Art, an Unnecessary yet Fundamental Gift

Davide Quadrio at Yuz Museum, Shanghai, courtesy Alcantara and Yuz Museum
Davide Quadrio at Yuz Museum, Shanghai, courtesy Alcantara and Yuz Museum

My way to multitask on several projects is to expand my capacities through a network of people I trust and can count on. I am fast, super fast, and sometimes too fast (Covid brought me back to the reality of a more human rhythm), always working on several projects at the time. Maybe this is my creative need, my hyper-restless need to create and process things, ideas, intuitions.

Preparation, planning, and imagining the end result, are key. I love to try to work in between disciplines and connect people coming from very different backgrounds. I really feel more like a film producer, or better even, a theatre producer. I love to think about the big picture and how to compose it in a continuous flux. At the same time, after 25 years of working, I am very precise in the process of making. I try, even if it does not seem like, to leave very little to chance: usually all exhibitions are carefully imagined and organised on paper, or mock ups, and I very rarely have second thoughts when I put the exhibition together. For me, when I can see (without seeing) the exhibition or the performance in front of my eyes (figuratively speaking), then the project is solved and the process of making it merely becomes a job of controlling, navigating, and adjusting. I am rarely completely satisfied with the results though. I have never done anything that was 100% perfect. That is not something I feel as a failure, but more as a continuous call to push myself further. I always work within a small group that I need to trust fully. I expand from that. I need an emotional bond with the people I work with and even though I can be very determined, I do love to delegate and to motivate people who are working with me. This sometimes can cause a bit of frictions when working with some curators who, for instance, love to have hierarchical structures. I simply cannot comply with power schemes of this sort.

Founding cultural not-for-profit organization Bizart Art Centre in 1998 was the right thing to do at that time. Back then, only ShanghART gallery was supporting artists in Shanghai with a tiny gallery space, and it was a commercial gallery. BizArt was created out of the need for a free stage, an independent platform for artists to work and produce independently. BizArt is now an iconic and groundbreaking part of what Chinese art-scape has been from the late ‘90s to 2010. It is a mythical place, part of the history of a flamboyant Shanghai.

Demanio Marittimo, 2020, Sophie Calle, Voir la Mer 2011, video installation in Senigallia on the Adriatic sea
Demanio Marittimo, 2020, Sophie Calle, Voir la Mer 2011, video installation in Senigallia on the Adriatic sea

What I love about Shanghai is that it never stops. A cycle lasts for two years at most, and every month seems like a year. Fear is never part of the equation.

Arthubasia is a platform to develop collaborative art projects, it serves for us to think about new ideas. It was founded by curator Defne Ayas and me in 2017, and it has been developed as a free platform to try out different models of productions in the art world. Most recently Arthub has started working more on productions in collaboration with private companies to try to meaningfully connect artists, institutions, and the private sector, and explore possibilities of artistic experiences beyond the simple rules that the art world somehow has been building: an example is the collaboration between the Aurora Museum and Alcantara, an Italian company that makes materials, for several projects of commissioning new works in the context of the museum and its public spaces. Works by Yin Xiuzhen and Michael Lin were produced in collaboration with Alcantara company, bringing the Museum and the company together in a virtuous collaboration. With the same company we worked with the Mori Museum in producing a monumental installation by Chiharu Shiota for her first solo show in Japan. I am very instinctual and I try to follow productions that inspire me or challenge me. A recent example is the video screening “Seascape/Borders” on Senigallia beach on the Adriatic sea. A sea/border that historically connects and divides Europe and the East. It was a night presentation of a selection of video artworks by a range of artists including Olivo Barbieri, Yto Barrada, and Sophie Calle among others, and projected on a white wall between the Adriatic and the landmass.

I always travel with one or two books, and with my sleeping pills to solve jet lags ASAP. After so many years of continuous travelling I really cannot deal with jet lags anymore! Music is also always with me, especially music I trade with my daughters. Next stop will be in Vancouver in September 2020, where I am presenting the show “Third Realm” at the Polygon Gallery. It consists of a selection from the FarEastFarWest collection, which took me nearly a decade to put together, and that is currently on extended loan at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. “Third Realm” showcases a crucial period of artistic production in Asia, from 2004 to 2019. The exhibition includes photography, film, installation, and performance, and features seminal figures of the Asian contemporary art scene. “Third Realm” offers critical insights into the sociopolitical shifts occurring during the 2000s when Asia’s economic prosperity began to command global attention. Among the artists presented in the collection—primarily artists who work in China and South East Asia—are: Chinese artists Birdhead, Cao Fei, Lu Yang, Sun Xun, Yang Zhenzhong, and Zhou Xiaohu; Indonesian artists FX Harsono and Jompet (Agustinus Kuswidananto), Thai artists such as Sutee Kunavichayanont, Surasi Kusolwong, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, but also artists groups such as Xijing Men or Comfortable Collective, and others, such as Gary Ross Pastrana from the Philippines, Italian Paola Pivi, or Singapore-based Heman Chong.

