Sitting down with the Villa Medici director
The strength of Villa Medici lies in its ability to shine in the centre of Rome, for and with Italians
Often called “Villa Medici” by metonymy, the French Academy in Rome is known as a residence for French artists in Italy. In the heart of Rome, this magnificent palace not only offers one of the most beautiful views of the Italian capital, but it contributes to the city’s influence (and Italy’s in general) on the international artistic scene. So, when you get the chance to meet its director, Muriel Mayette-Holtz, you’re tempted to spend hours in her office to discuss the many subjects that fascinate her. Here she talks about her vision and her projects on the sidelines of the opening of “Take Me (I’m yours)”, the role of women in the high spheres of contemporary art, as well as the unique and ambiguous relationship between the French Academy in Rome and its host country: Italy.
Relive the inauguration of “Take Me (I’m yours)” HERE
You were the first woman in charge of the Comédie-Française, and now since September 2015 the first to head the French Academy in Rome – Villa Medici. In addition, you initiated the project of a contemporary art exhibition curated by Chiara Parisi and aimed at highlighting great women artists (Une/Una). Is there a feminist side to your work? Who are the women who counted the most in your career?
The Villa Medici’s door have long been closed to women. It is true for the residents (the first women was Lucienne Heuvelmans in 1912), it is true for the artists, and true for the directors… Opening the doors to women is not a revolution, it is a necessity! This awareness-raising work has encouraged many women to take part in the French Academy competition in Rome and, for the first time in 2018, there will be a majority of women resident artists and historians. I absolutely admire Pina Bausch, Ariane Mnouchkine, Artemisia Gentileschi, Jeanne Moreau and Annette Messager.
Could you evoke the French Academy’s historical mission, its current relevance and how you see it evolving?
The French Academy in Rome builds bridges between artists in all disciplines. As the breeding ground of the greatest talents of tomorrow, Villa Medici draws a picture of what contemporary creation is now – and what it is going to be. The residents are the heart of the institution and it is around them that I intend to refocus our various programmes, while enhancing the French and Italian heritages, and sharing it with the public.
Since your appointment, Villa Medici has become more accessible and the public’s involvement has increased considerably. This thanks to new cultural events and an important programme of exhibitions. How do you contemplate these programmes, and which are the most essential to you?
All Villa Medici events are designed so that artists work in permanent connection with the public. The “Thursdays at Villa Medici” programme is built around our residents’ work. The exhibition “Take Me (I’m yours)”, for example, is an opportunity for dialogue between the residents and other great international artists. Finally, everything we do call for all creative disciplines. I am particularly proud of the free “Open at Night” exhibition, which was a huge success last winter. It gave the opportunity to discover the Villa’s historic gardens and contemporary works articulated around light.
You have put forward Italian curators working a lot in France like Chiara Parisi, Pier Paolo Pancotto, ot Federico Nicolao. Was this a particular desire of yours to develop an artistic partnership with Italy?
Our presence in the heart of Rome encourages us to develop an interaction between our two countries. All programmes are translated simultaneously into Italian and French, which in my opinion is the best guarantee of European integration. Next July, I will stage “The Game of Love and Chance” by Marivaux in the Villa’s gardens, travelling from one language to another, so that French and Italian audiences can all enjoy this masterpiece of 18th century literature. The strength of Villa Medici also lies in its ability to shine in the centre of Rome, for and with Italians.
What is your personal relationship with Italy and Rome? How has your vision of Italy changed since 2015?
Rome is a very welcoming city, its history offers unceasingly reference and amazement… My Italian got much better today, which makes me appreciate the secrets, the details, the Italian way of life even more. Rome always has a surprise in store for us!
You are a French woman living in Italy. How would you compare, from your personal and professional experience, two capitals like Rome and Paris on a cultural level?
Rome has remained asleep for a long time in regards to contemporary creation, and the resources allocated to artists are still too low, unlike Paris which is effervescent. Today the great challenge of this breeding ground is in the confrontation of generations. Paris and Rome must rely even more on contemporary creation to continue building their heritage.
Interview : Irene D’Agostino
Portrait and photos: Ludovica Arcero
“Take Me (I’m yours)” exhibition at the Académie de France in Rome, from 31 May to 15 August 2018