Art dealers come with backgrounds in every shape or form. Owning a poster shop in LA, gallery assistant, son/daughter of some famous collector, professor, historian, failed artist, you name it. However, not many can say they had a professional sports career in their 20s. That is the story of Marco Marrone, co-owner of NEOCHROME gallery in Turin, who's life took him from the courts to the white cube. Read our interview to find out how he went from being a professional athlete to owning a contemporary art gallery in Turin, while being a collector and curator in between.
Pedro Matos: Can you tell us a little bit of your background and life story? How does one go from being a professional athlete to owning a contemporary art gallery in Turin?
Marco Marrone: Well, I must admit I've been quite lucky in this regard, as I have shared my whole life with sports and art, my greatest friends ever. During my adolescence, actually from the age of 16 to that of 32-33, I devoted all my energy to being a professional tennis player. In that time span, I achieved some important results, such as (among others) winning the Italian team championship twice, winning more than 50 individual tournaments and getting ATP ranking in doubles. During those intense years of endless training, I was still able to secretly cultivate my other true passion: art.
I began simply by spending as much time as possible in museums, visiting gallery shows, eagerly devouring art magazines/books/reviews. Later, I began to visit art fairs. Although there were not so many during the last years of last century. I still remember the excitement before visiting Artissima, the Armory Show or Basel, and the joy of direct, firsthand experience of the works.
PM: You were collecting for a long time before taking a more "hands on" approach and starting to curate the first exhibitions. What made you do that?
MM: Along with the fairs came the desire to own art. The irresistible temptation to be possessed by something you won't ever be able to possess. Like almost everybody in our field, I've been infected by the beautiful illness of collecting art. After my first purchases, I got to know other collectors, sharing ideas and interests, swapping improbable ideas. But it was only when I met my partner, Margherita Artoni, that I gained the momentum to be an even more active part in the whole scenario.
In 2010 we imagined, curated and then created "Inside India," an ambitious project on Indian contemporary art, bringing to Italy six brilliant and extremely talented Indian artists. The place we chose for the exhibition was a beautiful and renowned example of Italian early 18th century Baroque, Palazzo Saluzzo Paesana, in our hometown of Turin. After this show, I collaborated and worked as art advisor for two important collections, one based in Italy and one in the United States, shifting their acquisitions towards a more contemporary orientation. In 2012, I curated and produced "The Sound of Painting," an art show on rhythm in the practice of six established American artists: Rashid Johnson, Theaster Gates, Ali Banisadr, Inka Essenhigh, Angel Otero and Tim Rollins and K.O.S.
It was an amazing and formative experience, since besides the artists I also had to deal with their main blue-chip galleries. Lehmann Maupin, Massimo De Carlo, 303 Gallery, Victoria Miro... big guys indeed.
PM: And in 2014 you started NEOCHROME gallery. Why did you decide to finally open your own gallery?
MM: It was more like a physiological development of my practice than a proper "decision". Having cultivated so many genuine relationships with artists and collectors too, enjoying my conversations with them over several years, made this step almost inevitable. These same premises led my partner to embrace the idea as well, and all of a sudden we found the right location, the exact timing... so we went for it.
PM: And you chose Turin instead more obvious cities such as Milan or Rome..
MM: Well, mainly because Turin is our hometown, and of course that helped us a lot. Furthermore, in Turin there is a good mix between important public museums like GAM and Castello di Rivoli, institution/foundations like Sandretto or Merz, and an large group of passionate collectors whose minds are open to new initiatives, as in the case of NEOCHROME back in 2014.
PM: Turin has also become famous internationally for its art fair Artissima, yet you decided to participate instead in the simultaneous project DAMA. Why did you choose this less conventional fair in your home city? How do these projects like DAMA, which have been growing and gaining traction recently, differ from more traditional art fairs?
MM: We came across the DAMA project's founder Giorgio Galotti when the idea was only germinating in his mind. A pure vision. He contacted me because in the past I had already curated two exhibitions in the current venue. I was impressed by the quality of his project, so I decided to join it with no hesitation, bringing the tools I had gained from past experiences. Nowadays, there are probably too many art fairs that all look the same, plywood white cube boxes. You can play around with sculptures and paintings, but in the end you can't really notice any substantial difference. DAMA stands out for its character and gives visitors a closer idea of how the works might fit into their homes.
PM: How does your approach change in the different roles, from collecting to curating to representing artists?
MM:The chronological line you just traced is correct. First collecting, then curating, and then representing artists. To be more precise, though, I’d have to say that initially I collected art, then I curated while still collecting art, and now I'm representing artists while still curating and collecting.
We are living a crucial moment. Some galleries are closing their doors for good, even quite big ones. Some collectors are acting as advisors while some others are opening their own private spaces. The market, before all the other entities, is now judging the quality of an artist, progressively weakening the museums' main role within the system. There is some confusion. An urgency to recognize things, to have certainties.
I can only speak for myself, as the owner and director of NEOCHROME, which is still an emerging player in the art world, and I can assure you that representing an artist means full commitment to that person. It’s a marriage. But it is also true that "marriage" today does not have the same meaning it had yesterday. So we will see how things move, in this ongoing scenario; the wisest ones will certainly be tracing a new line, an inspiring direction for all of us.
PM: You are known for supporting young and emerging artists, mostly American. Why focus on this particular region?
MM: I've always looked with particular interest and curiosity at what was going on in the US. No doubt New York is the heart of contemporary art and the fast-paced activity of its art schools keeps the city just ahead of the curve. Needless to say, the possibility of visiting a huge number of artists' studios over a short time span, in a limited area, helps us a lot with our research. It is a kind of super-filtered "domino effect" that brings me energy and excitement, discovering fragments of tomorrow's art. Not to mention the countless number of painters, sculptors, photographers, that even before opening a gallery I helped in finding their first platforms to show work. Most of them are real friends, and they are still grateful for my support.Also, every time I go to NY I feel very grateful to the city’s museums, and the unbelievable efforts galleries make to always offer such high levels of quality in their exhibitions. Of course, we always keep our eye on the best European art schools and on local artists as well.
PM: As you mentioned earlier, the traditional gallery system and art market have been going through notable changes in the past few years. With the growth of social media and web presen- ce, the importance and improvement of documentation and digital distribution, the decentralization of the art world, the growth in the number of art fairs, etc.. What are your views on the present and future of art and art world?
MM: As I was previously saying, the roles are mixing up. I'm not saying this a bad situation, but it will bring us something new. History teaches us that a big shift is followed by a bigger change. Let's take a seat and wait for it. I definitely look forward to it!
PM: What can we expect from you and NEOCHROME in the future?
MM: To date, I have always worked with a strictly rigorous method. The idea is to keep faith with our identity while taking some risks, exploring new trajectories. Growing like creatures in the Art World.
Exclusive interview conducted by Pedro Matos for Aujourd'hui.