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Inside Roberto Casamonti’s Tornabuoni Art


Life & Style

Walking down Albemarle Street in London’s tony Mayfair district, one cannot help but notice the golden shine of the bold bronze sculptures of Italian artist Arnaldo Pomodoro, monolithically exposed in the sleek yet surprisingly inviting space of Tornabuoni Art. Although a newcomer to the London art scene, the gallery arrived in the British capital last October with a long-standing international reputation that proved once again that when it comes to Italian contemporary art, nobody does it better than gallery owner Roberto Casamonti.

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Inheriting his father’s taste for Italian novecento art, Casamonti opened his first gallery in 1981 in Florence, which also highlighted his passion for avant-garde and post-war Italian artists. He later launched satellite galleries in strategically located holiday spots such Portofino and Crans-Montana, where discerning art collectors began to notice the importance of these obscure movements. Casamonti and his children, Ursula and Michele, now serve as gallerists to an ever-growing bevy of collectors in six locations, including Paris, Milan and London. There, they showcase some of the 20th century’s most influential Italian artists, including the likes of Giorgio Morandi, Alberto Burri, and Lucio Fontana, father of spatialism, whose vision of blending art, architecture and technology gave birth to his now iconic and meticulously slashed monochromatic canvases.

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We recently sat down with Casamonti to learn more about the dialogue he and his family have constructed over the past 35 years between high-profile collectors, museums and foundations, all seeking deeper insight into the artists they represent and the thought-provoking sculptures and paintings that hallmark midcentury Italian aesthetics.

Roberto Casamonti Good question. I’ll answer it here, because this is an answer.

Previews Inside Out You inherited your interest in art from your father, who collected Italian novecento art. Do you share the same passion for this art period?

Roberto Casamonti I started collecting contemporary art (post-war) in the beginning of the 1950s. I kept an eye out for the artists who were present around me in Florence, but I had already fallen in love with the artists of the Italian novecento, such as Giorgio de Chirico, Giorgio Morandi, Gino Severini, Giacomo Balla and Felice Casorati, artists who are today internationally renown and have integrated many museum collections worldwide, but also others who are more locally recognized, such as Ardengo Soffici and Ottone Rosai.

My personal taste for the Italian novecento comes from my Italian roots, of course, but I also found interest in the new Italian generation at the time, such as Alberto Burri, Lucio Fontana, etc., and artists that I have had the pleasure of knowing personally, like Piero Dorazio and Emilio Vedova.

Previews Inside Out Why did you decide to establish a gallery specializing in Italian art of the second half of the 20th century?

Roberto Casamonti When my father passed away, I inherited his entire collection. From that point on, my life has been dedicated to art. But at the time, I was already immersed in the art world: I was already close to some artists, I was already advising friends on what to (or not to) collect, I was always looking for artwork to collect and purchase. I already had the makings of a dealer, without actually owning a gallery. When I inherited my father’s collection, I naturally opened a space in 1981 on the main street of Florence that would lead to the gallery’s name, Via Tornabuoni.

My biggest passion for post-war art, which began when I discovered the work of Lucio Fontana, was for me a lightning strike and a revelation — so it was natural for me to dedicate my opening solo show to the master of spatialism, followed by exhibitions of other artists I was fond of, such as Emilio Vedova and Piero Dorazio, alternated with exhibitions on the Italian novecento such as Massimo Capilli, Giorgio de Chirico and Giorgio Morandi.

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Previews Inside Out You’ve expanded to several major European cities since 1981 — including Paris and, most recently, London. What were your most significant gallery openings and why? Why would you say London is such “an important meeting point for the European and American art market” today?

Roberto Casamonti The starting point was Via Tornabuoni in Florence in 1981. I then opened galleries in cities that weren’t European capitals, such as Crans Montana and Portofino, two holiday destinations for art collectors with free time. I then opened spaces in key (on the cultural and artistic scene) cities such as Milan, Paris and London.

The City of Lights is a city with an extremely intense cultural life and exceptional rank in terms of museum exhibitions. In Paris, there is a true a lust for Italian art, intensified by numerous Italian exhibitions held in various museums, such as the Lucio Fontana Retrospective at the Centre Georges Pompidou (1987–1988), which pushed this Italian artist into the world’s spotlight.

London, on the other hand, is more dynamic, due to the market, and a key meeting point for collectors from Asia and the United States, who come to follow art auctions, fairs, major cultural events, etc. London is a key international venue for the art market, and Paris is more important on a cultural level.

Previews Inside Out What’s your philosophy when it comes to curating art for your galleries?

Roberto Casamonti Tornabuoni has become a true international showcase for Italian art today. When I think about an exhibition, I try to bring together the best works of an artist in order for the public to discover his or her entire work, all aspects of his or her artistic research.

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Previews Inside Out How has your personal collecting philosophy informed your management decisions at Tornabuoni Art?

Roberto Casamonti I strongly believe that there shouldn’t be a difference between dealing art and collecting art. For me, I wouldn’t be able to offer to a client an artwork that I wouldn’t personally keep in my collection. I wouldn’t purchase a painting for the gallery’s collection if I didn’t personally believe in the artist or didn’t appreciate his work. The artists in the gallery’s collection are the same as the ones in my private collection, the ones from which I cannot easily detach myself.

In doing so, I discover new artists, young, contemporary artists who are unfortunately not “mature” enough for me to present in my gallery alongside our major artists. However, I am delighted to see, over the years, when these artists start to gain a reputation that allows me to organize a solo show.

Previews Inside Out What artists are currently hanging on your walls?

Roberto Casamonti I am used to changing the hangings in my house, and I am always in love with my latest acquisitions. Some works by key artists of the Italian novecento such as de Chirico, Morandi and Severini never move, but I alternate paintings by Enrico Castellani, Jannis Kounellis, Alberto Burri and Emilio Isgrò. It goes without saying that Lucio Fontana is permanently present on the walls of my house.

Previews Inside Out What are your rules (if there are any rules) for curating art for the home?

Roberto Casamonti It’s only a question of coup de coeur! I follow my impulses and heart and, naturally, what I have learned from my 50 years of experience in the art world. One must never buy according to what one hears. Too many art collectors follow what people have advised them to buy. One must follow one’s eyes and heart. I have always bought art according to my taste and love for the artwork, and these purchases have never deceived me, they are the most sure bet! I will not hide the fact that I have also bought artwork according to the trends and analysis of the art market, but they are clearly not the best choices I have made in my life.

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Previews Inside Out For those who are new to collecting post-war Italian art, where is a good place to start?

Roberto Casamonti I would, of course, always start from the artist who is the principal figure of post-war Italian art, Lucio Fontana, followed by Alberto Burri, Alighiero Boetti, Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani. Evidently, these artists come at a price, but there are still other artists like Paolo Scheggi and Agostino Bonalumi, and the Roman school, such as Tano Festa, Mario Ceroli, Pino Pascali and Piero Dorazio, less expensive than the five previous names.


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Inside Roberto Casamonti’s Tornabuoni Art

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