Bigger Art for a smaller World

Sanlorenzo Yachts is paying homage to the maestro Emilio Isgrò by putting the 1968 Odysseia work on display at Art Basel in an exhibition designed ad hoc by the architect Piero Lissoni.
Inside the VIP lounge in the heart of the famous art exhibition a place of honour has been reserved for an artist who throughout the second half of the 20th century dedicated himself to painting, poetry, writing and dramaturgy , bringing art to a new level of cultured anti-conformism.
“I viaggi della mente – Omaggio a Emilio Isgrò (The journeys of the mind. Homage to Emilio Isgrò)” is the title of the installation that expresses the cultural journey undertaken by the artist, his discoveries and the revelations of a concept hidden among his famous erasures.
The company fully embraces the artist’s thinking, firmly convinced that culture is the highest form of luxury and demonstrates it not only in the production of sumptuous boats but also in the passion that it has dedicated to the art world for years. As a prudent patron, Sanlorenzo Yachts chooses works by important artists for its archives which it then exhibits in the course of different events, with the aim of passing on the equally important ideas they bring with them to those who observe.
Having the honour of meeting an artist of the caliber of Emilio Isgrò, we took advantage of the opportunity to observe the current state of the art world from his point of view.

Enciclopedia Treccani 1970

Cristina Bigliatti
For the tribute dedicated to you at Art Basel, the Odysseia work was chosen: what does the journey of Emilio Isgrò have in common with that of Ulysses?
Emilio Isgrò
The only thing in common is simply that curiosity that pushes men to want to know more and more. I am happy to reinterpret this role as a fellow traveller like Ulysses at a time when artistic research seems to be content with what has already been seen and done, with one or two happy exceptions. Art is an act of adventure in human knowledge and also in the exploration of human sensibilities. The world has become physically too small, at least let’s enlarge it intellectually! This tribute is a gesture which I not only consider useful but essential for the development of the arts in years to come.

CB
The mark that most distinguishes your poetry is that of erasure. How did it really come about and how did it develop?
EI
The erasure came from a question that I asked myself when I was very young, in the early 1960s, when a media society with a predominantly American character began to assert its predominance which was mostly visual. The Americans needed a visual reality because they were a shelter for migrants from all over the world not all of whom, of course, spoke the English of the Pilgrim Fathers. There was the television that triumphed, the Hollywood cinema, there were comics: this was the style of acculturation that the Americans experienced, to form a people from a mass of emigrants. But all this in some way penalized the written word as an instrument of human communication. So I asked myself: do words have the possibility of resisting in an eminently visual world? And what will the world be without words? A world that does not reflect. Because we know that words are at the centre of thought. Through erasing rather than destroying words, I just wanted to momentarily eclipse them, to preserve them from wear and tear, from the risk of becoming just chatter.

CB
Personally I have always wondered not so much why some words were erased, but why others remained uncovered …
EI
Some remained uncovered because they became tracks in the middle of a desert of ideas. It was not the case that the most significant words always remained. Sometimes I saved words that were seemingly trivial, but only to make it clear, however, that even the banality of the word is redeemed when it becomes a wreck in a sea of deletions. It becomes even more precious.

Engels 1974

CB
Seeds are another of your great hallmarks. What is the meaning that they conceal?
EI
In the same way that the seed can generate a number of fruits, it can also generate many different readings and interpretations. The idea came from the need to create a work for my hometown – Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto in Sicily – which was trying to re-emerge in a society that had many problems, including mafia criminality which prevented its development. I remembered that once my land was an important place for the production of oranges which were then sent all over the world. The economy worked alone, without needing to be assisted. So I re-suggested the seed as a sign of truth and freedom, even at a commercial level because where an artist dares to create a seven metre tall orange seed, I would hope that there is an entrepreneur who has the vision and the courage to create a company capable of employing two thousand workers. Art serves this purpose, to give courage.

CB
How do you decipher poetry like yours?
EI
Conceptual art is cryptic. Art can give explanations when it is new but only once. If it gives it for fifty years in a row there is something wrong. It is right to give it a reading, but then an effort must be made by the beholder. We must stop thinking that in order to appreciate art, people do not have to make any effort. The artist has to make an effort and of course the public do too. The task of criticism and of the art world in general is precisely that of directing taste towards truly necessary inventions, those that change our way of seeing and thinking. Would our vision of things be the same without Lucio Fontana’s cuts or Malevich’s black square? This is the first question we must ask ourselves.

CB
You’ve lived in the art world as a leading player for the last six decades – what do you think of its current state?
EI
If art has a limitation today, except for one or two exceptions, it is that of giving too many answers. Art is useful when it asks questions and politics, economics and philosophy must provide the answers. Artists no longer ask questions, they have become the universe’s great type-approvers. Fortunately there are artists who are different: those are the ones to look for.

CB
Such a selection has become really difficult, since there are many who are self-proclaimed artists, don’t you think?
EI
The fact that a large number of people have approached the art world is not a bad thing, because it means that the social dimension of art has widened. It is bad however that this enlargement has come at the expense of quality. If you sometimes feel that there are too many artists, this comes from the fact that you think that this abundance can make up in some way for a lack of depth and quality. There are some great artists in the world, but these are usually presented by those dealers who know how to read art and who do their job responsibly.

CB
What advice would you give to young artists who are struggling to enter the art world?
EI
I would tell them to keep doing what they are doing – at least, that’s what I did – truly believing and going all the way. If they are authentic and sincere, in the end they will win. Art is always in a tug of war, a struggle with society. Nobody believes in the revolutions of those who are not willing to face any hardship, even poverty, to assert their ideas. In short, young people must be very motivated, either because they have a powerful political idea or because they are true believers, or they are in love with someone who believes in them. Everyone finds their sustenance in love, whether it be of a woman, God or their neighbour, but woe betide those who only believe in money. Money is a means. With strong and rich ideas misery can be tackled, without ideas you just give up.