Art – the Italian artist who lives in New York.
Thanks to Pietro Costa for his availability and for accepting our invitation to be interviewed. Dear Pietro We look forward to seeing you soon in Italy for new exciting artistic projects. With great respect, Elisabetta thank you with all my heart!
Q: Hi Pietro! To begin and to get to know you better, I ask you: Who is Pietro Costa?
A: I am an individual born in another century, in another millennium with my feet in this one. I have been told that I am a polymath. I know that I am a workaholic, obsessive compulsive and stubborn in approaching what I am passionate about.
I had a wonderfully simple childhood. Without external and technological stresses. Without TV, telephone and Web. Without travel (other than the month of colony in Paestum) and full of joyful memories. A life now in fashion, promoted by the concept of living at Kilometro Zero.
Q: What is your first work ever?
A: The caption of my first work is:
BIRTH – 1960
Human body, embryonic fluid, placenta.
45cmX25cmX15cm – 3.6 Kg.)
My last work will be:
DEATH – 20 ??
Human body ashes, dental gold, residues of environmental contamination
Variable dimensions (7.26 kg – 10% of the current weight of the corpse)
Q: What studies did you do?
A: I spent twenty years, from kindergarten to graduation, in six different institutions on two different continents (Italy and the USA). I received my BFA from the School of Visual Arts and my MFA from Hunter College at City University of New York.
I spent 61 years, outside the academic walls, learning three languages and various professions that have enabled me to practice a multidisciplinary life and shaped who I am today.
Q: Where did your artistic vein originate from? Where did you start from? From what idea or inspiration?
A: From the navel that tied me to my mother Antonia. From constantly asking me who I am. From the instinct to seek the answer to “why am I?”.
Q: What value does Italy have for you?
A: It is the starting point that continues to be a frequent stop on my spiral journey.
Q: What value does Cilento have for you? How much do you feel you belong to your land of origin?
A: I started to know the Cilento as an adult, having never traveled more than a few kilometers from the bed where I was born until I was 12 years old. The value of it is growing fast with the passing years and the knowledge I gather with the passing of time.
We are composed of star dust. The residues of the first breath of air which swelled my breasts for the first time, flow in my blood. The first images of light and the first senses of smell remain permanent in my memory. I would say that the Cilento is part of me at a post-primordial level.
Q: Referring to your projects, I cannot fail to recall BACAS. When and how was BACAS born? With what idea, with what perspectives?
A: BACAS is my payment for what life has sold me. A “caffè sospeso” for those who have remained in their place of origin and for those seeking to buy new offers from life. And for those who want to get to know a different Italy.
The prospect of BACAS is to become sustainable, indefinitely. To be that, it needs people who share its vision and value, it’s potential. Most of all BACAS must be cultivated by those who have the political / social power in the territory. Those who have a sense of civic responsibility and imagine a different world and not “business as usual”. The launch of BACAS at Castello Macchiaroli di Teggiano showed what is possible. The mission found on the BACAS official website is not “just words”, as often happens in our country. It is a reality built on facts.
Business as usual has suffocated the communities of small Italian villages. I am referring to the southern villages depopulated by emigration, not only that of the past but that in-progress today, because young people have no voice or power. The villages are populated more and more by potentials wasted in vain, to obtain power and in the exchange of votes and for favoritism. There is a reason why the launch of BACAS did not take place in my home village… but that’s a story for another day.
Q: In one of your interviews I read that BACAS has been defined as “Michelangelo’s new laboratory”. What effect did this statement have on you?
A: I don’t remember this statement! If I did it, I apologize for that moment of distraction.
If it was done by a reporter, it escaped me, I apologize for not correcting it. I imagine Michelangelo’s workshop was a place with assistants who helped him realize his ideas.
BACAS is a seed that an artist planted and cultivated up to the sprout. But the launch of BACAS was accomplished with the contribution of a group of people with their own talents and practices. The future of BACAS will need numerous new people, talents and collective resources dedicated to its sustainability.
This is why I would say that the comparison with Michelangelo’s laboratory is not fair, even if it flatters me.
Q: I ask you who Michelangelo Buonarroti is for you and more broadly how do you place yourself in front of his work?
A: I ask you to withdraw this question… NO kidding!
The great masters of the Renaissance are the pinnacle of a practice that aspired to the perfection of creation. Creating in the sense of reproducing the reality that surrounded them with static objects and images. With the “man-made”. In essence, creating a still life to highlight the perfection and beauty that already existed. Michelangelo was one of the great masters capable of doing it with his own hands.
