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PUSH! Midwifery 101 with Antonio Riello

Posted By PrincessRoxy on May 23, 2018 at 4:46AM

Avant-garde conceptualist artist Antonio Riello is always pushing the boundaries.  His latest art installation Museomania # 8 is in the Bassano del Grappa Civic Museum, near Venice, where his conceptual art in various mediums, from paper, to ceramics, to glass, to a bizarre Vespa, are interspersed with the classic artworks of the museum.  It is his way of challenging and provoking the traditional works.  To me, it was a novel way to get people interested in classical art: a sort of “treasure hunt” to find the ceramic shotgun set down near the IX century BCE pottery.

Midwifery 101 with Antonio Riello

When I requested an interview to learn more about him, he taught me a word: Maieutic. The origin is Greek, from the word maieutikos, meaning the Socratic way of obtaining information from a person by way of a steady stream of questions.  It also means to assist in giving birth.

So I was going to be a midwife, somehow. 

It might get messy.

We met in Venice at the GoUnusual member hotel Ca’ Maria Adele and we had a look at the available places for the interview before Riello decided on the Sala Noir. A two-level, all black suite with an enormous black chandelier over the bed, I imagined that this room was used for purposes much more lively than an art interview.

Midwifery 101 with Antonio Riello

Riello, dressed in a striped shirt in a typical gondolier fashion, plopped on the bed and the unusual interview began.

PUSH! Midwifery 101 with Antonio Riello

GU:  What are your origins?

AR: I was born in Marostica, a small town an hour from Venice and I studied pharmaceutical chemistry because our family had a chemists’ shop. It was important to carry on the tradition.

GU: What made you turn to art?

AR: I was always attracted to art, especially visual art.  I visited museums and did drawings as a teenager. I finished my studies as fast as I could, and graduated quickly to get it over with. I never went to art school.

The turning point for me was when I read a book by Paul Klee, a diary of a trip he took to Tunisia. I was fascinated by it, especially when Klee was describing the light of Northern Africa.  After reading that book, it was a kind of trigger toward the vocation of art.

GU: Do you consider yourself a conceptual artist?

AR:  I could belong to a special category of ironic conceptualism.

GU: Tell me the idea behind your Ladies Weapons project

 Midwifery 101 with Antonio Riello

AR:  I took of weapons, objects that are a source of destruction, and painted them girly colours, put jewels on them, and embellished objects with fashion logos.  I made some machine guns in decorated ceramic.  I let people draw their own conclusions.

GU:  Who buys your art?

AR: Most of the time, a dealer buys it and I don’t know who the final buyer is. It is rare that I find out.

GU: Isn’t it important to know who buys your work? To know why they bought it?

AR: Not really … People buy art for many reasons. Some play the collecting game, some for investment, some of the reasons have to do with personal and social identity. Like a key and a lock. If the key fits, it works. It’s not a question of price. Now there is the vintage factor. Works from 1960’s and 1970’s are popular because the art, or furniture, or object, speaks to the buyer’s sense of nostalgia.

PUSH! Midwifery 101 with Antonio Riello

GU: What are you really good at?  

AR: Strategic thinking. I like to plan, like a general in a battle.

GU: You suck at:

AR: All the rest.  Most artists are that because they can’t do anything else. A non-job. A kids playtime that lasts forever.  

Midwifery 101 with Antonio Riello

GU: Spiderman or Batman?

AR: Batman, I hate spiders.

GU: White or Black?

AR: Black - its more practical, white gets dirty.

GU: Would you prefer to be the funniest man on earth or the most handsome?

AR: Funny. I am already handsome.

GU: The genie gives you one wish.

AR: To be more generous and reliable. I could improve myself.  

GU: Are you egocentric. 

AR: Yes, of course. I don’t exploit people, but I could be a better person.

GU: What do you love about Venice:

AR: Tourists.  I take pictures of them. The only real experience is to live the tourist life. Venice is like a museum.  Your job is to visit the attractions.  Like Disneyland. Venice died in the 18th century, it’s a giant cultural cemetery. All you can do is visit it. It’s a mausoleum.  I love it but the best way to live it is to be a tourist.

GU: Can it be brought back to life? With events like the Biennale?

AR: The Biennale is like a circus.  People come in for the opening, run around, then for the rest of the year it’s another tourist attraction.

GU: New York or London?

AR: At 20 and 30 years old it was New York, very high energy.  Now its London, I love London. It’s a mess, but its real, That’s why I love it. Things happen and people are themselves.

GU: What is your definition of success?

AR: People recognize you as a successful person. It come from outside. Everything is moving. Yesterday’s success is something else today. Success doesn’t exist.

GU: One Superpower?

AR: To become invisible.

GU: Nooo! You’d hear what people are saying about

AR:  Yes, that could be disappointing.

GU: When do you get your best inspiration?

AR: When I wake up in the morning, that is the moment when I get inspired. And have visions.  I’m not totally awake… I’m still a bit half-dreaming. 

GU: Tell me about your next project.

I am creating big maps that I cut, recombine in the wrong way and embellish. I like plaid, and like my Be Square project, I will incorporate tartan in the decoration.  The project is about migration, and how migrants are influencing the world, as they always have.  

During the Middle Ages, dealers from the Middle East went to Italy to sell ceramics and rugs with specific patterns. The Faenza ceramic patterns are a translation of those

designs. It’s not so different from the migration patterns of today. Midwifery 101 with Antonio Riello

GU: You’ve decorated missiles with pictures of saints and the pope.

AR: I used to go to church as a boy.  As I was bored, I would always look up at the ceiling and study the paintings. The celestial scenes were so fascinating, so I used the blue sky and clouds instead of camouflage, a kind of theological camouflage.  The Vatican air force.

Midwifery 101 with Antonio Riello

GU: The most unusual reactions to your work

AR: When I made my Ladies’ Weapons exhibition, I was driving back from Cologne.  The German police stopped me at the border, found my “weapons” and handcuffed me. I was questioned by them for a few hours.  I tried to show them that it’s an art exhibit, and my catalogue. Some negotiation… then they finally said, OK, we will let you go, but, can you take some pictures with us?

Another time I was driving from Basel and at the border from Switzerland. I did an installation with cans of meat that I declared was “human meat”.  They asked if I had something to declare and I said, just my art. When they found the cans they started questioning me. I invited them to open the can to see.  They were filled with green beans. When they proceeded to open more 10 cans, I said, OK that’s too much. Now I will call my lawyer, you are destroying my artwork. You can call my dealer.  We resolved it somehow.

In 2005, at the MART museum in Rovereto, I set up my installation called AIRMART, converting the museum as if it were an airport, including announcements and a board with departure times.  Some people came in and said they couldn’t find the museum. “This is the third time people are sending us here, and its and it’s an airport!”, they said.  I explained that it was an art installation.  The guy told me, “What kind of idiot would come up with an idea like that?”

Midwifery 101 with Antonio Riello

You’re talking to him”, Riello deadpanned.

And with that, our labour of love is done, and we can put this baby to bed.

Thank you Antonio Riello for the unusual interview, and to Ca Maria Adele in Venice for their GoUnusual interview location. Museomania # 8 is on in Bassano del Grappa until 23 July 2018.




Midwifery 101 with Antonio Riello

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