Carla Sozzani: “You need generosity to do this”


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Carla Sozzani
Photo by Bruce Weber
Short Profile

Name: Carla Sozzani
DOB: 29 June 1947
Place of birth: Mantua, Italy
Occupation: Gallerist

Carla Sozzani's photo exhibition, Between Art & Fashion, is on display at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin until 18 November 2018.

Ms. Sozzani, as a gallery curator and an art collector, do you think your photography collection has collected you in some way?

Absolutely, in my case, yes! (Laughs) But I didn’t really even want to have a collection. I never thought about making one — but that’s why it’s so diversified, you know? People make a collection that is normally concentrated on something but me I was concentrating on keeping the things I loved, that talked to me, that meant something in my life. So, yes, the collection has definitely collected me. For me it’s also natural thing.

It has grown organically?

Very much so over the last 50 years. I wanted to keep it as a memory for tracing my life, I never even realized it had grown to over 1000 pieces! I don’t know. It’s part of my life. I’m happy that somebody put some order in it now that I am exhibiting them. I look at the photos now like I see them for the first time.

“I like to be surrounded by beauty, and things that I feel comfortable with.”

Do you remember the first piece that you bought for yourself?

That was one of Irving Penn’s Ungga Warriors taken in the 1970s. I have no idea why I chose this one but I think it made sense to me at the time. I still love it, I still have it at my house and it has always come with me. There are certain photos that always travel with me, that are always in my office or that accompany me in my life. I’m very used to living with these photographs. When I am home in Milan, I will spend pretty much my entire day, around the clock, in my office — so it’s like my home. I like to be surrounded by beauty and things that I consider beautiful, things that I feel comfortable with.

Vanessa Beecroft said that she found herself inspired by the background of Italian culture, paintings, and sculptures from a young age. Is that also where your interest in beauty comes from?

Yes, I think it was because of the education that my parents gave to my sister, Franca, and myself — the search of beauty has always been present. But of course, we all have different views of what beauty is… My sense of beauty comes from mostly the ancient paintings — because I’m Italian, of course! I was always attracted to something that was not violent, that is sensual. I think that the fact that I was a fashion editor for so long that really refined my eye on photography.

In what ways?

Well, immediately, working in fashion for me was working on sets and with photographers. I started to work as a young woman, they put me on sets and that’s really how I learned. I got passionate very naturally, and then I was fortunate to work with so many great photographers. I like a lot of fashion photographers but my favorites have always been Helmut Newton, Paolo Roversi, Sarah Moon, and Bruce Weber because we became kind of a family. But also because Sarah Moon’s partner was a famous photographer so then we became friends with Nan Goldin. And the wife of Bruce was the agent of Halston Sage… And June Newton has been so important to Helmut…

The connections seem to grow naturally rather than strategically.

Exactly. I resist that kind of thing. With difficulty sometimes, but I do resist. If you just go with a business plan and marketing and PR, then probably you won’t do as well.

Were those connections beneficial when you started Galleria Carla Sozzani and eventually your concept store, 10 Corso Como?

Some photographers I already knew and were quite inspirational to me but many I didn’t know. And I met Duane Michals during his exhibition — what a wonderful person! Don McCullin I met through the exhibition as well, and he is now a good friend. And then there are the people like David Bailey, I used to work with him. We had a wonderful time. In my gallery, I make the choices for the exhibitions, which I love to do. I think being a curator is what really interests me because editing is what I always loved, and for me that’s what’s always been important in life. Editing is what I know!

You once said that as a fashion editor, your process was very instinctual. Does that hold true for your process as a curator?

Generally, I talk with the artist and we look together but it’s very important also to understand their point of view. And then at the same time, it’s crucial to respect the point of view of the gallery. It is helpful, I think, that my exhibitions are not for sale so we try to do something that really appeals and makes sense also for the young generation of people who come to visit. I think for somebody young, it’s good to approach photography and see so many different eyes, and be open. A lot of variety.

“Instead of having a magazine, I will make my living magazine. Instead of turning pages, you’re turning corners.”

Have you noticed the younger generation showing more of an interest in art these days?

Actually I think the younger generation is more interested in values than the generation before: sustainability, economy, they don’t spend as much money, they’re more spiritual. That’s the way I see it. I hope that that’s the way it is. When I started 10 Corso Como in 1991, at the time there was no Internet, there was no bloggers, there was no Instagram. I wanted to create a place where people meet and share feelings and emotions and values. I wanted to create a meeting place. I came from magazines so the thing I knew was editing — at the time at Vogue, you didn’t have any feedback. So I said, instead of having a magazine, I will make my living magazine. Instead of turning pages, you’re turning corners, you get surprises… You need a little bit of generosity to do this but it still works 20 years later.

How have things changed at 10 Corso Como since the rise of social media?

Actually it hasn’t changed much! It’s been an evolution in the years that we have grown alongside. Right now especially, we have lots of young, young, young people coming and they drop the cell phones in a second! I think it’s a welcoming atmosphere, my Italian Piazza. I like the fact that everything is there, you know? I was born in Mantua which is one of those cities where the piazza is the center of everything. So the whole idea at 10 Corso Como was to make it like an open home: there are chairs where people can sit or meet, people spend the whole day there. I think museums are doing this more and more now, these transitional spaces… It’s slow shopping! I think to go too fast, it’s not very good because you don’t enjoy anything. And to go a little slower, you only lose 15 minutes. (Laughs)