*Featured photo: African Textures, Osart Gallery, Milan, 2019, installation view of the exhibition. Courtesy Osart Gallery and the artists. Photo by Max Pescio
We interviewed Andrea Sirio Ortolani, founder in 2008 of the Osart Gallery in Milan that since the beginning has developed a course that explores the most significant artistic experiences starting from those of the sixties and seventies, passing through the languages of Body Art, art kinetics, photography up to recently exploring emerging African art.
From the most significant artistic experiences of the Sixties and Seventies to the emerging African scene: the Osart Gallery is undoubtedly a dynamic reality that continually reshapes its horizons of exploration. What is the fundamental character of the gallery?
One of the key features of the gallery is research, and attention to the quality of the proposed projects. At the beginning we focused on the rediscovery of forgotten historical figures, but of great depth and quality, alternating – already between 2008 and 2013 – these projects with exhibitions related to the contemporary scene, which involved artists who subsequently became international stars , such as Titus Kaphar, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and Hayv Kahraman. We then focused on the African continent, because it seemed like a new possibility of discovery. The first time we approached African art in this sense was in 2010, through some travels. There was great excitement, and as a result artists of excellent quality were also being discovered.The biggest problem was that at the time there was no internal market or institutional structures that could help artists emerge. Eight years later, since we have always kept an eye on that scene, we returned paying particular attention especially to South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The situation had changed substantially, with the birth of new museums and private foundations, in addition to the new galleries that were beginning to assert themselves on the international scene. Since that time, we have begun to build the program that we still continue to develop and it takes up a large part of our time and programming.
After more than a decade of activity, can you take stock of how the art market and the audience that frequents the gallery has changed? And, in your opinion, in which direction is it moving?
In ten years it has changed a lot, also because with the development of social networks and the internet, distances have shortened. Over the years there has remained a hard core of collectors who follow us, and who prefer to approach art and the gallery in a “physical” way; but in recent years, collecting has changed dramatically, and we have reached a much wider international audience.With the pandemic there has been an acceleration of the market and online communication, so artistic research and collecting have become truly global. Let’s say that everything is faster, so even the careers of artists, their visibility, are having an acceleration that was previously unimaginable.
With “African Textures” and some of the subsequent solo exhibitions, the textile medium and the languages of fiber art have entered the usual programming of the Gallery. How did this interest arise and what feedback did it get from your audience?
There was no specific will to follow textile art or fiber art, there was more than anything else an encounter with the artists who used it and which we consider to be of great quality. These artists have managed to include their research in the context of experiments close to fiber art. The public has received with enthusiasm this type of operation, which often approaches and goes hand in hand with pictorial research. From a commercial, aesthetic enjoyment and content point of view, it is an expressive language that is enjoying great success.
A suggestion for those wishing to approach these works to get to know the artists and their research in depth?
In this case we have the answer already in the question. To understand a certain research well, we need to know the artists thoroughly. The best thing to do, if you want to approach the work of an artist, is to approach the reference galleries, which play a role of cultural and commercial intermediation (when it comes to private galleries), introducing young artists to collectors and curators, but also to all those who approach the world of art. Then, when you are intrigued by an artist or a gallery project, the internet and social media allow you to keep up to date, create links and deepen topics in a very fast and convenient way.
What has changed with the pandemic and its consequences in the planning and management of the Gallery?
A lot has changed with the pandemic. For example, the galleries first made themselves known through trade fairs, and with the pandemic many of these events have been canceled or postponed. The work of the gallery has changed substantially, also because the movements have been drastically reduced and the situation continues to be unstable.Now we work a lot online, both through specific platforms that allow the presentation of projects and works, and through social networks. The problems, from a management point of view, especially for galleries like ours, which work with artists from another continent, are being able to maintain relationships, create new ones, and carry out remote research and programming. But I believe that these problems also affect companies that belong to fields other than the artistic one.
What are the short and long term projects for the Osart Gallery?
As for short and long-term projects, we have to see if they can be realized. We have planned a series of national and international fairs that depend on the evolution of the situation. From the programming point of view, we are organizing two exhibitions for next year, again relating to young South African artists, which will also include research relating to textile art, on which, however, we will give out more details once we have more certainty about it.