In front of one of his works, the emotions and sensations are different, it depends on the work. Michelangelo’s works are part of a discourse that began 50,000 years ago (more or less) on the walls of a cave, in the absolute darkness of a terrestrial womb.
The strongest sensation I had in front of a human-made image, was during the visit to the Cuevas de Altamira in 1990. It was sublime. Much stronger than what I had heard in front of a work created in the last 600 years. Faced with a simple ‘splash of blood’ on the rock, I felt the sublime human instinct to create. Those images have survived thousands of years to tell us a very distant past.
Q: How does a contemporary artist approach all classical art in general?
A: All art is / was contemporary when it was made. This term “contemporary” is not used correctly. It’s become a cliché. There should only be the art of the present and the art of the past with the various labels of the period and genre. By “classical art in general” do you mean the expressions of visual art of Christian Europe?
Today “the contemporary” is the product of a free expression, informed by all other global contemporary expressions. It is a boundless vision. Today’s art is the product of cross-contamination. Today’s art crosses cultures, religions and classical traditions that are geographically and culturally diverse. The “classic” one is only a particle of contemporary art of its time. What art was made on the African continent in the 1400s or 1500s? And in Asia? And in the “new continents”? Today the dialogue is all inclusive.
Q: Your favorite artist? Or your favorite artistic current?
A: There are no favorites. I look and evaluate everything I see, hoping for new discoveries.
During my overall 16 years with the Guggenheim New York, the Peggy Guggenheim Venice and the Guggenheim Bilbao, I have worked alongside many artists; from Mario and Marisa Merz to Richard Serra, from Enzo Cucchi to Dan Flavin, from Richard Long to Mark DiSuvero. Fortunately, the list was long. These direct contacts were very important.
There is another much longer list. The list of artists I have not met, but have had the privilege of having their works in my hands. I have installed works by Brancusi, Pollock, Picasso, Braque, Calder, Smith, Malevich, Modigliani, Dubuffet and hundreds of others.
I studied art at the School of Visual Arts (1978) with Keith Haring. Jean Michel Basquiat often came to ‘tag’ the walls of the school with graffiti. I have had important professors / artists like Robert Morris and Carolee Schneemann, David Salle, Jackie Windsor, Rosalind Krauss. I could never pick any favorites.
Q: Returning to the BACAS speech, I incorrectly indicated in an article that the BACAS headquarters was Palazzo Macchiaroli in Teggiano, instead the ancient castle is not the seat but was only the site of the BACAS launch. Can you tell us the reasons that led you to that choice?
A: BACAS – Ancient Villages Culture Arts Sciences is a plural acronym. The launch took place in the wonderful Macchiaroli Castle for various reasons. I believe that Gaetano Macchiaroli, Gisella’s father, mysteriously wanted it. The Castle can be one of the locations and in the future, a decision in the hands of Gisella Macchiaroli.
The launch of BACAS at Castello Macchiaroli was a ‘serendipity’ and a moment when the use of the Castle came closest to the dream of Gaetano Macchiaroli, responsible for the vision and restoration of the former Sanseverino ruins.
The plurality of the acronym BACAS means that it aspires to program in all the cultural sites that host us. We have launched a collaboration with the Mida Foundation, entitled Digital Bamboo, at the Jesus (MIDA lll) in Auletta. The pandemic unfortunately stopped the second part of the project consisting of a construction laboratory at the forefront of digital architecture with sustainable materials.
I hope that in 2022/2023 we will have the opportunity to hold BACAS events at the Certosa di San Lorenzo, in Padula where I have exhibited twice – 2003 and 2007, and with other cultural institutions in the area.
Q: Wrongly in the same article I wrote that your energies at the moment are all aimed at BACAS, which does not want to be just a residency for artists, but which becomes a place, like the New York Public Library, where every artist can make exhibitions, research, debates, in short, a project that becomes permanent. Do you want to tell us about the other Projects?
A: My energies at the moment are divided between my artistic practice and various socio-cultural projects, including BACAS. BACAS does not want to be just a residence for the various artistic disciplines, such as Civitella Ranieri and the American Academy in Rome, but also a permanent territorial development project, both in the Vallo di Diano and Cilento and also in the Hudson Valley of New York, where I have my own studio and foundation.
BACAS is also cultivating new synergies with the largest American residencies operating in Italy for future exchanges with their fellows. I am very proud that in 2019 BACAS brought Domenico “Mimmo” Lucano, ex-mayor of Riace, to New York, at the Italian House at New York University, for the first time. Lucano was named by Forbes magazine in 2016 one of the 50 most influential people in the world and no one in New York in the Italian or Italian-American community had thought of celebrating his ideas and sharing them with the New York community.
