Koolhaas and Stocchi: Our LeWitt looks beyond the West

At the Fondazione Carriero in Milan, the exhibition “Sol LeWitt. Between the lines” takes back to nowadays the American artist.

“Sol LeWitt. Between the lines”, exhibition views, Fondazione Carriero, Milan, 2017

“We have in common the obvious” says Rem Koolhaas, referring to Francesco Stocchi, curator of Rotterdam’s Museum Bojimans Van Beunigen, who adds: “we love anchovies”. Both have been busy for the last two years curating the exhibition “Sol LeWitt. Between the Lines”, devoted to the American conceptual artist and held at the Fondazione Carriero, in a privately owned Quattrocento building in Milan. (The exterior is faced entirely with terracotta, and the interiors were renewed by Gae Aulenti in 1991.) They are two complementary souls, as emerges from this interview (only lightly edited). In his gentle way, Koolhaas is apparently instinctive and hasty. Stocchi formulates concepts as he speaks and searches for them as if thinking aloud. He’s collaborative by nature. The one incisive, the other diplomatic. And as co-curators they are complete. The strength of the exhibition  lies in the relation of artworks to context. Stocchi says, “the place is as important as the work itself: we have adapted LeWitt’s rational work, his precision, his lack of emotion, his silence, to the irregular spaces of the foundation. We have replaced silence with music.” Koolhaas presses home the argument: “We have recontextualised and decontextualised Lewitt’s work, giving it a new – almost absolute – meaning, one that goes beyond the confines of the West.”

Olga Mascolo: Could you explain the contextualisation and decontextualisation of the artwork more clearly. Say what you like freely.
Rem Koolhaas: Free association...
Olga Mascolo:
Francesco Stocchi:
We started from LeWitt’s paradox about proportions. His structures and many of his drawings on the wall may seem out of scale. This is not the case: the artist was very sensitive to proportions. The space of the Fondazione Carriero, with all its irregularities, has been crucial in constructing an exhibition to bring out this paradox. If you insert irregularities in a clearly defined rhythm, they stand out.

Olga Mascolo: LeWitt stands out, or the palazzo?
Rem Koolhaas:
That’s the point. It’s their combination that emerges. And this is possible because we know the spaces really well. (Stocchi has curated five exhibitions here, ndr)
Francesco Stocchi:
We wanted LeWitt's work to host the spaces, not vice versa. And it’s paradoxical if you think of the drawings on the walls. Here we are challenging the specifics of the place, without going against LeWitt.
Rem Koolhaas:
It was interesting to think freely and not let ourselves be paralysed by respect for the artist. But there’s always been a time when we would say: this is going too far. We were worried we might be doing something cheap. We acted freely, and then subjected ourselves to a kind of self-criticism.

Img.15 “Sol LeWitt. Between the lines”, exhibition view, Fondazione Carriero, Milan, 2017
“Sol LeWitt. Between the lines”, exhibition view, Fondazione Carriero, Milan, 2017

Olga Mascolo: Did you have a basic idea you began with? A plan? 
Francesco Stocchi: We began the discussion starting from the Fondazione Carriero. We thought we had something in common to say about LeWitt that could be critically hosted in this building.
Rem Koolhaas: No, no plan for me.
Francesco Stocchi: It grew organically.

Olga Mascolo: And what do you have in common to make you think you can work together? 
Rem Koolhaas:
All the obvious things. We’re close, educated, we live in Holland, have an international outlook. I feel an empathy for Italy, and then curiosity, volition. We have breakfast between 8 and 9 in the morning... Can we tell the waiter to stop bringing food?

Olga Mascolo: Is curatorship an art? They both reply, especially Koolhaas who, they say, is curating an exhibition for the first time.
Rem Koolhaas: No, not the first time! I’ve curated lots of things: the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2014 etc.
Francesco Stocchi:
No, Rem, but maybe she means visual arts...
Olga Mascolo:
Rem Koolhaas:
We’ll see if we can forgive you. I would say yes, but not only. Art is an important part, but it’s not everything: the proportion is 27% politics, 15% economics, 21% history, and the rest art and even a bit of anthropology.
Francesco Stocchi:
It’s not an art, it’s not a “work of art”. Artists are not curators, as in the current Istanbul Biennial. We don’t want to use the work of art as a means of expressing our ideas. An artist can do what he likes. We have to radically distinguish the curator’s work from the artist’s. This doesn’t mean the curator has no artistic qualities or...
Rem Koolhaas:

Fig.16 “Sol LeWitt. Between the lines”, exhibition view, Fondazione Carriero, Milan, 2017
“Sol LeWitt. Between the lines”, exhibition view, Fondazione Carriero, Milan, 2017

Olga Mascolo: Art, curatorship, the fact of decontextualising a work of art. In Europe, in our culture, can it be a political act?
Rem Koolhaas: What do you think? (Turning to Stocchi.)
Francesco Stocchi:  All art is politics. The art that speaks of politics is the kind that interests me least. The art that condemns Trump, for instance, ends up becoming reportage and belongs to a different field. Koolhaas says this too. The political reaction to LeWitt's methods in 1968 ends up being more important now, when there’s more turmoil.

Olga Mascolo: Yes, decontextualising ... always giving new meanings to works of art that remain such.
Rem Koolhaas: It’s not decontextualising, rather it’s being open to other ways of seeing an artist's work. Don’t just rely on one interpretation. A work gives rise to discussion when it’s completed, and the discussions can change. It’s a matter of “reopening a case”, a term used in justice, in the language of the courts. And that’s what we have done here with LeWitt.

Sol LeWitt. Between the lines
Opening dates:
17 November 2017 – 23 June 2018
Francesco Stocchi and Rem Koolhaas
Fondazione Carriero
via Cino del Duca 4, Milan

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