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Michela Rizzo Gallery

Interview | Michela Rizzo Gallery | Venice

For 6 months every two years, the magical city on the water, Venice, hosts one of the most important, trail blazing contemporary art shows on earth. A spectacle of beautiful and ugly, always political, sensory stimulating and perception expanding works of art permeates the renaissance architecture and the magnificent indoor and outdoor spaces of this some say most beautiful of Italian cities. Meanwhile, in Giudecca, in converted breweries, on a permanent basis, one finds a space dedicated to contemporary art run by Michela Rizzo. Marking twenty years since the galleries first open, I caught up with Michela, whom Malta is honoured to have on the administrative team showing a solo show by local artist Matthew Attard in the Malta Pavillion at La Biennale Di Venezia.

Opalka installation view, il tempo della pittura, Galleria Michela Rizzo - Palazzo Palumbo Fossati, 2011

Jo: Michela – first of all may I say that I consider you to be an inspirational figure as a woman in the contemporary art scene and I am very grateful to have made your acquaintance. I would love to know what led you to make the leap to open your own gallery in Venice 20 years ago. 

Michela: At the age of 40, I made a significant transition in my life by opening Galleria Michela Rizzo. Prior to this, I had spent years as an entrepreneur in my family’s company. However, I reached a point where I felt compelled to pursue a different path, driven by a genuine interest and inner need for change. Despite facing skepticism from others who deemed my decision as unconventional, perhaps even reckless, I embarked on this new venture. Reflecting on it now, I acknowledge that there was an element of ‘daring’ involved. Yet, it was fueled by a sincere passion and determination to follow my heart. As I approach the 20th anniversary of the gallery’s opening on March 13th, I can’t help but appreciate the journey and the growth it has brought me.

Ship Of Fools - Photo by Francesco Piva

Jo: How do you approach your role as a gallerist? What is behind your approachability as a gallerist?

Michela: Rather than adhering to a singular aesthetic or style, I am captivated by the multifaceted nature of contemporary art, which demands a nuanced and layered comprehension. I prioritise understanding the journey of each artist I represent, observing their growth. I look at the quality of an artist’s work, their intellectual and conceptual understanding and their ability to express themselves freely. I resist the allure of fleeting trends, firmly believing that art transcends mere decoration; it should provoke profound contemplation and reflection. I am committed to nurturing both established artists (Roman Opalka, Fabio Mauri, Muntadas and Hamish Fulton, among others), who have already made significant contributions in the art world, as well as fostering the development of emerging talents. I am therefore continuously aiming to provide a platform and work with a diverse range of artists with various levels of abilities. Ultimately, I view art as a powerful tool for self-discovery and introspection. This perspective compels me to extend beyond my personal preferences. Through this approach, I strive to foster an environment where art serves as a catalyst for growth and understanding.

Jo: Despite the presence of the Biennale, and Venice being the seat of a few private or other art foundations, Venice is not considered the most important city in the Italian or European Art Market. Galleria Michela Rizzo seems to have become a beacon of contemporary art there. Do you feel your hard work is validated? How do you feel the scene has changed over the last 20 years? 

Michela: Venice’s prominence as a centre for contemporary art has undeniably been shaped by the La Biennale Arte. However, in the last two decades, we’ve witnessed a significant evolution in the contemporary art scene of the city. This transformation is evident with the establishment of influential institutional spaces such as Pinault, Peggy Guggenheim, and Prada, alongside the emergence of studios and foundations by established artists like Anish Kapoor. Concurrently, various organisations and institutions have initiated projects that have reshaped the city’s artistic narrative. Moreover, galleries have not only expanded their physical presence but are also curating independent programmes, a trend that has gained momentum particularly in the last two years. This collective growth and diversification showcase promising prospects for Venice’s future in terms of the contemporary art scene. While the Biennale remains a strategic landmark, the ever-growing number of art spaces and initiatives contribute significantly to the city’s evolving contemporary art scene and market.

Artist Matthew Attard - the artist representing Malta at The Venice Biennale 2024

Jo: My belief is that you foster a stronger than average genuine relationship with the artists you represent. How did you get around choosing the artists you so generously nurture? Can you give us some examples, perhaps highlighting the start of your relationship with Matthew?

Michela: I am grateful for this observation because my relationship with artists is an ever-growing and ever developing journey, which is the beautiful aspect of this work. The selection of each artist holds its own story and interesting trajectory. My experience with Matthew exemplifies this uniqueness. Initially, our paths crossed when he joined the gallery as a gallery assistant, supporting in the execution of exhibitions. Unknown to me at the time, Matthew was also a practicing artist. While fulfilling his duties at the gallery, his artistic pursuits continued behind-the-scenes, eventually catching the eye of one of my collectors during an exhibition by a residency programme he was participating in. Recognising his talent, I extended an invitation for his first exhibition in our Project Room, where he unexpectedly garnered more attention than the featured artist in our main gallery space. His journey underscores the dynamic and interconnected nature of my relationship with artists. From the start, he created rapports with the various artists represented by the gallery who inspired him not only in his work but also in ways of seeing and humble approach and life lessons. especially in relation to the art world.

Jo: Can you give us a brief description of the highlights in Matthew’s career from your perspective since you have been representing him? 

Michela: I can safely say he continued to develop various aspects of his versatile practice; these were present from the start. He also took on nuanced stances which allowed him to further develop his practice and evolve his work in a significant manner. He was still 26 years of age when I started to represent him. He was still very young, I was privileged and posses great satisfaction of following his entire journey. Aside from being a solo artist of the Maltese Pavilion in 2024, he was also awarded an honourable prize 4th edition of then Montani Tesei at Art Verona in 2023. He was also shortlisted for the Lumen Prize in 2021, and won the Premio Rotari in 2020 and was also a finalist for the Premio Combat in the same year. His work is found in notable collections.

Jo: How did your peers, other artists you represent and collectors receive the news that one of your artists won the bid to do a solo show in a national pavilion at the Biennale? 

Michela: Undoubtedly it was great news for everyone, especially since his 10 year journey was primarily in Italy. They knew him, they own his work and therefore they were all very happy. They are all excited and enthusiastic and are eagerly anticipating his work for the Maltese Pavilion at the biennale. There are great expectations. 

Jo: As his gallerist, what are your predictions for the next phase of Matthew’s career? What advice would you give to Maltese collectors who have not yet had the pleasure of owning one of Matthew Attard’s works?  

Michela: I have great faith in his work, both for his talent but also because of his determination. As for the collectors, I recommend that they get to know his work more closely and that they acquire some of his works very soon.

Michela Rizzo

Galleria Michela Rizzo
Isola della Giudecca 800 Q, 30133, Venice, Italy
Closest vaporetto stop: Palanca
Tel : +39 0418391711

Open: Tuesday to Saturday, 11am to 6pm

Next exhibition: Gibigiane, Brian Eno’s solo show, opening 18 April 2024

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