* Featured photo: Paolo Cortese and Francesco Romano Petillo at the inauguration of Gramma_Epsilon, 30 September 2021. Courtesy Paolo Cortese
Two new galleries – Gramma_Epsilon in Athens and Lettera_E in Rome – a single, ambitious project that was realized thanks to the passion, competence and professionalism of Paolo Cortese and Francesco Romano Petillo. In view of the milestone of the first year since the opening of the first exhibition, we asked one of the founders to tell us the story, evolution and perspectives of this experience.
It has been an intense year with the opening of two galleries, one in Rome and one in Athens, despite the pandemic and the resulting difficulties. A courageous (or rather two) adventure and a sign of confidence in the future of the sector. But how did the idea of this double project come about?
It all started with a small event organized last February with Francesco Romano Petillo, a longtime friend and partner in this new adventure, to remember our mentor Enzo Mazzarella, gallery owner and poet who passed away in 2018. We decided to publish one of his stories, written in Palermo in the 90s, asking its artists to illustrate it and to present it we organized a small exhibition in my studio in Pigneto.
From the great response we received, we realized that it was time to get back on track and Athens, where we both live, seemed to us the right place to convey the experience gained in our galleries in Rome and London respectively. At the same time, not wanting to abandon our Roman public made up mostly of friends, artists and some collectors, we decided to use the Pigneto space to present the Athens projects but also to propose new points of view.
What is the line of the gallery (or, better, of the galleries) and the artistic fields on which your research focuses?
The two spaces (Gramma_Epsilon and Lettera_E) have a common soul exemplified by the letter “E” from which both take their name. The “E”, in Italian, has the double function (as conjunction and, accented, copula) of joining and defining.At the basis of our work there is, in fact, a path of study, recognition, and enhancement of that climate of experimentation that was experienced in Italy in the 70s and 80s when many artists were committed to emancipating themselves from a market dominated by a male chauvinist and dogmatic vision of art. This emancipation very often took place through the redemption of elements closely linked to the female universe such as the thread, the loom and the letter intended as an intimate means of communication.Through this operation, female artists have gained an important space in movements such as Fiber Art, Visual Poetry and Mail Art. In those years, dozens of artists have produced very interesting works that are still of the utmost relevance today. Some of them, due to fortunate circumstances, enjoy due notoriety but many need to be rediscovered and this is the challenge we are facing.
In your opinion, what is the role of an art gallery in the complex, hyper-connected contemporary society?
The gallery as a physical place is the space dedicated to tracing the artist’s history. With the proliferation of dealers and consultants of all kinds, this role of cultural promotion, which galleries played for decades, has been completely lost, leaving the collector disoriented and unaccustomed to creating his own personal taste. I therefore believe that the role of the gallery owner, at a moment like this, should be re-evaluated because in a world so hyper-connected, but also hyper-virtual, the commitment to something concrete is confirmed as a source of guarantee. Just in these days a scandal of fake collectors has surfaced on Instagram that confirms this need.
With historicized artists of the caliber of Maria Lai and Franca Sonnino and several young artists who express themselves through Fiber Art, the gallery demonstrates a particular interest in this language of art.
In general, we find a growing presence in museum spaces and in the proposals of professionals – artists, curators, galleries, critics. In your experience, what are the reasons behind this newfound interest? What is the response from the public and collectors?
In my opinion, Fiber Art has the extraordinary peculiarity of joining in its expression the deep, ancestral and unconscious dimension with the visual and tactile one: The viewer in front of a work of Fiber Art, even conceptual, always finds within himself a hook to ” feel ”the work.This happens, in my opinion, because the medium, in this case the thread, is connected to the most ancient activities carried out in the social community, archetypes deposited in the depths of the unconscious that precisely give a sense of familiarity while leaving the ability to amaze unchanged.
In the exhibition currently underway at Gramma_Epsilon, the Athens gallery, entitled: Histoire d’E part2 “Between language and object,” there are many artists from Fiber Art. In addition to Maria Lai and Franca Sonnino there are Francesca Cataldi, with her strings of tar; Gisella Meo with the modular work of the square frame; Nedda Guidi with some 70s papers in which she uses the thread to draw the shadows; Renata Prunas who explores the fascinations of a common garment such as nylon stockings, but also Elisabetta Gut who sews books made of leaves with the thread, Alba Savoi who investigates the folds of the canvas and Maria Jole Serreli who, although much younger, fits perfectly while keeping softness and lightness intact in both fabric and ceramic works.
Any advice for those who want to start approaching Fiber Art to understand its artists, works and language?
Of course to study, there are several recent texts and specialized magazines, such as ArteMorbida, which represent a valid aid for those who want to approach the world of Fiber Art.
And which one for those who want to buy a work of Fiber Art?
Not to stop at the purely aesthetic aspect but to always deepen what lies behind the artist’s work.
A balance of this year that is coming to an end?
For me it has been a very fruitful but challenging year. The opening of Gramma_Epsilon, the Athens gallery, of the independent Lettera_E space in Rome and Mirella Bentivoglio’s retrospective, “The other face of the moon”, curated with Davide Mariani at the Ulassai Art Station, were the most significant but not the only ones made in 2021.
What projects for the near future and what are the goals that the gallery looks at?
In the very short term we plan to bring to Athens the Mirella Bentivoglio exhibition, recently concluded at the Stazione dell’Arte, to the two locations of Gramma_Epsilon and the Italian Cultural Institute; a series of solo exhibitions will follow, the first that of Anna Esposito, and we would like to participate in the next edition of Artissima.The goal of our gallery is to promote the knowledge and dissemination of post-war Italian art with a focus on female art and in particular for Fiber Art, Visual Poetry and the subject book, sectors that have been neglected by the market for too long.