In conversation with Fabio Sargentini

Fabio Sargentini granted Juliet Art Magazine a pleasant conversation.

Claudia Pansera: Let’s talk about the last exhibition, L’Attica, Quattro donne artiste. How did the idea for this exhibition come about?
Fabio Sargentini: In the notebooks, where I usually jot down ideas, already a few years ago, in 2017 or 2018 I think, there is this thought of mine about L’Attica, because the title is also very important to me, it has always been important. This title fascinated me because by changing a vowel, I brought it back to the feminine and therefore it was something that adhered to women artists and at the same time L’Attico became L’Attica, this amused me. But then I didn’t do the exhibition, I only pinned it and now I found it again to coincide with the current Biennale, set on almost all women. I said to myself: I have always supported women artists since I was young, what are we doing here? L’Attico has never been macho. I thought it was right to do the exhibition now. It was something I had started planning for a long time, on the notebook I was deciding which could be theparticipants. I had included a German artist, Katharina Sieverding, who in the period precisely of the garage in via Beccaria hung out in Rome, I even did a solo show with her. To include her, however, I had sacrificed Trisha Brown. Thus, I would have had two pairs: Simone Forti and Joan Jonas as performers and the two visual artists Marisa Merz and Katharina. I looked for Katharina but she didn’t respond, I couldn’t get in touch with her, but I’m sure she would have loved to participate. So, I reconsidered Trisha. I preferred of Marisa Merz to exhibit a “virtual” projected image because that way it also blended with the films of the other three. They are all artists who I have invited several times, think that of Marisa Merz I did two solo shows in one, at the garage and then the action with the airplane at the Urbe airport.

I read that you dedicated this exhibition to your father, Bruno Sargentini. Why?
My father chose the name L’Attico for the gallery because it was located on the top floor, the most obvious choice. He told me that he actually wanted L’Attica, the Greek Attikè. Today with this exhibition I fulfilled him. I like to bring up my father from time to time. We had an adversarial relationship, however was the founder of the gallery, I was with him from the beginning, at eighteen I was learning fast. Those years together were important, formative, after that there was the traumatic break on Pascali. When he came to see Kounellis’s horses show at the garage he said he stormed out, but I knew I was doing the right thing.

You have always combined outside and inside, thus going outside the gallery space.
Outdoors I curated many significant exhibitions, even Pascali’s episode of the film SKMP2, we shot it in Fregene. I conceived L’Attico in viaggio on the Tevere, the gallery became a boat with a rudder, and all destinations theoretically were possible at a certain point, because when you take the boat and you get to the mouth of the river, at Fiumara Grande, near Fiumicino, and you go 300/400 meters into the open sea, it means you can go anywhere. Even in India we went, with L’Attico in viaggio in 1977, in which the great art historian Cesare Brandi participated, who confided in Giulio Carlo Argan asking his opinion whether to go or not, because back then in the Seventies India was not like now, it was more exotic, let’s say. And so I left with the L’Attico in Viaggio in 1977 with Brandi and Vittorio Rubiu, then there was Luigi Ontani, Francesco Clemente, Giordano Falzoni, some of Brandi’s students, including Rosalba Zuccaro. In short, we were a good group, and Caesar wrote a nice book on it: “Persia admirable and descent from the Ganges”.

After the trip to India you started proposing the festivals, right?
Yes, I did quite a few trips, in ten years I went twelve times in India, that is, I went about twice a year. I liked being there, although I was never interested in Indian religion, mysticism. I had discovered the India of the Maharajas. One stayed divinely in their palaces used as hotels!

Why did you choose the garage as your exhibition space?
After Pascali’s death, to whom I owed the installation part, I met Simone Forti and finally got a complete vision of the space I was looking for. Pascali with Mare had unhinged the whole space in the Spanish Steps, and I realized there that I absolutely had to change space. Then, when Simone came, she brought me the other part, the spectacular and performative part: I understood that it should not just be a space for exhibitions with stationary objects, sculptures or paintings but something in motion. So, what was the horse show at the garage? A spectacular installation. Simone comes to Italy and in the meantime I come up with Ginnastica Mentale, turning the gallery into a gymnastics gym, an event in which she also participates. Then she leaves Rome for a few months, but I had the idea of an exhibition space in my head by then. They evict me from Spanish Steps because I do Fuoco Immagine Acqua Terra, but I still don’t bat an eyelid because I know I have to leave, because I don’t fit that space anymore, it’s no longer in keeping with the things that come. At the end of December 1968 I inaugurate the garage in via Beccaria with films but above all on January 13th, or 14th, as soon as the new year is out, I present Kounellis’s horses and after that I do the exhibition of Mario Merz, who comes from Turin with his car and exhibits it directly instead of parking it outside, and then Mattiacci with the compressor, then an exhibition of Luca Patella, then the first exhibition in Europe of Sol LeWitt, with graffiti on the wall. The funny thing is that people would come in and not see them, so much the graffiti was subtle, and they would come out thinking there was no exhibition and, that’s the great thing, in fact I wouldn’t stop them. At that time the garage was very strong, it was full of realism because it had remained a garage and I hadn’t given it the slightly more “cleaned-up” white cube connotations, I had left it that way, the first Arte Povera space. And then, in June, the first music and dance festival, “Festival di danza, Volo Musica e Dinamite”, with American performers who were all in their thirties and would later become famous including, of course, Simone Forti and Trisha Brown. Then in October, Robert Smithson with the pouring of boiling tar down a cliff on the Laurentina, the first Land Art intervention in Europe and then, in November, the baptism of a young man, Gino De Dominicis, no longer “poor” but conceptual-Duchampian: this was a game changer. All in 1969, crazy when you think about it. If you analyze them, one by one, they are impressive things! A situation had arisen whereby the container inspired the content, that is, the space with those characteristics made the artists think in a certain way. I had the vision, but they did their best in bringing that space to life.

