curatorial lens vol.12/ luca lo pinto

Luca Lo Pinto photographed by Delfino Sisto Legnani. Image courtesy of the curator and DSL Studio.

Luca Lo Pinto (born 1981) is a Rome-based editor, curator, and author. Since 2020, he is the Artistic Director of MACRO – Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome. Lo Pinto is also the co-founder of the magazine and publishing house NERO, which was established in 2004. From 2014 until 2019, Lo Pinto was curator at Kunsthalle Wien, where selected exhibitions include solo shows of Nathalie Du Pasquier, Babette Mangolte, Charlemagne Palestine and the group exhibitions Time is Thirsty; Publishing as an artistic toolbox: 1989-2017; More than just words; One, No One and One Hundred Thousand.  

LUCIJA ŠUTEJ: What was your introduction and attraction to the contemporary art field? 

LUCA LO PINTO: I was studying Art History at La Sapienza in Rome and artist Cesare Pietroiusti gave a talk at the university. His representing gallery at the time, Primo Piano, which does not exist anymore, was looking for an assistant and that was my first official role. At the same time, I also founded a magazine and a publishing house called NERO, with friends from and outside the university.

LŠ: Has the art gallery Primo Piano in Rome shaped your editorial and curatorial interests in any direction?

LLP: Yes. Primo Piano was a very special place with a small bookshop and the gallerist Maria Colao was sleeping in the gallery. Very old school! I met many artists with whom I still collaborate today and we became good friends. Artists such as Luca Vitone and Olaf Nicolai. With the latter, we did a show titled Conversation Pieces at the Mario Praz Museum that was an homage to the late gallerist.

Nothing was a linear sequence in my curatorial development. The real school for me was to share and experience things with my friends from and around NERO. I have always been a sponge…I have the desire to know and learn everything! Through various exhibition openings, I met many artists and this was my proper education. I did not find my university situation very stimulating but I was inspired by my colleagues from different educational backgrounds and by our mutual interest in contemporary art.

Simultaneously as I was studying, working for a gallery, and running a magazine, I also started curating exhibitions. It was just another way to be creative. I was not very keen to write, it does not help that I am dyslexic (laugh). I work intuitively and I was very excited about the format and the language of exhibitions- still am today.

LŠ: In what way has the gallery’s bookshop sparked your passion for art publishing and artists’ books?

LLP: Well, the gallery had the bookshop since the 70s.  And at that time, I was already also doing the magazine. In my student years, I was very interested in conceptual art and fascinated by authors from various fields – from cinema, music, and art, that were rethinking the tools of their mediums. So, conceptual artists of the 60s and 70s were a massive source of inspiration. The same generation opened new perspectives in publishing – what a book can be. What an artwork could be. They transmitted the courage to do things outside of tradition and these perspectives also influenced NERO.

The gallery and the magazine opened new opportunities and I met incredible people such as Mel Bochner and John Baldessari. I ran NERO with Valerio, Lorenzo, and Francesco, we partied and spent every day for 10 years together – it was a full-on experience! We were not self-referential and that was important also in the direction of the publication.

LŠ: As mentioned, you co-founded NERO, a publishing house that runs a magazine and produces publications – from catalogues to monographs centered on art criticism and artists’ books. Could you tell us more about how the publishing house was founded and the vision you shared?

LLP: So, NERO was founded by me, Lorenzo Gigotti, Francesco De Figuereido, and Valerio Manucci. I met Valerio and Lorenzo at the university, while they were pursuing degrees in economics and Francesco was their friend that was interested in music. Both Valerio and Francesco later switched to Art History. We were all interested in music and cinema but I was most interested in the contemporary arts. All of us previously also worked for a magazine called Numb and we used to look at the cultural magazines available in Rome -many were expensive and not in Italian. So, we decided to create a magazine that we would like to read. A friend of ours was a graphic designer and he created a very punk and powerful design that was almost illegible.

NERO team. Image copyright and courtesy of Marco Rapaccini/OfficineFotografiche.

The first issue was supported by Cesare Pietroiusti, an artist who also introduced me to the gallery Primo Piano and he was on the advisory board of MACRO. The magazine was really a vehicle to fuel our passions and in the beginning, we were writing most of the articles. The print run of the first issue was 10 000 copies and we distributed them via car or scooter in Rome. We also organised parties and concerts to accompany the launches of various issues. After Rome, we started distribution in Milano and a few other cities and from there it grew organically. The magazine was the outcome of our way of experiencing life and culture – really a by-product of the lives of four people trying out different things and approaching new audiences.

The fact that you could present the magazine in a club, in a museum, or in a squat was very important for us because it opened this unique position of being between polarities. The squat was ideologically in complete opposition to a museum environment 20 years ago. And these established institutional positions back then were very solid while today there is more fluidity. After a while, NERO was also published in English and we started to make books. For us it was an extraordinary way of learning. How to write? How to communicate? How to find the money? Everything was essentially made by us and the approach was: learn by doing it.

My learning always came from fieldwork and I was never obedient to the idea of authority. So, for me, revolutions of any kind were empowering structures. And still today, at a different stage of my life and directing a museum, I find it important to keep the flame alive.

