ve discovered this tool working at AucArt. I think it’s very important for a curator to have an interest for what he/she may not understand. To transform a moment of ignorance or fear into excitement and curiosity, a willingness to learn, let’s say.

When you’re planning an exhibition or sale how do you come up with a narrative?

It always changes. As I was saying before, what inspires me the most is people around me, experiences and everyday life. So when I come up with a concept for an auction, for example, I try to feel and listen to the urges and needs of communities. I try to create a narrative and I leave it to the artists to talk about the topic, like a kaleidoscope.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

In the art world or in general? I think that our time is never wasted. It always comes back to you. But yeah, I don’t want to sound too wise. I’m 25, not 75.

If you could have dinner with 5 artists dead or alive who would they be?

I wouldn’t just have dinner with artists, I don’t think. I would like to have dinner with artist Pierre Huyghe, who’s a contemporary French artist; Laure Prouvost, again French artist; Phoebe Waller Bridge, she would spice the dinner up; Vito Acconci, who’s…well he’s dead, but he was a great Italian performer. He did this performance in 1969 in New York where he started following people. It was called ‘Following Piece’ and he started following people around New York, showing how our bodies are themselves always subject to external forces that we may or may not be able to control. Then I’d go for a movie director, Italian probably. I think Michelangelo Antonioni, he’s one of my favourite Italian directors, very inspiring for me. I watched a lot of his movies. I think that would be a nice dinner altogether.

Do  you think they’d get along?

I think some would be less talkative than others, but I think Phoebe Waller Bridge would be the glue.

What’s your favourite exhibition you’ve seen so far & why?

So, it was very difficult to answer this question. Maybe an exhibition I recall with good memories is one that happened in Venice in 2017 at Fondazione Prada, called “The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied.” It was an exhibition by artist Thomas Demand; designer Anna Viebrock; filmmaker Alexander Kluge; and curator Udo Kittelmann. The concept was very very well written and the exhibition in general was well curated. What I liked the most was the way the different disciplines intertwined. 

Tell us something few people know about you?

I am addicted to eBay auctions. A world where you can buy ANYTHING for 99p.

It all started when I bought something that I actually wanted for a complete bargain. It turned up. It was in excellent condition and looked greater than expected. And that was it. Hooked.

I became an eBay prophet, boring anyone who would listen.

I have won several things, from furniture pieces to clothing, from Egyptian sculptures to noise cancelling headphones.

The novelty, the competition, and the thrill of winning all came together in an intoxicating brew, but at least I guess I’ve gotten over the frenzy stage…

curated by marco