At some point you started doing theater and here at the Attic you had one of your own made…
I equated the exhibition with theater, and in fact the artists peacefully use the small theater in the gallery by placing their works on the stage. This is definitely a culmination of my experience. I started doing theater in 1978, I had learned a lot from the Americans, and I felt ready to be an author and theatrical director of my own stuff. I debuted at Beat72 with Peter Pan: in that basement used as a theater, there were two archscenes and an empty space in between. It occurred to me to install two curtains, one in front of each archscene and the stage space in between. I sorted the audience: twenty people on one side and twenty on the other, without them noticing. The curtains, operated by electric motors, opened at the same time, thus creating a mirror effect, the spectators thought there was a mirror and went to look for themselves on the other side. All objects were introduced to the stage that once installed did not stop moving: the kite, the rocking chair, the roulette, the arrow, the swing. When the curtains, also always in motion, closed, at that moment an additional object was brought on stage. It was a crazy moving installation. I have proposed this thing of the two audiences several times in my career, and this can be done when the theater is classical, otherwise you can’t do it with performance, you can’t duplicate. This thing of point of view, of sorting the audience in a certain way started then for me. For example, the performances at the garage were usually circularly arranged, the musical performances were more frontal. But the audience was the same as Pascali’s sea: already in that exhibition they could only walk close to the wall, a few centimeters from the sea, that occupied the whole ground, the audience was displacing it. All my life this posture of the audience has been important. The last show we did with my wife Elsa was splendid, Toga e Spada, four years ago. The opening of the director’s notes began like this: “Theater or cinema? Both”. In that case we had turned the audience into the Roman Senate with scattered silhouettes of senators, and on the stage a beautiful chair as if it were a throne for the harangue. It was Toga e Spada, Caterina vs Cicerone. Where was the audience, what did they see? The audience was positioned in the adjoining room in front of a screen. They were following the story live through the communicating door and, at the same time, on the screen where they were appearing thanks to a hidden cameraman who was filming them, the same characters, necessarily changing the point of view: close-up, shot from the other side, slow zooms, etc. There was this incredible presence of the virtual and the real together to create the narrative.

The next theatrical performance?
Soon, we hope. We want to take it forward.

Claudia Pansera


Fabio Sargentini
Associazione culturale L’Attico
via del Paradiso 41, Roma

Fabio Sargentini, portrait, 2022. Ph. Alice Ciccarese for Juliet

Fabio Sargentini: video by Alice Ciccarese for Juliet

Joan Jonas, Festival India America, Musica e danza, 1977. Exhibition view L’Attica, quattro donne artiste, L’Attico, 2022. Ph. Alice Ciccarese for Juliet, courtesy the artist and Fabio Sargentini

Marisa Merz, 1975. Exhibition view L’Attica, quattro donne artiste, L’Attico, 2022. Ph. Alice Ciccarese for Juliet, courtesy the artist and Fabio Sargentini

Trisha Brown, Festival Danza Volo Musica e Dinamite, 1969. Exhibition view L’Attica, quattro donne artiste, L’Attico, 2022. Ph. Alice Ciccarese for Juliet, courtesy the artist and Fabio Sargentini

L’Attica, quattro donne artiste, 2022, L’Attico, exhibition view. Ph. Alice Ciccarese for Juliet, courtesy Fabio Sargentini

Simon Forti, Logomotion, 2008. Exhibition view L’Attica, quattro donne artiste, L’Attico, 2022. Ph. Alice Ciccarese for Juliet, courtesy the artist and Fabio Sargentini

Marisa Merz, 1975. Exhibition view L’Attica, quattro donne artiste, L’Attico, 2022. Ph. Alice Ciccarese for Juliet, courtesy the artist and Fabio Sargentini


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