Hello, continue our journey in the Roman galleries – today we meet Daina Maja Titonel artistic director and owner of Maja Arte Contemporanea
Maja as a first question for your very brief presentation for our readers?
I am the daughter of the painter Angelo Titonel and of the art historian and gallery owner Lela Djokic. After graduating in Mathematics, I worked several years at Microsoft as a Project Manager. In 2002 the professional transition into the world of art starting a ten-year collaboration at the Nuova Galleria Campo dei Fiori, a gallery specializing in Italian art of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Alongside this historical activity, in 2006 I started curating contemporary art exhibitions until I founded my gallery (Maja Arte Contemporanea) in 2013.
In the end, while millions of Italians were complaining about being on the sofa, did you build and design interesting art projects in your gallery?
The lockdown was an exceptional event, with a great emotional impact. As for my business, the forced break allowed me to focus on the study of the female question in the world of contemporary art. I wanted to deepen and understand the precise terms of an evident disparity, but which I had not yet “measured” with data in hand.
In the article “Female Artists Represent Just 2 Percent of the Market. Here’s Why – and How That Can Change ”by Julia Halperin and Charlotte Burns, published in 2019 on artnet.com, some data are striking. I list only a few below.
– The auction record set for the work of an artist (specifically, the British Jenny Saville with the painting “Propped”) is 12.4 million dollars (Sotheby’s, October 2018), against 91.1 million dollars for Jeff Koons’ “Rabbit” (Christie’s, May 2019).
– Over $ 196.6 billion was spent on art between 2008 and the first five months of 2019. Of these, only about 2% go to the works of artists ($ 4 billion for almost 6,000 women). The figure is even more disconcerting when compared – over the same period – with the $ 4.8 billion registered at auctions for the works of Pablo Picasso alone. Furthermore, 40.7% of the $ 4 billion is disproportionately concentrated on the work of five artists: Yayoi Kusama, Joan Mitchell, Louise Bourgeois, Georgia O’Keeffe, Agnes Martin.
– The quotations of the works follow different methods depending on the genre: if for the artists the market values of similar profiles and similar schools are compared, for the artists this comparison usually takes place only between women.
– The situation worsens at high-level art fairs such as Art Basel: in the past four years, female artists have made up less than a quarter of the artists on display in Basel, Miami and Hong Kong.
– The under-representation of artists in galleries, museums and auctions is constant.
What was the most important project to carry out?
These figures demonstrate the urgency of galleries to take responsibility, coupled with a commitment to correct such prejudices. I therefore decided to accentuate the commitment of gallery owner and curator in this direction, finalizing the exhibition calendar that I have mainly dedicated to exhibitions of artists.
What is the satisfaction of building a series of artistic cultural events on your own?
My favorite aspect is the autonomy of choice. A freedom that at the same time implies an important share of responsibility: if what you decide to exhibit in the gallery, for some reason, “doesn’t work”, you have no “extenuating circumstances”. The opportunity to express myself autonomously also allows me to characterize the path of the gallery in a specific and unique way.
Perhaps, having contributed to the birth of new collections inspired by my curatorial choices.
For decades, a huge 30 square meter Nazi tapestry (as much as a small studio apartment) has been preserved in the Louvre Museum in Paris, depicting a heraldic eagle with a swastika, the initials of Adolf Hilter (AH) and a quote from Mein Kampf: “Whoever wants to live must fight.” The object, made of wool and silk, is woven with gold threads weighing 3.5 kilos, which would increase its value exponentially. To publish the news The Art Newspaper, which highlights how gold could derive from the looting carried out against Jewish families: right or wrong? Should art overcome ideologies?
It is a complex theme that cannot be exhausted in the short space of an interview. In general, I believe that works of art (who knows if this tapestry can be defined as such) are independent of the ethical plan of those who make them. The work in question can become a reminder of one of the human horrors closest to us in history and, probably, the Louvre is not the most appropriate museum for its conservation and exhibition.
