Finding the Intention: Matteo Peretti

shadow work




grey buggy


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On a hot, sultry day last week in Rome, I (along with photographer Yelizaveta Yudina) retreated to the studio of local artist Matteo Peretti to talk about Art and Life, and many other things. Below are the highlights from my recollection of a very interesting conversation.

Ju Underwood – Did you mention before that your Father was a curator?

Matteo Peretti – No, he was an Art dealer. He was very successful dealing in Italian Old Masters at a time when the market was lucrative. He would buy works in UK, and sell them in Italy for many times the price he paid. That market is pretty much dead now.

But surely there are still some wealthy people in Italy who buy Old Masters to line the walls of their mansion houses?

No, not so much, and not for the same prices. People want contemporary Art. It’s a better investment, and today that is the main factor. Wealthy people in America buy American contemporary Art, in Britain it’s mostly Russians who buy American and British, again contemporary, and in Italy people also buy contemporary, but the work of Italian artists fetches much lower prices than their American or British counterparts.

Really, I had no idea the country of origin was so critical. The Art market seems to be all about the commodification of Art, than about the emotional, or any other human, value of the work. It’s so unpredictable though, like speculating on Futures using Art as the currency.

It’s exactly like that. Art is not even chosen by the end-user anymore. It’s bought by curators and private art buyers.

It’s impossible to predict which artist’s work will hold it’s value. A few years ago one of the newspapers in the UK published a survey which cast doubt on whether Damien Hirst’s work would still be worth as much in future generations.

Impossible. There’s too much money already invested in his work. There’s already too much at stake for it to depreciate. Anyway, I always tell people to buy what they love because then, even if it doesn’t hold it’s financial value, you can still enjoy living with it.

As for Damien Hirst, his work is not just commercial. He is also saying something, there’s a message.

I agree. I find his work, his concepts, fascinating. I just wish he would stop killing butterflies.

You know they don’t live very long anyway, around a day usually. And those butterfly works are beautiful. It’s no worse than the butterfly collections found in many British stately homes.

Mmmm. I’m not sure I agree with that, but I didn’t realise they had such a short lifespan. The works are beautiful but macabre.

What are your preoccupations as an artist?

The same as everyone else’s. Personal desires, the environment, politics, society.

Does Art have to have a message though? Can’t it just exist?

I don’t believe so. I feel that there is no substance to Art that is simply beautiful.

But the lack of substance could be the message.

That’s different. That’s Art with an intention, which gives it a value. It’s the intention of the artist that is the most important factor.

I would go further to say that the intention is more important than the form. The message can take any shape if put into the right context.

The presentation of the material is paramount for understanding the intention.

If you believe, as I do, that any work of Art is a mirror image of the artist, what does your work say about you? This blue piece for example?

Hopes, dreams, my childhood, Sci-fi, it’s a city…

I saw a city in it as soon as I walked in. A post-apocalyptic dystopia. Where do the toys come from?

I get them from these ladies who buy hundreds of toys in the hope that one will be a collectors item. They don’t want the ones that aren’t so I take them.

What are the collectors items like?

Mostly very old, rare and made of wood. Usually from the 19th Century or early 20th.

I like how the toys you use have been on a journey, ending in rejection, and they are resurrected by your using them in your work. You continue their provenance and add to it. 

We (myself and photographer Yelizaveta Yudina) have been hanging out in your studio for quite a while now. I hope we are not distracting you?

No, it’s fine. I like company. I work a bit, and then when I stop for a break we talk.

Great, I’m glad. We can come back again sometime then to continue the conversation…

All photographs by Ju Underwood, except photos of Ju by Yelizaveta Yudina

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