Davide Quadrio self portrait
Davide Quadrio self portrait

Artists are authors. The best way to know an artist and their work is through conversations. To work with artists is to expand their possibilities and their visions. Working with artists is to take care of them. This is what I mean for curating. So usually, I approach artists I want to work with because I have a project already, or at least a vision. Artists for me are authors, so I put in that category visual artists, but also architects, designers, and craftsmen at times. I see potentials and I go for it.

The best advice I ever got is to avoid going for the cheapest or easiest ways, and to never be trapped in the power game. The worst advice I ever got is to do the opposite of that. It is better to always find ways to be in charge of your decisions, and to never be afraid of them. Another very important advice I received has been to work towards getting to the edges of the art field, and to push its boundaries—even if not understanding doing so while doing it.

My earliest art memory is a series of photos on butoh dancers and a series of images of Tibetan bon dancers I found in magazines in the early ’80s. Those pictures completely made my life: butoh in being so unconventional and difficult to define, playing at the margins of dance and theatre and helping me be aware of the space around me, yet while letting me follow my own path. The bon dancers brought me to Tibet. My early twenties were occupied by studying Tibetan architecture, living there in Amdo County for a few years in the early ‘90s, learning about Tibetan culture and Buddhism.

Third Realm, MoCP, Chicago, 2019 to open in Polygon Gallery in Vancouver 4th September 2020
Third Realm, MoCP, Chicago, 2019 to open in Polygon Gallery in Vancouver 4th September 2020

I like to be in the streets of Beirut, it gives me an amazing feeling of being in the Mediterranean sea and at the same time in Asia. I am suffering for what is happening there, a country doomed by years of bad political management. Yet it is a place that gives hope, that shows how people can be resilient and powerful.

The last book that haunted me was “Baltic souls” by Dutch writer Jan Brokken which I read in Italian; “Anime Baltiche” was the title. Brokken writes about his travels to the Baltic, and reveals the importance of the intellectuals and the artists who come from this area, such as Rothko for instance. It is a fascinating discovery of that land: so close and yet so far away.

I never curate a show without an idea, a narration, and a poetic need for beauty.

On my nightstand I have “On the Postcolony” by Cameroonian philosopher and political theorist Achille Mbembe, earplugs, and my phone so I can watch the series “Friends” if I can’t sleep.

To keep sane I go to the gym and I cook. You can enjoy the recipes I cooked during the pandemic on Instagram at #unacoronadifioretti, such as my gnocchi, or my best apple cake yet, perfected during confinement. You can also watch the first two episodes of #evencartoonseat (here and here), a sort of dystopian take on the connection between recipes appearing in famous cartoons, and local products and recipes from Pergola, in Marche, the Italian region where I reside now. The first two episodes were created with food designer and artist Natascia Fenoglio and produced by the Italian Cultural Centre in New Delhi.

evencartoonseat on Instagram
#evencartoonseat on Instagram

What drives me about curating is the freedom of creating new ideas and concepts, to expand my knowledge, and to show the unnecessary yet fundamental gifts of the arts. In this objectified world I feel more and more pulled into the ethereal realm of artistic projects which are staged and happen in the moment. It is that experience with a small community of people, that can be expanded and made universal through the medium of the digital (Instagram etc.). This is what I just realised in my recent project on the beach in Senigallia.

Confinement taught me that time can slow down, and I need to keep it as such.

The perfect meal with friends is the one I cook. The perfect moment is having your feet in the sand and eating a fritto misto on a perfect July night.

If I wasn’t a curator I would be a cook and a traveler. Well, actually I am both of them as well…so curating would not be something I will give up so easily.

Davide Quadrio

Founder and Director

Based in Italy and China


Davide Quadrio is a China based producer and curator. He founded and directed for a decade the first not-for-profit independent creative lab in Shanghai, Bizart Art Center, as a platform to foster the local contemporary art scene. In 2007 Quadrio created Arthub, a production and curatorial proxy active in Asia and worldwide. BizArt and Arthub archives were feature as highlight organizations active in China in the 2000s in Art and China after 1989: Theatre of the World, Guggenheim New York, NYC and Bilbao. Archives of the 20 years activities of BizArt and Arthub are available in the triplet publication by Mousse Publishing. 
He was hosted by Shanghai Visual Art Institute (2011-2017), curated and produced City Pavilion Project for the Shanghai Biennale 2012. He was the curator for contemporary Art in Aurora Museum (2013-2016) and is now producing the next edition of the Gwangju Biennale, September 2020 while actively curating shows around the world. In 2015 he founded Kaleidoscope Asia a sibling publication of Kaleidoscope Magazine, with the intention of developed it as an international platform presenting Asia at its best (2015-2017).
With BizArt and its team, and now with Arthub, Quadrio has organized hundreds of exhibitions, educational activities and exchanges in China and abroad, developing relationships with local and foreign institutions worldwide.

Art critic and writer.

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