Maja you know that there is someone who has put an invisible work up for sale. But there’s more: someone even bought it. At 15 thousand euros. The artist is an Italian, his name is Salvatore Garau, 67, a genius who knew how to sell the void. The work is called “I am”, it is an immaterial sculpture, it does not exist or, if it exists, it is in the mind of its creator. “The void is nothing more than a space full of energy and even if we empty it, according to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the nothing has a weight …
The “objects” (whether tangible or intangible) have a value in commercial terms when you find someone who physically corresponds to them. Would I spend even a penny for a work with such premises, which does not exist and will never exist as it was conceived? No.
The ashes of Franco Battiato were buried in secret on May 20, the day after the funeral. The funeral urn that contains the mortal remains of the singer-songwriter is located in a niche in the chapel of the Battiato family, in the Riposto cemetery: are there works in your gallery that recall this extraordinary artist? La Cura, one of the greatest successes of the master Franco Battiato, can we link it to the current exhibition in the gallery on the discovery of a folder of works that the painter Angelo Titonel, your father, had given you thirty years earlier?
I listened to a lot of Battiato, his music still evokes memories and past moments. The current exhibition “To my daughter” is certainly linked to the theme of memory, rediscovery and care, in which over twenty small-format paintings are exhibited, which my father (Angelo Titonel) had given me in the nineties. I thought I had lost the folder that collected them during a move. Having recently rediscovered it was like opening a window on the past and grasping, with different and transformed eyes, the value of that work that has been historicized today. The theme of care is fundamental for me in the gallery: the care of the works, of the visitors, of the installations … There was in turn, from my father, a special care in refining every detail of these small completed works, never sketches; a gentle hand and a poetic that do not leave indifferent.
Until Sunday 20 June the pop-up channel Sky Uno Vacanze Italiane lights up at 109 to celebrate the riches of the Italian territory. An integral part of this heritage envied by the whole world is art, given that the Peninsula has given birth to some of the greatest painters and sculptors of all time. Brave, brilliant, iconoclastic, sometimes even crazy: the artists who made Italy great often boast biographies as rich as their works. – What is your idea of art on TV? or told through social media? Are vehicles important to you for diffusion?
Nothing replaces the live experience with Art, where possible. This does not exclude the importance of spreading culture with the means we have today. Knowledge is created, curiosity is generated; these initiatives are welcome, with the hope that there are no flattening, trivializations and that the bar always tends to rise.
The award-winning film ‘I wanted to hide’ (2020, 120 ‘) by Giorgio Rights will inaugurate the cinema section of the open-air Barrier review, which offers between June and September, 65 appointments in 4 different spaces in Barriera di Milano – The film tells the life of the artist, who since he was a child finds his personal redemption in painting for the sense of loneliness and marginalization. A story that also represents an opportunity to reflect on the importance of “diversity”, understood as quality, talent and precious gift that belongs to every human being, which makes him unique and capable of offering something useful to society: you managed to see the movie? Are there artists you have hosted and who have struck you more for their torment than for their works?
It’s a movie I haven’t seen yet. To tell the truth, I haven’t been to the cinema for over a year and I have a lot to catch up. I missed the cinematic dimension a lot. In general, I strongly suffered from the closures imposed on museums, concert halls, theaters and cinemas during the pandemic.I have never chosen to exhibit artists for their personal stories rather than for the value I recognized for their work. I let the works meet me, even before the person with his private history. This distance is important to me.
Are there any graces in your career?
Certainly I am grateful to my parents, who have fed me at Arte for as long as I can remember: in addition to my father as a painter, I learned much of the trade from my mother, an art historian and gallery owner specializing in art between the 19th and early 20th centuries. I owe my eye to them, who brought me, since I was a child, to visit the most important museums in the world… every shared journey revolved around art!
A general thanks goes to everyone who has supported my business over the years, each in their own way.
Projects for the future?
For months I have been working on the rebranding of the gallery, the fruits of which will be seen next autumn with the presentation of the new logo and a new website. At the same time, the Ria Lussi solo show “Who is afraid of pink?” which concludes the cycle of exhibitions dedicated to artists.The desire and the current commitment are to continue to offer, through Art and Visions, qualitatively increasingly incisive experiences.
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