My last exhibition, BLACK&BLUE, closed last October 3 and I have been in the process of un-mounting and packing photographs, final-balancing revenues and (mostly) expenses, cleaning-up and filing in the last three weeks. The event have been a success, with more than 4.000 visitors in 39 days, positive reviews and comments, almost no bad criticism (as far as I know), fairly good (not stirring) sales and new interesting acquaintances. Briefly, I'm satisfied.
The very last thing I did yesterday has been removing the board shown above from the wall of my studio. It has been there for the last ten months, as a ceaseless memento of the things already settled and those yet to be done (I don't know why, the latter were prone to increase every day). For the non-Italian PhotoGraphia readers, it has to be explained that only the upper-left column of the board was actually related to photographs (select and print them, and display them according to a pattern). All the rest concerned something else: the catalog (layout, proofing, printing, complimentary copies), the graphics (logo design, posters, postcards, billboards, t-shirts for the staff), communication (trilingual press-release, paper magazines, web magazines and daily papers to be contacted -each type within different deadlines-, emailing, snailmailing), scheduling (trip and stay in Venice for me, my wife -thanks again for your invaluable collaboration, Daniela!- and my collaborators). I even thought about some music to be played in the venue hosting the show, but bureaucracy was far too complicated (music rights to be managed, etc.), so I gave up. This was was the only thing I had to give up, as a matter of fact.
What's the legacy a photographer inherits from an ehxibition? Is there something that keeps on going after the last visitor went trough the exit door? Yes there is, definitely. Making an exhibition is (almost) all about art. Having made an exhibition is all about knowledge.
One thing I know since my first shows is that the process of selecting photographs according to a project is the best way to survey and map my work. Under a technical point of view, of course, but most of all as far as consistency and significancy are concerned. Conceiving the show's layout is as much important. Like a play to be staged, an exhibition must obey to some rules, the artist being actually the director who decides the timing and the visual/emotional path the viewer will walk along. Namely a showbiz knowledge. Then comes the day when the setup conceived at home (I use miniature prints to simulate the mounting) with the help of the mounting technicians must become an actual display. Will it correspond one hundred percent to the original layout? No, it never happens, as unexpected occurrencies, afterthoughts or brilliant ideas coming from collaborators happily mix up things sometimes, improving the result. It's often a matter of technical knowledge, as the mounting process involves materials to be re-shaped or modified far away from the technicians' workshop (in a place like Venice, even buying an handful of nails can be a daring task).
The opening day marks the beginning of a core knowledge. In front of real viewers the exhibition sort of transforms itself. Now it's not only my photographs, or the way they are displayed. It's my displayed photographs seen through the eyes (and the mind, and the heart) of hundreds of perfect strangers coming from all over the world. Most of them don't even know whose works they came to see. Perhaps they only have read a billboard, or tagged along other tourists. Watching the way they walk through the exhibition, how they stop in front of a photograph or go past another one, how they point at a detail or whisper to their partners, I learned a lot. After the visit, somebody asks the attending personnel for more details or leaves an email address: a flattering sign of interest. The days I was there, a few even stayed on talking with me. This is the bigger value of the whole thing, as what came out of those conversations will interact with my approach to the next projects. I know it will, because it always happened after my previous shows.
What buyers buy, that's another important knowledge. Apart from the obvious commercial remarks, this helps me understand which ones of my photographs are considered worth to see (or even commendable)and which ones are considered fit to have at home (and worth the price). There must be somewhere a blurred border dividing works of art which are respectable from those which are enjoyable. If you purchase a Galassi, you are not making a financial investment, you are buying a piece of furniture. Being aware of that makes me a happier man.
Finally, reading the press-cuttings is a source of knowledge as well. Some said that the artist conceives a work, people see a different one and critics write about yet another one. Knowing that most critics found in my photographs what I wanted them to find is indisputably gratifying. But discovering that there could be even more to be found, well, this is the most exciting gift.