Of logos and volumes: Interview with Ricardo Fornoni, owner/curator of Resolution Gallery
by Michael Smith
In the last few months, Johannesburg has seen a flowering of art galleries. A few months ago we covered the opening of Art Extra in Craighall, and now, a bit closer to Jozi's inner city and squarely in the middle of the city's burgeoning art quarter of Parkwood, new kid on the block Resolution Gallery opens. Owned and curated by Ricardo Fornoni, the gallery specialises in the exhibition of digital art, aided by the presence of the on-site eye2i fine art printmakers. In partnership with eye2i, Resolution Gallery also specialises in the production of Giclée prints.
Michael Smith spoke to Fornoni about his gallery, its intentions and the importance of good design.
Michael Smith: Ricardo, Resolution has been active since about mid-2007. How are you finding the Johannesburg scene?
Ricardo Fornoni: Interesting. First of all, we have seen the proliferation of new art galleries in and around Johannesburg which can only have a positive effect on gallerists, artists and definitely the public, catering to a variety of tastes and tendencies in the South African art scene. An example of this buoyancy and momentum was this year's successful Joburg Art fair - the first fair of its kind that focuses on contemporary African art.
MS: I notice that your site states the gallery was 'established by Goldblatt and Fornoni, 2007': can you clarify the ownership and curating rules for me?
RF: Steven Goldblatt is a silent partner in the business, and an advisor extraordinaire. I am the main curator of the gallery, but in the near future I am working on inviting other guest curators to collaborate with me, or to offer them the option to curate a show from beginning to end.
MS: You launched your gallery with the express purpose of focusing on the production and exhibition of digital work. Doesn't this limit your scope?
RF: I like challenges. My apprenticeship started more than a decade ago - at the beginning of the so-called 'digital revolution' in printing - with the use of digitally originated imagery. Even though I recognize the validity of all artistic expressions, I identify very closely with digital and technological influence in art forms. While others may think that I am limiting myself through this focus, I see it as being true to my personal vision in how I would like to see digital art develop in this country. I think that not focusing on the specialised area that I believe in, and have experience in, would be deviating from my goal.
MS: The strip of Jan Smuts Avenue where your gallery is situated is a sought-after area to place a gallery; how welcoming have your neighbouring gallerists been?
RF: In general I have had a very positive experience with my neighbours. I believe that our relationships will continue to grow and - just as building any relationship requires commitment and respect - they will develop positively as long as we recognize that we all are working together to achieve the same end, in other words the development of a healthy and vibrant art community.
MS: One thing I notice about your shows is that you always have such amazing posters: tell ArtThrob a bit about their production, and also their importance for your gallery.
RF: For the gallery the posters are not only an important tool of expressive communication, but are a celebration of happenings. We want to leave a legacy: through documenting the events (the shows) we are documenting the development of the gallery space and the people who are involved with it.
MS: In a similar vein, I was thinking recently about the absence of significant branding in local art galleries and museums. The billboards for the recent Marlene Dumas show at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg brought this home to me: all one got was a massive Standard Bank corporate logo, paired with a repro of one of Dumas' paintings. There was no sympatico between the ham-fisted corporate blue and the nuanced colours of Dumas' work. There seems to be no sense of the importance of branding, or even design. The Johannesburg Art Gallery is another case in pointÔøΩ As someone who recently moved to SA, where do you think local museums and galleries are in terms of this kind of thinking?
RF: This is a big question, and complicated questions result in complicated answers. Let me explain. Any given piece of design - in this case the design of visual publicity materials for exhibitions - is affected by the dynamic that exists between the client and the designer. It is here that the designer has a vital role to play in, for example, challenging the client and providing convincing design alternatives that minimize the prominence of the corporate identity and focus on the artistic input.
From an outsider's, or newcomer's perspective, it is quite surprising to see the importance of branding in South Africa. You don't see much evidence of this kind of dialogue between the content of shows and the promotion and production of marketing materials. The corporate logo/identity often seems to be louder than the actual importance of the main event or artistic content. I don't want to undermine the role that sponsorship and sponsors can and do play, but particularly when you are promoting new artists you do not want the corporate brand to overshadow the artist's identity. But what I believe is important is balancing the importance of the artistic message - the main focus - and the respectful and well-balanced incorporation of the sponsor's brand.
MS: Tell us about your latest show, called 'Faces'. You've matched up SA artists Diana Hyslop, Alf Khumalo, George Mahashe, Sally Shorkend and Marc Shoul with Spanish artist Angel Haro. What kind of dynamic is created by this?
RF: The idea behind 'Faces' was to create an umbrella effect where different approaches are brought together. These ideas and approaches came from painters and photographers, guided by a common theme, creating a visual dialogue of opposites, with each of the artists on show contributing their own individual flair, like having one conversation with different opinions.
MS: What else can Jo'burg look forward to from Resolution Gallery in 2008?
RF: Consistently good shows, starting with our next exhibition - 'Anima' - which opens on Thursday May 8.
142 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood
Tel: (011) 880 4054