Lucano was greeted with great affection by a room packed with hundreds of people. For me he represents human injustice. Villages like Riace have been depopulated by people who emigrated to seek a better quality of life and have emptied countless villages. The emptying has caused these countries to lose social services because they do not have the minimum number of residents.
Lucano launched a reception model that offers innovative solutions to the repopulation of these countries, and instead of propagating this model that is right for our time, he has been condemned. His idea of “hospitality” is not a perfect model but a model to be perfected. It is a model for a new reality that must be cultivated towards a more just and equitable society. He had to be helped and not condemned for political reasons and unjust laws for what he proposed to us. I am convinced that we will understand better the childhood of this Utopia than it can be.
Q: How much did the fact of living in the USA affect you, your education?
A: As with trees, soil and climate affect their life and growth, so did the transplant in the US for me. And like transplanted trees, I have retained aspects of my provenance.
Q: Do you think you could have had the same chances of fame if you had stayed in Italy?
A: Who knows? I don’t believe so. This is one of the reasons for having founded BACAS. The emigration of young people outside Italy continues to be constant. The talent of the future is dripping out of the boot.
Q: What is your bond with your family? And what importance does the family have for Peter?
A: I am fortunate to have a family, starting with my 91-year-old mother, who puts up with me and supports me emotionally.
Q: Do you think that today, in the current state of affairs, the young artists of the South, of Campania, have a real chance of affirming themselves? If so, how?
A: We need to understand what is meant by “affirming”. Today’s youth have an extraordinary advantage. They can have their feet in their places and the world in their hands in a cellphone. Access to everything that happens in the world in real time. They also have the disadvantage of living in a world of art that bets a lot on the economic side. Art has become a (profane) profit vehicle and the success of a young artist has a lot to do with a complicated formula = who do you know + when you can make money + how do you manage to promote yourself on social media + who decides to evaluate you + who you have access or you can create yourself with art galleries, curators / curators, museums, critics, historians, collectors, etc..
Fame isn’t always a meritocracy.
Not everyone who considers themselves artists participates deeply in the practice and not everyone who does it deeply will be recognized.
Q: Have you ever had requests for work, collaboration, help to emerge from young artists from Campania or Italy?
A: Not so far. The practice of art is a paradox – the artist is always alone when he creates but without being in company, his practice becomes the tree that falls in the forest without making any noise.
Q: Do you believe in forms of collaboration between artists?
A: Yes. It is the reason for having founded two non-profits – BACAS and Luquer Street Projects. To encourage and promote interdisciplinary collaboration between creative people.
Q: Your current projects?
A: I am preparing a solo show in Italy for the Museum of Palazzo Pretorio, Prato, for March 2022. It is an exhibition of “portraits” from my BLOOD WORKS project that I have been carrying out since 1989. The exhibition is curated by Chiara Spangaro and will be accompanied by a bilingual publication with contributions from leading authors.
“Portraits” will be exhibited including those of three generations of the Gori family, starting with the patriarch Giuliano, a visionary collector, founder of Fattorie di Celle, and with the writer Sandro Veronesi and members of his family, among others.
I’m working on an Artist Book – an objet d’art. A limited edition of one hundred copies – thirty will have an original work that contains my blood. There will also be poems by Nick Flynn, commissioned specifically for the project and a piece of music, composed by Gianni Veronesi (son of Sandro) inspired by my works.
I hope 2022 brings other fruitful projects.
Q: COVID has given rise to a new era, which I suppose in a country like the United States and in a city like NY is felt in a dilated, strong, incisive, predominant way more than anywhere else. Your position in the face of all this?
A: I think the pandemic has affected big cities and small towns, in much the same way, relatively. I hope that the lockdown has inspired us to live a life more aware of global conditions, especially those of the environmental and socio-economic disaster that we must stop.
The pandemic was supposed to trigger a real paradigm shift. We will see what has changed and what will return to the way it was.
COVID, on March 18, 2020, forced me into quarantine, a painful but important pause. Fortunately, I came out sane and with a clearer mind. Convalescence gave me the first opportunity to stop and reflect.
A lot has changed for me. I moved out of the city, where surrounded by nature, I built a vegetable garden, raised 55 chickens and started a new routine in the studio I had built years ago, producing new works and new art projects and social initiatives.
The lockdown was an imprisonment. Deprived of the freedom I underestimated, I dedicated myself to contributing to education in prisons. I started collaborating with Bard College – Bard Prison Initiative, a micro-college that offers undergraduate courses in New York prisons. BPI offers undergraduate degrees so that those who choose to pursue a degree re-enter society prepared for a new life.
I would say this is a nice metaphor for POST-COVID revival.