Interview: Palazzo Monti Artist Residency Founder, Edoardo Monti

Insight on the program and their collaborative exhibition at Mana Contemporary, "Transatlantico"

Edoardo Monti spent the entirety of 2016 readying his family’s 13th century palazzo for guests: six artists and an accompanying on-site team to oversee Palazzo Monti‘s first-ever artists in residency program. When they arrived in March the following year, Monti greeted them alongside stunning neo-classical frescos from the late 1750s. There, the artists could connect with works produced hundreds of years ago within the palazzo walls, and in nearby Milan, Venice and Florence. They were also encouraged to connect with each other. It’s this connection, Monti explains, that’s integral to the residency.

His family’s palazzo exists as a pillar of the local arts community and a beacon of opportunity for young artists from all over. More than 150 artists have passed through the program and over 100 pieces are on show in a new exhibition produced by Monti and Jersey City-based gallery Mana Contemporary. The exhibition, titled Transatlantico, emphasizes the residency’s reach and the vast talent of the alumni. Every one of the artists (of all ages, backgrounds and identities) who has taken part in the residency over the past three years are represented here, with an imaginary line meant to lead viewers up and down the gallery walls and between mediums. It’s a hall of graduates, in a way.

We spoke with Monti to discuss the exhibition, the residency’s inception, and more.

How does the setting—your family’s palazzo—influence the experience of the residency?

This is a residency by all means; a place where artists can stay overnight, absorb the light, the energy and the history of the palazzo which is over 800 years old. Most residencies nowadays simply provide a studio to work, while Palazzo Monti provides a safe space open 24/7, a sort of retreat for the artists’ bodies and minds.

Can you elaborate on some of the palazzo’s features?

The palazzo is located in the core of Brescia’s historical center—a few steps from two Unesco heritage sites, museums and galleries—but still offers a quiet atmosphere being spread across three floors and an internal courtyard. The artists in residence each have private bedrooms and studios, and full access to the Palazzo’s archive, collection and exhibition rooms, which feature frescoes from the 1750s. We also have large common space areas, where we often meet for dinner at the end of a long, productive day.

Visiting artists can also count on a series of materials, provided for free by our program, as well as countless artisans, located around Brescia’s city center, that can help with productions involving marble, metal, wood and bronze casting.

How long did it take for you to transform the palazzo? Where does the idea stem from? Was it about offering the best possible setting for creativity?

It took a full year to get the palazzo on track for welcoming up to six artists and the on-site team, and I had to manage most of the process from NYC, where I lived until 2018. The project then launched in March 2017, and our goal was to “activate” this dormant space, which had so much potential. Rather than selling the palazzo or transforming it into a for-profit venue for events, I discussed the residency idea with my family, who were incredibly supportive since the beginning. It is quite hard to manage a non-profit, especially in these uncertain times and in a city that is not Milan or Rome, yet launching this project has been by far my best choice in my whole life.

What sort of artists do you find are drawn to Palazzo Monti? What does it offer them?

Most artists that are on the lookout for residencies are visual artists: painters, sculptors and photographers. Yet, thanks to our international board and constant research and invite process, we have managed to welcome creatives that usually do not travel to residencies, such as designers, poets and performers.

We offer private, large spaces, flooded with natural light yet equipped so that you can work through the night and vast exhibition rooms where artists can install their works throughout the residency, to imagine how they would look in a more institutional space. Yet I think the most valuable thing that we offer is our experience and international contacts with galleries, institutions and collectors, so that we can support our alumni in the best possible way.

Is there a theme to the Mana Contemporary show? Perhaps a through line?

When approached by Mana, I knew immediately I wanted to focus the show on Palazzo Monti, including each and every artist that has travelled to Brescia in the past three years. Each artist that joined the group show had the chance to bring one artwork, and it was so great to go through the selection process with each one of them, over these past 10 months of preparation for the show.

Ultimately, the layout of the show is very important to me: reflecting on the show’s imaginary and realized journey, ​Transatlantico’s​ physical layout mirrors its conceptual organization through an imaginary line which runs through the exhibition space—uniting the residency that became each artist’s shared experience. Each of the works are connected by this line but hung at varying latitudes, allowing for the cohabitation of media and material.

Are they all works that were created during the residency?

Each work has a different story: some were created during the residency, some belong to the artist’s practice, some others were created uniquely for the show.

Was the goal always to put on a show?

What we guarantee during the residency is some sort of public opportunity to introduce the artists and their production to our friends and supporters—whether this may be through a solo, group show, open studio or private dinner. We are not a gallery, so our interest does not lie on the marketing of the artists we welcome, but rather on their experience. Our goal is to use the time we spend with them to get to know each other better, and use opportunities such as the one Mana gave us to support the artists we respect and want to support the most in the coming years.

Most pieces are offered below $5,000. Was the intention always to offer works at an approachable price point? 

Most artists we work with are very young… and many don’t have gallery representation yet, hence their affordability. We don’t believe in speculation or in art as a pure investment. We don’t work with art but with artists, and our goal is to support their career in our best capacities.

Images courtesy of Palazzo Monti / Mana Contemporary