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Barbara Polla "eclectic" founder of Analix Forever gallery
Barbara Polla took on the challenge to show many young artists who were then unknown and are now very successful like Maurizio Cattelan,Vanessa Beecroft, Martin Creed. She recently participated with her gallery in the fair The Road to Contemporary Art held in Rome. She tells us about her experience at the fair and unveils her unusual story as a gallery-owner...
barbaraPublished on Thursday , May 12ve, 2011
Barbara is it your first time participating at "The Road to Contemporary Art" in Rome?
Yes it's the first time in Rome, although we always have done a lot of fairs in Italy like Artissima in Turin, Arte Fiera Bologna, or Miart in Milan. This year we couldn't do the Bologna art fair in January because there had overlapping programs in Geneva, where I organized the first international conference on emotional architecture which was a fantastic success. People from Rome had proposed many times that we participate in the fair and we accepted and are very happy to be here.

Could you give us feedback about your experience?
The place where the fair is based is a wonderful location and compared to other Italian fairs there are more people looking at the work of art carefully and asking questions. We made new contacts from Rome but many people were from elsewhere as well.

Do you have any suggestions for the fair management?
We didn't have internet in the booths and this is a major pitfall; it's very important for us to work with it, to show our gallery website and other information about our artists. There were many other galleries complaining about it.

Which artist did you show at this fair?
We had only two artists and we chose to present the booth like an exhibition. We had mounir fatmi, who we have never shown before in an Italian fair. Our gallery has shown many Italian artist and this time we brought David Casini who was among the ten artists nominated by the Foundation Fico for an award at the fair. The foundation also bought a work by Casini and this is very rewarding and important for the artist. I can say it was a positive experience being part of this fair, and sales were also discrete. We would like to apply for next year as well.

Let's talk now about your story I am quite curious about it, you were a researcher at Harvard Medical School in Boston, can you tell us more if your medical background could have an influence on your choices in art?
The interesting thing is that I am much more aware now than I was at the beginning. I can see how my interest for the body, for the human being, the illness and other dark sides are modulating my interest in art.

architecture now

Do you still practice as a medical doctor?

No but if you don't feel well I will take very good care of you.

In the early nineties you took the challenge to open a gallery and you were almost the first to show few young artists that now are very famous. How were received their exhibitions back then?
When we showed Maurizio Cattelan nobody was very interested -- it was in 94--then when we first showed Sarah Lucas and Tracy Emin it was in 93 there was very little interest, same thing with Vanessa Beecroft and Martin Creed. A number of artists when they became more famous went to work with more powerful galleries and I started again with other young artists, that's not the way to go if you would like to acquire financial power but this is not my major interest. What I really love is to be next to the artist when he or she is at the very beginning, understanding the creative process they are going through then accompanying their first steps. This is what I am best at. Now, for example, Luca Francesconi has been invited to the next Venice Biennale. I started to work with him when he was just 23 years old; he was like the gallery's baby.

Beside introducing young artists, something you have proved to be quite good at, you also have an intense activity as a writer...
Yes my writing activity has developed over the years and I've been writing short stories, novels, and the likes. In my first novel there were references to many artists like Miltos Manetas called the Greek and Vanessa Beecroft called Arthemisia like the painter. I am writing also about art, for example mounir fatmi is often surprised about what I write about his work, discovering new aspects of it, but as I write about art I'd like also to collaborate with other people like curators, critics, and art-historian. I learn a lot from them, my aim is to produce one or more publications every year.

You also write a blog which is quite unusual for a gallerist when did you open it?
It was back in 97.

This is so early, you were a pioneer exploring this means of communication that now is so used, there were very few people using blog at that time. What's in yours?
I share news and feelings, I usually write two articles a week for many magazine, for example in Italy I write for Drome which is a magazine I really like. In the blog I put together the writings that have been published; it's a sort of collection, I get a lot of feedback. I have a beautiful piece on my homepage by Robert Montgomery it says "THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE BECOME GHOSTS INSIDE OF YOU AND LIKE THIS YOU KEEP THEM ALIVE".

Can you tell us about the "Emotional Architecture"project that you mentioned at the beginning?
When I was a medical doctor I was an academician, never having a private practice. I worked in the hospital, actually at the university in Geneva, where I created the first environmental health program in 94. I was very interested on how buildings and environment could affect your health and your well being, I was also teaching how you should built buildings for very old people. As a deputy I was very much interested in prisons I was very much against them. All these thoughts made me think about the concept of emotional architecture. With a big team of people involving the neuroscience University of Geneva and the architecture Faculty "La Cambre"-Horta Brussel, it took me two years to organize the first international conference about emotional architecture last January in Geneva at Fondation Louis-Jeantet. It was a very big thing we have brought together architects, historians as well as academics in fields such as neuroscience and psychology, there were artists as well. The dialogue among all these different fields was very productive, and brought a lot of interest. We made a blog on emotional architecture ( and the week of the conference had thousands of people visiting the blog every day. We made a book in preparation for the conference and it was sold out in just two months so we had to reprint it. I never imagined we could have such an amazing response. We should organize a second conference at some point. I feel like for the first time I had the right idea at the right moment.

Autonome II

While you were involved with this big conference what were you showing at the gallery?

We were showing mounir fatmi --he has been interested in architecture and its destruction, whether the destruction of Manhattan or the destruction of difficult areas surrounding Paris. I've shown his work among other artists for my first exhibition in Paris as well.

So let's talk about your new "nomadic gallery" in Paris when did you open it, and what it is about?
We had the opening last April, I didn't want to have a big gallery space like in Geneva. The first show, "Concrete Islands" curated by Elias Redstone, is a group exhibition of photography and video exploring contemporary experiences of utopian architectural projects. We would like to find for every specific project the most appropriate gallery space; in July we'll have another space that's why it is nomadic.

I have the feeling I have just unveiled the tip of the iceberg of your many interests and passions and hope I'll have a chance to interview you again and know more about your desires. Any last word?
Desire is what keeps you alive..

by efka hearn


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