We can be brief about the curatorial qualities of Lorenzo Benedetti. They are exceptional. The exhibitions he made last year in the De Appel building on the Prins Hendrikkade are among the best presentations that were shown in the building. Why then, should he leave?
Curators like Lorenzo Benedetti, who as sparring partners for artists know how to bring an exhibition to a higher level, are hard to find. Intelligent curators are abundant, curators who can talk and write texts that make your head spin, as richly layered as their thinking is. There are curators who have a lucky hand in PR and know how to get their projects constant media attention. And there are curators who know precisely which artists to show at what moment so as to score with the general public. There are curators who can fundraise as the best and hence are able to realise huge projects. But, however crazy this may sound, there are almost no curators who are good at installing an exhibition.
I don’t know what they do at all those curator programs around the world, but the presentation of art seems somehow to be missing from the curriculum. It is rare that you visit an exhibition and get the sense that the curator really understood the artist and the art and dared to exhibit the works in such a way as to challenge everyone. And then I don’t mean only the curator and the artist, but also the public and of course the exhibition venue itself. It is generally of an unimaginable ineptitude what we get served up in exhibitions: too much, too full, to literal and presented in a boring fashion.
Lorenzo Benedetti knows how to make an exhibition. As the best. I think that since Rudi Fuchs, a widely recognised major exhibition maker who knew how to install art, no better curator has been active in the Netherlands. Just as Fuchs delivered one total installation after another during his golden years in the Van Abbemuseum, so I saw Benedetti achieve this over the last years. First in the Vleeshal in Middelburg, where realised one superb presentation after another and now for a year at De Appel in Amsterdam.
Michael Dean at De Appel was an exhibition that had you walking though it, mouth open. Michael Smith was radical and bold, like a reviewer on this platform wrote. It was the first exhibition in which De Appel dared to show and exhibit itself – with the subtle but brilliant gesture to exhibit all the works only with daylight, in the front room with the half-closed shutters that let only a sliver of light through. About the newly opened gerlach and koop I hear once more great stories, but I still have to see that exhibition for myself.
It is difficult to explain what exactly constitutes Benedetti’s talent in exhibition making. I think a proper understanding of the artist is key, being a real sparring partner on every conceivable level. You have to know how to stimulate the artist, but also be able to retort, dare to intervene on time, slow down and keep focused. A good curator cannot lack in courage. Nothing is as difficult as working at a predetermined place, which is packed and charged with historical conventions, interests and needs. It takes courage to go against the grain, pushing aside interests, breaking away from expectations, not least those of the public. More than the artist who might come with yet another radical plan to do it all very differently, the curator is the actual daredevil, because he is sitting with all these interests weighing him down while he tries to control the process.
Benedetti has proven time and again to be able to come up with something inventive, together with the artist, that was essential in exhibiting the art in a far better way than was thought possible. I think Michael Dean made in De Appel the best installed exhibition of his life. I think Michael E. Smith couldn’t do much better either. These are sizeable performances.
Benedetti is internationally recognised for this talent. Also by the board of De Appel, which reaped him in June 2014 with cheers, precisely because of his record as a curator. Benedetti put De Appel in a few months back to the years on Prinseneiland when Saskia Bos was able to let artist after artist realise stunning installations. These were installations that you simply couldn’t miss, that are rooted in memory if you were able to see them. Under Benedetti the so troublesome exhibition building on the Prins Hendrikkade flourished in a short time into something of a genius loci, the building slowly gained an exhibition-soul and an exhibition-history. It became a place where art lovers had to go.
Perhaps the artists were not the most appealing types to a wide audience, perhaps they spoke a language that many people find too formal and contemplative, but here at least art was practiced on the edge of the razor. Art that undid us as viewers from all our tried and tested weapons with which we usually confront art. Visitors don’t like this.
Now Benedetti has to leave. For him it feels as if he has barely had a chance to prove himself. Among many direct bystanders in the art world, there is also another disappointment: Benedetti is a white raven in the new breed of contemporary exhibition managers, who, with the textbook ‘how you score with a wide audience’ in hand built an exhibition-factory that is able to double, in no time, visitor numbers. Benedetti’s appointment at De Appel was a moment of hope for art lovers, hope that the artists’ curator still stood a chance in the marketing addicted exhibition company of the Netherlands.
I hear voices from De Appel saying his leadership was lacking, he was abroad too often preparing for new projects, he wasn’t able to engage his own staff, the municipality and other institutions in the city in his plans.
I am not so interested in that. There are enough managers in this world. There’s bound to be someone who can cover local politics for him, and whatever else is necessary in terms of business contacts, just as Paul van Gennip has been doing this at Witte de With for years.
Artists’ curators as Benedetti are rare. You will not easily find another one of them. Therefore, let us cherish them and hold them close.