- By Sophie Arni
Andreas Petrossiants, NYU Class of 2016, stood out of the crowd at the recent La Pietra Dialogue held in the beautiful interiors of NYU Florence campus, Villa La Pietra. He indeed organized the conference around issues of producing, displaying, and appreciating contemporary art in Florence with Mapping Contemporary Florence, another NYU-led art criticism initiative. I had the pleasure to ask him what he finds exciting about contemporary art in Florence, a city with a heavy art-baggage. An interesting case of an art scene where the heritage of art history is so profound it affects, in both good or bad ways, the DNA of present artmaking.
Sophie Arni: Mapping Contemporary Florence is a great initiative to engage directly with Florence's Contemporary Art scene. Before we get into the raison d'être of MCF, I'm interested in how you view MCF's contribution to Florence. When you were studying away in Florence, what motivated you to mediate dialogue platforms between cultural actors, to source new art critics and photographers to document the scene? Andreas Petrossiants: I studied in Florence for three semesters. At first, I had little intention of delving into the rich modern and contemporary Florentine art history, but my interest quickly developed.
This is largely because I fell for two clichés that characterize Florence: firstly that is a facade of idealized Renaissance history (something of a simulacrum with no real referent in the past), and secondly that there is no contemporary art production or spirit in Florence. Both clichés are as true or as false as one would like them to be, and by this I mean to say that one can escape the Disneyland-nature and find serious and significant contemporary art there with effort. I was interested to explore how the actual past of the city — specifically urban redesign of the late 1800s and cultural mindsets prevalent through the 1900s — correlate to the idealized past of the city promulgated to secure its touristic nature. I was also interested to see how the development of very important avant-garde movements in Florence thrived in such a place; I refer specifically here to the early Florentine avant-garde (comprised of the poets and artists surrounding Aldo Palazzeschi, Ardengo Soffici and Giovanni Papini), the radical architects of the 1960s/70s and contemporary artists working today. There is a wealth of great art to be studied and uncovered in Florence and a dialogue between different people involved in both the production and exhibition of art is necessary. S.A.: As an active member of the organization, can you tell us exactly what Mapping Contemporary Florence's mission is? Could you tell us about some ways it has attained its goals? Andreas Petrossiants: While I cannot speak on the entirety of MCF’s goals, I can say that they are trying, and succeeding, to catalog Florence’s contemporary art history. While the latter point might seem like a paradox, it is in fact the proper term for both describing contemporary art in Florence and studying it. In order to properly understand that which is taking place in Florence, it is necessary to both catalog and contextualize contemporary art production and exhibition. MCF is doing just that, and incredibly well. We are trying to create not only a point of mediation and contact between the viewer and the art but also a resource that newcomers to the city as well as long-time citizens can utilize as a source for discovering the contemporary art scenes in Florence. S.A.: Global Art Daily is very similar to MCF in the sense that we are both initiatives started within NYU. I was marveled to see that NYU Florence students were interested in documenting Contemporary Art in Florence, as much as I, an NYU Abu Dhabi student wanted to document the art scene in Abu Dhabi. I personally believe that the "Global Network University" is one of the most fertile grounds for reinventing a new kind of engagement with art. Engagement from the inside out - since we are young minds who live in the places we write about. What are your thoughts on NYU, the Global Network University, and directions for new art criticism? Andreas Petrossiants: I think the “Global Network” of NYU is a fantastic thing — in almost all respects. The art world and its apparatuses have been “globalizing” for a few decades, and in the last twenty years this globalization has led to the growth of the international biennale, the art fair, and interesting new international art platforms that keep contemporary exhibition makers involved in interesting projects. The nature of this new globality — the plurality of global centers as Hans Ulrich Obrist has discussed — is an invitation to explore the pluralistic nature of contemporary art to uncover trends, singular efforts, and new critical approaches. S.A.: Do you want to share with us a highlight of your time with MCF? Andreas Petrossiants: This would have to be the recent conference and panel that we put together this past February. I worked very closely with MCF, La Pietra Dialogues, and all of NYU Florence to put together the dialogue “Contemporary Art in Florence.” I’m so grateful for LPD’s invitation to moderate the conference. I had been researching and writing on the topic for quite some time at that point and having the opportunity to speak with some of the most important minds at work in Florence’s contemporary art world was a dream. The panel consisted of Valentina Gensini (Museo Novecento, Le Murate, Mus.e), Tommaso Sacchi (Chief Cultural Cabinet of the Mayor), Sergio Risaliti (major curator, Fondazione delle Papesse), Justin Randolph Thompson (artist and educator), Ricardo Lami (Palazzo Strozzi) and Caterina Toschi (Professor and co-founder of Arte Senza Cornice). It was an honor to speak with them. S.A.: As an NYU student back in NYC, do you have future aspirations or goals to merge the art scenes of Florence or New York? Andreas Petrossiants: I just finished my thesis, which investigated Florence briefly in an effort to set the argument for a larger exploration of contemporary art production, and my argument for the existence of a contemporary global avant-garde through serious analysis of modern and contemporary movements. I will be back in Florence this September, where I hope to continue the dialogue with the persons mentioned above, and others, to continue cataloging and studying Florence’s contemporary art world. Next year I will be completing my MA in Art History in London, and I will be traveling back and forth often. I don’t plan to merge NYC and Florence, but I would like to map and analyze consistencies between their respective art world’s to document trends and relations within contemporary art production. Florence is in a somewhat lucky place in that it partially avoids the contemporary exhibition-as-spectacle nature that many art centers in the world find themselves in. S.A.: "Global art" is a buzzword these days. I'm interested to know how you define it. How can initiatives like MCF thrive in the current art world ecosystem? Andreas Petrossiants: “Global art”, as I briefly described above, exists as a result of the continuously growing field of the contemporary art exhibition. The institution and the museum are no longer the sole authorities documenting contemporary art history, and new art world structures are appearing by the day. In an effort to “define” the term as you have stipulated here, I believe we have to look at exhibition making, art production and those aforementioned structures in total to begin a truly serious, and not just semantic understanding of how “global art” relates to what came before it and how the viewer engages with it. Sophie Arni, July 2015, New York City - Florence.