Giovanni Carmine: "The networking between digital and real space is becoming increasingly dense"

The next milestone in your career has been set! Giovanni Carmine takes over the curation of Art Basel Unlimited. The successor to Gianni Jetzer was announced in June 2019. The director of the Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen began his new challenge as planned, until the global pandemic made a dent in the bill. Art Basel was initially postponed until September 2020 and finally cancelled altogether. Giovanni Carmine explains in an interview how big the impact on the Unlimited is and what is to come.
By Melissa Jetzer, August 2020

Melissa Jetzer: At the beginning of July it was announced that Art Basel had to be cancelled despite the postponement date. What does this mean for The Unlimited?

Giovanni Carmine: First and foremost, it means that many great projects have not been realized. Likewise, the meeting between these and the audience did not take place. It is, of course, a great pity on an artistic level and also has important financial consequences. I am thinking here not only of the art market, but also of all art students who work as “arthandlers” or as assistants in the studios of artists, of whom projects at the Unlimited should have been shown. 

MJ: The global pandemic falls on your first year as curator of Art Basel Unlimited. How did you imagine your start?

GC: Of course, we had already worked very intensively on the 2020 edition and worked out several possible versions of Unlimted, at least roughly. The last 50% were missing, so to speak. In addition, the most exciting moments of the Unlimited would have been added to me, namely the installation and the time during the fair with the many encounters and discussions. I was really looking forward to it and I have a bit of blues about that. The reality, however, is that no one knows how the pandemic will evolve. What is certain is that the task for the 2021 edition has become even more complex at the curatorial level and the Unlimited will certainly be different from what we knew until now. On a professional level, the task has become even more interesting for me, despite the difficulties.

MJ: The focus this year was clearly on the online viewing rooms of Art Basel. Are virtually curated exhibitions the future?

GC: No, I don’t think so.  But the networking between digital and real space is becoming more and more dense and the interaction between the two worlds more exciting. I am convinced that art arises within a social space, during a physical encounter between the audience and works, and can only then unfold in its full potential. That’s why I still believe in the good old exhibitions. However, there is an urgent need to reflect on how to combine these two levels constructively and productively. Here I am thinking above all of access to content, which is much greater in the digital space than “in real life”. We should not miss these opportunities and think about what makes sense and productive.

MJ: The Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen was also forced to temporarily close the gates during the lockdown. How do you feel about the crisis in the art industry? 

GC: Personally, I am doing well and we in the Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen cannot complain either. We are aware of how privileged we are. We had to reorganize some things, but we can do all the projects that were planned. Of course, this is also pleasing for all artists with whom we plan exhibitions or other things. I fear, however, that the financial consequences of the crisis are not yet fully visible and that is why we must remain vigilant. We must also be prepared to think differently. How to design a program has to be thought differently, as well as being together within a club, as the Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen is one.

MJ: What impact could the situation have on the industry in the longer term?

GC: For me, the “crisis as an opportunity” motto is just neoliberal chatter. It is cynical and disrespectful to all those who have been badly hit by the pandemic. However, to carry on as if nothing had happened is definitely not a wise and enlightening attitude either. I think that the priorities need to be reconsidered. This process is extremely exciting.  It seems to me to be essential, also for environmental reasons, that the industry will operate much more locally in the coming years. Of course, it would also be wonderful if the word “solidarity”, which has been widely used in recent months, is not only lip service, but becomes a guide for the reboot of the art world after the pandemic crisis.