Beatrice Bulgari and her husband Nicola have two art collections. One is spread across their various locations – New York, Rome, Paris and Sicily – ranging from Bellotto to Cy Twombly, Michelangelo Pistoletto and William Kentridge.
The other, created by Beatrice alone, “is about this size,” she laughs, spreading her hands wide. Because it consists of around 180 films that she commissioned from artists and brought to a new charitable foundation. “I’m so excited that we’re hosting our first exhibition of selected videos during the Venice Biennale,” she says.
Bulgari, who is in London on a work trip with the foundation’s artistic director, Alessandro Rabottini, is excited to talk about the creative process – she herself has been a costume designer for films, including the Oscar-winning ones cinema paradise (1988) – and why she founded the Fondazione In Between Art Film. The unwieldy name betrays the game: Artists must create works that lie between these two forms.
“Even as a child I was very artistic,” she says. “I grew up in Syracuse, Sicily, and my mother was a writer and my father was an antique dealer. I’ve always been an artist – when I was nine I stole sheets of paper from my mother’s typewriter for my watercolors.”
Noticing her interest, her mother sent her to work with a local artist every afternoon. “As a child, I was very shy, rather melancholic,” she says, although she seems open-minded and friendly now. “My whole family went to traditional schools where they learned Latin and Greek, but I was considered the black sheep of the family. . . I decided early on to study scenography and specialize in costume design. I wanted experience so I went to Rome.”
She immersed herself in the world of cinema and theater, working on costumes for a variety of films including Stanno Tutti Bene (Everybody’s Fine, 1990) with Marcello Mastroianni, Una Pura Formalita (A Pure Formality, 1994) and L’Uomo delle Stelle (The Star Maker, 1995). It was at work cinema paradise that she met Nicola Bulgari – the grandson of the luxury brand’s founder – during his first marriage. Bulgari was sold to conglomerate LVMH for $5.2 billion in 2011, and Nicola remains vice chairman of the company.
“Nicola had given me jewelry but I didn’t know what to give back. We had been traveling together for a year and I had a collection of matchboxes we bought together and during a dinner with artist Alighiero Boetti he offered to turn them into a work of art.” Boetti photocopied them and made a collage with them Your Name. “Like many collectors,” says Bulgari, “each work of art is linked to a moment in your life. But it wasn’t until I married Nicola that I felt like a collector; Art connects and is part of our life together.”
Her husband was already a collector, particularly of vintage cars but also of art and antiques, when Bulgari designed the costumes for a 2009 production of Euripides’ play Medea in Syracuse and was inspired by Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s depictions of antiquity, Nicola bought her those of the artist lifeguard. He also bought older works such as those by Bellotto Piazza del Popolo, Rome and contemporary plays like Damien Hirst’s Emperor Maximilian (2007). “At first I wasn’t so sure about Hirst, but it’s made of diamond – and of course [Nicola] is in love with gems,” she says.
Because of her work in cinema, she fell in love with video art. In 2012 she founded a production company, In Between Art Film, which worked in partnership with Tate in London, Maxxi in Rome and documenta 14 in Kassel, before becoming a separate foundation. “That’s my special vision, it’s very personal,” she says. “I met the Italian artist duo Masbedo and we started to think that making a feature film would be a great adventure.
“The idea wasn’t to make them directors, but to use the language of cinema and let them remain artists. At that moment, without really realizing it, I commissioned the films.” One result was The lack (2014), who portrays six women in the apocalyptic landscapes of Iceland. But she adds, “When you place an order, you trust the artist, but you don’t know how it’s going to turn out until it’s done.”
Did she have any disappointments? “Yes,” she says. “One time I read a script, it was excellent, great, but when I saw the finished work, I was disappointed and even suggested some changes, but the artist refused, and I said, ‘Okay, you’re the artist.’ But I never worked with her again. Everyone else liked it, it even got some awards. Which just goes to show that it’s a very personal thing.”
Each video will be produced in six editions, one of which will go to the Fondazione; the others remain with the artist. Some are co-produced when costs exceed the initial €10,000 she puts into each project. “I don’t own these videos, I don’t have to own them — they stay at the foundation, which is based in Rome, where we have a team of seven to run them.” She also has a scientific program that records the artworks and archived, “I plan for it to continue beyond my own lifetime.”
The Venice show is titled penumbra and shows eight new video works by artists such as Afghan Aziz Hazara, Chinese He Xiangyu and Brazilians Ana Vaz and Jonathas De Andrade. “The films deal with visibility and opacity, truth and fiction, memory and history and the title, penumbrashows how these can blur.
“They were commissioned before the terrible situation in Ukraine, that terrible moment of instability, but they are so relevant today. Our artists come from all over the world and it is important to show their different perspectives as that perspective can be a filter for reality.”
And at the end of the interview, she utters a collector’s mantra: “Always follow your heart – never think about the market value of the works you buy or commission!”
“Penumbra” runs from April 20th to November 27th in Venice, inbetweenartfilm.com