LŠ: How did you join Kunsthalle Wien?

LLP: I was doing a residency in Reims and a friend of mine, Florence Derieux, forwarded me the e-flux announcement that Kunsthalle Wien was looking for a curator. She pushed me to apply as the then-director, Nicolaus Schafhausen, was a very smart curator and it would be an interesting and experimental place for me to work. But at that stage, I have not done many exhibitions and everything was tied to NERO.

The funny part was that I had never written a cover letter before as I never applied for a job via an application. So, I googled what a cover letter looks like and I copied and pasted an online template. I changed certain terms before sending it out. The first round of interviews was via Skype and then I went to Vienna. It was an interesting situation because although I did not see the institution as an enemy, I nevertheless had an ambivalent relationship with museums in general. I was offered the job despite being told I did not have an institutional profile. My only condition before accepting the role was that I could still work on NERO.

LŠ: And your interest in art publishing was also present through your work at Kunsthalle Wien, such as the exhibition: Publishing as an Artistic Toolbox: 1989–2017?

LLP: My interest in publishing as a medium has always been very present and very influential in the way I envision exhibition-making. So, the idea to propose an exhibition around the whole concept came spontaneously. Publishing has always been present in institutions in the form of festivals, talks, or book fairs. But in a way, it was always treated as a minor thing. The challenge was how to present different approaches to publishing and at the same time find a new way to conceive an exhibition. For instance, there were different sections. One section was about artists’ books, another focused on the relationship between printed and digital publications, and yet another on artists’ magazines. I asked the Milan-based design studio, Rio Grande, to do the exhibition design and we used roof tiles as display structures. We also showed Franz West’s library in his former studio.

With Publishing as an Artistic Toolbox, I wanted to show how the social and political reasons around the making of publications in a given period were manifested. An important date was the establishment of the World Wide Web in 1989, as the latter was the key moment in shifting from analog to digital publishing. I also noticed that more and more artists and curators were interested in publishing and the 60s really represented a turning point in book-making by making art democratic and available to a larger audience. For artists, it was an easier way to let circulate their work and for curators their ideas. I did not want to articulate any pre-constructed interpretations via the exhibition but to offer the possibility for the audience to experience the various highlights and just dive into the environment. I should point out that the exhibition was envisioned as ongoing research and open for other people to take it over and continue the work.

LŠ: How do you see the future of art publishing?

LLP: That’s a difficult question! I have been thinking a lot about that question lately and I feel that for a while there has been less desire related to the actual object. From 2010, I felt there was a renewed interest in publishing also with the presence of festivals like Printed Matter in New York. And today, I feel that it’s less prominent as a phenomenon. We still have many books but they’re done by certain people that are really into that field. And other producers are still art institutions – they’re very conservative in these terms. So, a museum would stage a blockbuster show and produce an accompanying massive publication, that the audience would buy alongside postcards. It is a memory of an experience.

I think we will have fewer and fewer magazines but publications such as monographs and catalogues will remain because they offer new research and they are reference objects as well as works of art. Though one has to understand that publishing shifted! You have people that use social media as a publishing tool – a way to run a magazine. And their profiles are edited like a blog. It is a completely different way of approaching it!

We are currently preparing a section on art publishing at MACRO, where we will present books and magazines created by artists that also serve as political tools. I am referring to initiatives such as Hanuman Books created by painter Francesco Clemente and editor Raymond Foye. The publishing house was founded in the mid-80s in Madras (Chennai), India, and existed until the mid-90s. And their books were inspired by prayer books, small in size, hand-made with hand-coloured covers. They published essays and poems by Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, David Hockney, and many others.

Hanuman Books 1986-1993. Exhibition entrance view, MACRO, 2022. Image by Piercarlo Quecchia with image courtesy of DSL Studio.
Hanuman Books, installation view at MACRO, 2022. Courtesy of Piercarlo Quecchia - DSL Studio.
Hanuman Books 1986-1993. Exhibition view, MACRO, 2022. Courtesy of Piercarlo Quecchia - DSL Studio.
Image courtesy of of Piercarlo Quecchia - DSL Studio.
Installation view of Hanuman Books. Courtesy of of Piercarlo Quecchia - DSL Studio.
Exhibition view, Hanuman Books, MACRO, 2022. Courtesy of Piercarlo Quecchia - DSL Studio.

LŠ: What are some of your favourite artists’ publications?

LLP: I like Alighiero Boetti’s The Thousand Longest Rivers of the World and John Baldessari’s Throwing Three Balls in the Air to Get a Straight Line (Best of Thirty-Six Attempts). I enjoy all of Nathalie Du Pasquier’s books because she approaches them the same way she does exhibitions. And we share the idea that a book is a space equal to the physical space of a museum or a gallery.

LŠ: Are there institutions whose limited-edition books you admire?

LLP: I really like Vienna’s Secession because they create artists’ books instead of exhibition catalogues. I respect the work of curators such as Anthony Huberman, Mathieu Copeland or artists like Dora Garcia, Wade Guyton, Laura Owens and Lutz Bacher. They all love books and this passion is very obvious. To be honest for museums it is not easy – they all want to produce catalogues. While smaller institutions have more of a possibility to experiment with the medium.