"I saw Rome as an opportunity, a place to grow and develop": Niccolò Fano, Materia gallery
27 jun 2016 by Despoina Tzanou
We are excited about our recent partnership with Matèria gallery. Founded in Rome over a year ago by Niccolò Fano, Matèria specialises in contemporary photography by showcasing emerging and established practitioners, both Italian and international. I spoke to Niccolò to learn more about the inception of the gallery and objectives of his programme.
D.T. How did your involvement in art begin?
N.F. I always had art around the house growing up, whether on the walls or in books. My interest in painting started at a very young age and developed in high school. I always enjoyed it in terms of creativity and expression, so I went on to do a foundation course at UCA Farnham to understand more or less what my path would be. Through experimentation, I decided that photography was the best means of expression and therefore signed up for a did a BA in photography at UCA under Anna Fox and Karen Knorr.
I then started working in small galleries to gain experience with curatorial projects and exhibitions, sometimes showing my own work. During my MA at CSM, I started working as a project manager for Karen Knorr. I worked there for three and a half years and did numerous art fairs, exhibitions and projects. In 2010, I won a bursary to do a creative ventures course at London business school. During my stay in London, and after the experience gained I decided to go back to Rome and open a gallery.
D.T. Did you always want to open a gallery?
N.F. Not really. I started understanding that’s what I wanted to do after the work experience in other galleries and the collaboration with Karen Knorr. I never viewed my own artwork as a career, but rather an experimentation device. I never had an aspiration to do big shows even though I did a few. Having a view of photography as a creative device and as a business inspired me to go back to Rome and open a gallery, in a city I am very attached to.
D.T. How was Matèria gallery born?
N.F. I came back to Rome from London three and a half years ago with the idea of opening a gallery straight away. Of course, that wasn’t the case. I looked at a lot of spaces and some had to be completely renovated. I wanted to spend most of the budget on the programme, so it became very hard to find the right location. Just as I was about to give when I found one that was already set up as gallery space, so in a way, I was lucky.
Xiaoyi Chen, The Inadequacy of Language, installation view.
D.T. Are you curating all of the shows?
N.F. I have a bit of a different approach in terms of curating exhibitions. I try to plan shows well in advance in order to have the time to work with the artist on the concept and the relationship with their work and the space. The gallery changes drastically for every exhibition and we try to make interventions in the space depending on the artwork chosen. We work in collaboration with the artist, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to work with curators, it just hasn’t been done yet.
D.T. And why did you choose to locate the gallery in Rome and how is the contemporary art scene there?
N.F. I chose Rome because I was in a way driven out of the city to get a high-level art education which is lacking in Italy. Because of this, I saw Rome as an opportunity, a place to grow and develop. Rome is also the city I was born in and a place I am very attached to. Even though the market is not as developed as it is in other places, I think Rome has a huge potential.
D.T. What is the gallery’s objective?
N.F. In the short term is to make it viable for myself and the artists. It is a case of building on what I have done so far and to survive without having to compromise on the quality of the exhibitions. I intend to invest in the production for the artist; this is not something standard for galleries, but by doing this I can have control of the quality on what I exhibit and help my artists to develop their work.
I didn’t open a gallery to make huge sums of money, it has never been my intention; if I do in the long term, then it probably means that I have done a good job. The idea is to create a structure that supports my artists and a viable business model for the future.
D.T. Can you talk a bit about the artist roster of the gallery?
N.F. I represent four young artists, three of which are Italian. The fourth is a very young Chinese artist, Xiaoyi Chen, who recently won the most important prize for photography in China. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I don’t collaborate or work with established artists. For example, at the most recent fair in Basel, I presented works by Maimouna Gueressi. In the gallery, I have shown a mix of artists with the intention of aligning established artists with emerging ones, which helps them get more exposure.
D.T. Do you reach out to all your artists or do you accept submissions as well?
N.F. I receive a huge amount of submissions and try to reply to everyone. Unfortunately, I don’t have space in the programme to accommodate all the work that I find interesting. I recently had an artist walk in the gallery who surprised me with extremely high-quality work that I enjoyed and will try to insert in the programme.
D.T. Does your artist selection have a common pattern?
N.F. The artists have to deal with photography, not as a stand-alone medium but as a tool in dialogue with contemporary art as a whole. Many of the artists blend different mediums, some more than others, yet they all have a very personal research base that informs their practice. The aim is to work with artists based on their quality and the promise of ongoing development.
Giulia Marchi, Rokovoko, installation view.
D.T. What are some of your favourite artworks you've exhibited so far?
N.F. That’s a good question. The standard answer would be to say all of them. We just closed Xiaoyi Chen's solo show, where we showcased a new body of work customised to fit the gallery space.
On the other side of the spectrum, we had a vintage print exhibition showcasing work by Karen Knorr and Olivier Richon made in the late 70's depicting punk counterculture. This series was put in dialogue with Andreas Weinand's Colossal Youth work from the late 80's. This was a very different show from the others, yet photography is very diverse and allows me to diversify based on what I find to be coherent for the programme.
D.T. What are the future plans for Matèria?
N.F. I have structured the 2017 programme in order to guarantee my represented artists a solo show. Fabio Barile and Giuseppe De Mattia will have one and Xiaoyi Chen and Giulia Marchi will possibly be collaborating on a show together. I am happy to see my artists finding common ground that might develop into an artistic dialogue and exchange. The fourth show will be focused on new artists whose work I have been following since opening the gallery. In between them, I try to give the chance to young artists to show their work with shorter, less elaborate exhibitions.
Also in 2017, I will be introducing a video and photography programme by inviting artists to dialogue between the two mediums. Apart from that, I hope to do a few more fairs and make the gallery sustainable for me but most importantly for my artists.
Fabio Barile, Homage to James Hutton, installation view.
Stefano Canto, Dolomiti 3 (Epoca n.731), 2015, absorption of print on reinforced concrete, 26 x 38 x 3 cm.
All images courtesy of Materia gallery.