In January 2014, the Venice-born art historian and internationally renowned curator Mario Codognato has headed the curatorial team of the 21er Haus assisted by Luisa Ziaja and Severin Dünser and now in charge of the Belvedere’s collection of contemporary art. We asked Mario about his plans and first impression of the Austrian art scene.
Mario Codognato: Every new person who starts working in an institution brings his or her experience and know-how to try to consolidate, extend, and advance the existing and start a constructive dialogue with the pre-existing.
KK: What will be, in your opinion, the biggest challenge as the chief curator of 21er Haus?
MC: To learn as fast as possible what would be beneficial for the institution.
KK: What is the first project you will realize at the 21er Haus?
MC: It is too early to say. I have been in Vienna only for two weeks: I still need to understand what projects would make sense for this context.
KK: What is good art?
MC: Good art is art that communicates with the public, triggers debates, challenges the way we think of reality and of art.
KK: Who decides what good art is (the curators, the institutions, the audience, the collectors)?
MC: All these people interact, so ultimately I would say all of them.
KK: What do you know about the Austrian art world?
MC: Obviously I still have limited knowledge in comparison with somebody who has always been living and working in Austria. So I think it is good to have no preconceptions.
KK: What do you bring?
MC: I hope to bring the experience of running a museum and curating international exhibitions for more than twenty years to a different context for a new professional adventure.
KK: What makes the Austrian Contemporary artists different (compared to the European artists)?
MC: Especially if you consider the size of Austria, the contribution and the influence that Austrian artists have made to or had within the international art scene is enormous and extremely relevant historically and culturally. So obviously it is a very special place for art.
KK: Anything you find outstanding already?
MC: I am very impressed by the number of very interesting artists and colleagues I have met so far.
After his studies of art history in England, Mario Codognato curated numerous contemporary art exhibitions primarily in Great Britain and Italy and published widely acclaimed essays in art periodicals and exhibition catalogues. In 2005 he was appointed chief curator of the newly founded Museo MADRE in Naples, which under his aegis presented monographic shows featuring, among others, Rachel Whiteread (2007), Thomas Struth (2008), and Franz West (2010). Moreover, he was responsible for such presentations on global themes as Fragile? (2013) at the Fondazione Cini in Venice or Baroque. Art, Science, Faith and Technology in the Contemporary Age (2010) at the MADRE. In addition, he curated contemporary art exhibition projects for the Naples Museum of Archaeology highlighting Jeff Koons (2003) and Anselm Kiefer (2004), as well as the first museum retrospective worldwide devoted to Damien Hirst (2004). Since 2012 Mario Codognato has been Chief Curator and Director of Exhibitions at the Blain Southern Gallery in London, one of the world’s most important galleries for contemporary art, which recently opened subsidiaries in Berlin and New York.