*Featured photo: Guilda. Mostra I-Stanze. 2022
While exploring the multiple connections between industry and contemporary art, during I-STANZE, the last exhibition at Spazio Thetis in Venezia, I had the opportunity to interview Antonietta Grandesso, the head of the art projects at Thetis Spa, since the creation of the headquarters set in the old Arsenale Veneziano.
A quarter of a century ago, Thetis Spa was founded as the “Consorzio Thetis” to initiate a centre of excellence in marine technology and, in 1996, became a joint-stock company. Today, thanks to the working experience in the Venice lagoon, a complex and unique system that has maintained its identity despite constant changes, it is a leader in
environmental engineering and sustainable development.
Operating on a national and international level, the company offers consulting and design engineering services, project management, works supervision, environmental studies, and mobility management.
Distinguished by a constant pursuit of excellence, Thetis has never neglected the business’ cultural and social aspects. For over fifteen years, it has been promoting and supporting contemporary art alongside the company’s professional activities, organising exhibitions, meetings, conferences and collaborating with institutions, museums, galleries, associations and architects. Over time, this synergy has led to a proliferation of initiatives, generating opportunities to disseminate the art to an ever wider and increasingly passionate audience.
Antonietta Grandesso tells us about this journey between art and engineering, between business and cultural commitment in the interview she gave us shortly after opening their latest exhibition.
What is Spazio Thetis, and how did this project come about?
Before being given a name, Spazio Thetis was a way of feeling, a belief, an adventure, and a sensation. It was born at the same time as the end of the renovation/re-use of a small part of the old Arsenal – the 16th-century Arsenale Novissimo. Conceived from the idea that it should not only be a “maritime technology centre”, the Thesis was meant to become a new way of doing business open to the city and its needs. Moreover, it was intended to enhance the value of a legendary place where Venice’s entire political and commercial history used to be based.
So, just over a month after the end of the renovation work and after we took over, the sixteenth-century warehouse 106 hosted a ‘site-specific’ exhibition by the American artist Robert Morris, the father of the Land Art movement. The show was a project enthusiastically promoted by Vittorio Urbaniof, the Nuova Icona Cultural Association president, of which I was a member. This was the vision behind the project. That is, to associate contemporary art with our engineering activity. And it came about in the best possible way because these legendary places began to see internationally renowned and young artists living in the Arsenale Novissimo and making their personal contributions to a new rebirth.
Thetis SpA is an engineering company. So how is the technological soul combined with the collection’s and space’s artistic soul? And how have these two souls influenced and contaminated each other?
Actually, they go together very well; artists are researchers, and, as researchers, they are highly rigorous. Their design and creative process are precisely the same as the ones applied by my engineering colleagues. Moreover, they employ rigorous methods, so much so that, for me, the final product (so crucial for commercial galleries) has always been secondary to the research process.
Apparently, the mutual influence has not been so strong, even though you can see the artists’ work creating a fascinating collection in the offices, corridors, throughout the company, and even in the park.
There have been closer collaborations in recent times because many contemporary artists deal with environmental issues, and their views are always stimulating for colleagues working in environmental engineering.
With Spazio Thetis, Thetis SpA has become more than just a patron, as it is also actively involved in promoting artists and hosting exhibitions. In your experience, what is the added value of a project like yours that combines entrepreneurship and art?
I would immediately highlight its social and cultural value. Our project is a stimulus for the public that approaches the space with great curiosity because we present a “new way” of promoting art and beyond. During the summer season, the park is always open. People can enjoy the lush vegetation, sit and read under the trees, and even take a stroll to discover the installations in the park. The artworks always have their own specific setting and can be enjoyed individually.
We like to think that we are a welcoming place, where the visitors feel at home and can enjoy themselves, even if only for a walk.
Because of its beauty and the cultural offer, this place has become part of the daily life of Venetians, and not only.
How do Spazio Thetis’ projects, exhibitions and collaborations come about?
Projects and collaborations come up most spontaneously, sometimes even by chance. I must say that I have had the honour of working with great masters, both artists and curators, from Robert Morris to
Beverly Pepper to Michelangelo Pistoletto to Pinuccio Sciola, not to mention the great curator Lucrezia De Domizio Durini, from whom I have learnt a great deal, she is also a life mentor for me. What is essential is the quality of the project, the idea and the ability to accomplish it. Then everything comes, even if the implementation is often the most complex part. The idea you want to express must have a substantial value. The execution will always be complex and full of uncertainties, but if you don’t have a core concept, the work falls apart and doesn’t communicate anything.
I have to say that Spazio Thetis has also been successful in its eagerness to collaborate with the city’s institutions (a great honour), with private galleries and even with individual artists. Over the years, thanks to our open-mindedness, willingness to cooperate, rigour, and reliability, we have created an extensive network of friendships and collaborations.
For over 15 years, Spazio Thetis has promoted, organised and hosted countless events. Many Fiber Art and textile art interventions have been among the many projects. Can you tell me about any of them?
I immediately think of a major monographic exhibition by Croatian artist Jagoda Buic, presented by the great Predrag Matvejevic and curated by textile art expert Simonetta Gorreri. In a sixteenth-century shed in the Arsenale Novissimo, Jagoda created a series of sculptures hanging from the trusses with her magical “carpets” (made by Slavic women of different religions). A labyrinthine path between light and shadow led to the textile works’ three-dimensionality. For this formidable exhibition, Jagoda worked tirelessly in close contact with the Thetis’ colleagues for one month.
More recently, I can mention Angela Occhipinti, a former teacher at the Brera Academy, and Olimpia Biasi, curated by Annina Orsini, who re-proposed the lagoon landscape in a long carpet hanging from a tree, creating a sense of disorientation between verticality and horizontality.
Claudia Buttignol, curated by Dario Pinton, an artist whom we have been following for many years, has used fibre art as one of her forms of expression. Her installation “la grande Mater”, made of painted fabric sewn in overlapping layers to become a large welcoming cloak, recalling Simone Martini’s “Mater” is installed in the park.
And finally, Laura Guilda is featured in a small but valuable solo exhibition entitled “Istanze”, which opened on our premises at the end of February. As a young Central European artist, her sensitivity plays with different languages, emphasising environmental issues with refined lightness. She makes us – first of all – appreciate the work itself and then leads to more profound and more substantial thought, almost violent, for our inability to see the severe threats that undermine our future.