Where did the idea for Imago Mundi come from? What inspired you to begin commissioning a series of 10cm by 12cm artworks?
It emerged from a lifetime of travels and meetings. And the fact that I have a huge network of friends and collaborators all over the world helped me to translate such an ambitious project into reality. The inspiration came to me in Chile, almost by chance, when I asked an artist for his business card and he gave me a small oil painting instead.
What’s your aim in collecting all these artistic ‘business cards’?
The idea is to create a sort of world map of contemporary art at this precise moment in history.
How are the artists chosen? Do you contact them directly while travelling?
The organisational side is quite complex. In each country, curators or museum directors nominate a group of artists, some well known, others not, who represent the artistic traits of that place. In theory at least, the rule is ‘one artist, one work’. The idea behind the mix is to seek out, alongside the big names, new talents and artists of the future.
Why do you ask all your artists to work to a ‘miniature’ 10cm by 12cm format?
So we can put the largest number of country collections on display at the same time, in order to give an overview of the different artistic character of each place. There’s no way you could do this with standard-sized artworks.
Can you single out any works or groups of work that you’re particularly fond of ?
There are 10,000 works in the collection right now, so it would be impossible to single out just a few. But I can say that despite the limitations of the format, the majority are of extraordinarily high quality. I’m so passionate about the project that there’s no way I could start ranking the works!
A sample of Luciano Benetton's collection of more than 10,000 10cm by 12cm artworks
Artists are not paid for the works in the collection. What do they get in return?
This project is deliberately non-commercial; it’s run by the Fondazione Benetton. The artists who donate their works benefit from our vigorous communication and promotion of their art — an effort that ranges from the publication of catalogues and the staging of exhibitions, to the website.
When they’re not in exhibitions, where do the works actually live?
Each of the country collections is mounted on a special display frame designed by the architect Tobia Scarpa, together with the cases they travel in. Between exhibitions they are stored in a dedicated space in Treviso.
Where have the Imago Mundi works been shown to date? And are there any upcoming exhibitions we should know about?
There’ve been quite a few exhibitions. Among the more recent are two that wrapped in January, one at the Museo Carlo Bilotti inside Rome’s Borghese Gardens, the other at NOMA in New Orleans. Currently, until the end of May, a selection of works commissioned for the collection from Vienna-based artists is on display at the city’s Winterpalais, while in Turin, 400 Imago Mundi works by Italian artists are showing at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. Finally, from the end of August until the end of October, the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice will host a major exhibition covering more than 35 countries and 6,000 works.
Imago Mundi is growing exponentially. Is there a final, ideal number of artists and works that you would like the collection to contain?
My ultimate ambition is to have every single country in the world represented in the collection.
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