Marta Barbieri and Paola Bonino


“To open a contemporary art gallery devoted to young artists and experimental practices in a small town like Piacenza is quite a challenge, isn’t it?”

AT: How did you start engaging with the art world and how/when did you decide it could become your profession?

MB&PB: We both studied Contemporary Art and, after graduation, we have always been determined to make a profession out of our passion. We come from the same town and, after years spent abroad, we came back to our home and… here we are!


AT: How did the idea of opening a gallery together come up?

MB&PB: First of all, insanity we guess. To open a contemporary art gallery devoted to young artists and experimental practices in a small town like Piacenza is quite a challenge, isn’t it? We have been collaborating for several years on various projects and at some point we felt the necessity to open our own space, to work with the artists we believe in and to finally start our own business. The main concept behind our work has always been the support of emerging artists and the continuous research.


AT: What are the toughest and the most fulfilling aspects of your job?

MB&PB: To work with the artists of our generation, to grow and create exhibitions and projects together is absolutely exciting. We also feel privileged for the possibility of meeting extremely interesting people – from collectors to museums directors, curators and artists -, of welcoming them to the gallery (and usually it’s the first time they have visited Piacenza!), of travelling a lot, visiting museums, exhibitions, fairs… All this fulfills our professional and personal lives. On the other hand, we live in difficult times, it’s not easy to make a life working with artists who are not yet established. The art market and system don’t support our approach very much, which is of a young gallery trying to keep a clear line of research, not following the main trends.

Valentina Furian, cari cani, installation view UNA, 2020 | ph. credit Marco Fava

AT: Does your gallery have a specific and coherent thread passing through the exhibitions? Why this choice?

MB&PB: Yes, we have. We focus on artistic research based on an in-depth investigation of phenomena characterizing the contemporary era, which try to respond to some of its most concerning issues: the cultural and aesthetic homogeneity, the levelling of individual identity, the manipulation operated by the Internet, commercial communication and political propaganda. If you look at our exhibitions, you’ll recognize that, whatever medium the artists focus on – from photography to video, painting and sculpture – the silver thread is always the use of installation, which transforms the gallery each time in a new space.


AT: You work with few artists, most of them Italian. How do you intend the gallerist – artist relationship? What is the first step you make and how do you relate with them?

MB&PB: We understand the relationship between artists and gallerists as a continuous exchange, a strong collaboration and, as mentioned before, we like the idea of “growing together”, building in our parallel careers. We always have a very personal approach with the artists, trying to work as a team towards the same goal.


AT: UNA is based in Piacenza. How important is ‘networking’ in your job? How do you relate with your same-field colleagues?

MB&PB: To create a network is essential. It’s not always easy to attract people to Piacenza, we primarily need to approach them and get to know them, before they come to us. This means travelling a lot and trying to meet as many people as possible. We strongly believe in collaboration with other galleries, whether it is for a joint exhibition, a shared booth in a fair or an artist exchange… it always brings new energy, contacts and synergies.

Filippo Minelli, Paysage, installation view UNA, 2020

AT: Could you tell us more about your collaboration with Spazio Leonardo in Milan? How did you decide to decline the relationship between art and corporate world?

MB&PB: We have been collaborating with Spazio Leonardo since the beginning of 2018, organising solo exhibitions by artists we represent or collaborate with. Spazio Leonardo has always been very welcome and open to our proposal, demonstrating an open-minded approach and an enthusiasm towards our collaborations which is sometimes hard to find even in the art world. Next year we’ll open up the exhibition program a bit, including various disciplines and artists which are not strictly connected to our gallery, we’ll start with a collective exhibition of painting, and then there will be an installation involving dance and design. Even more in these difficult times, this collaboration is proving to be a unique opportunity for art and the corporate world for mutual support, fresh ideas and visibility.


AT: What is your relationship with the art fairs? Which art fairs you get along more with, today?

MB&PB: Art Fairs are crucial, not just in term of sales but also of visibility, contacts, promotion. In the pre-Covid art system, art fairs were, maybe, too important: visitors barely came to the gallery because all the attention was focus on these big, frequent events. This system was absolutely unbearable for a young gallery: you were forced to be present, under often difficult economical condition. From now on, we hope for more balance between the system of the fair and the work in the gallery. Miart and Artissima have been so far the most important art fairs for us; Artverona, with its national format, has played an important role at the very beginning; it seems working well even this year, although only digital. We planned our first international fair for 2020, and of course we had to give it up, so we hope to recover in 2021, can’t wait for it!


AT: How would you describe the collectors of your gallery? How important are they for you?

MB&PB: The collectors who follow our work are often moved by a healthy curiosity and a wish to discover new proposal and artists, without preconceptions or fears. They collect and buy art for real passion, and not for investment or economical reasons. This is very important for us, because it reflects our spirit! Many of them have become friends, we understand our relationship more as a mutual exchange of interests than a “commercial” one.

Irene Fenara, Blinds and other Cloudings, installation view Spazio Leonardo, Milano, 2019 | ph. credit Cosimo Filippini

AT: What is the role of the digital tool in what you do?

MB&PB: The web-site, social media, on-line art fair, even digital relationships with collectors, artists etc are pivotal in our work. No need to say how much time, during this year, we spent behind our computers and phones trying to make things move on, instead of being around as we normally do. Despite the increasing role played by the digital in our work, we still believe in the importance of the physical aspect: to meet visitors and collectors in the gallery, to look at the actual artworks, to discuss face-to-face is crucial, even more in this difficult period, in order to keep the art system art and all people involved alive.


AT: What do you think will be the role of the galleries, in the next future?

MB&PB: Tricky question… galleries play different roles depending on their size: you can’t pretend that an enterprise like Gagosian or Zwirner play the same role as a small reality like ours. Of course we believe that the role of galleries is to create an economy out of art, and this is very important, especially for young artists, because it gives them the opportunity to make a life out of their work, to fully dedicate themselves to it. As long as there will be an artsystem, galleries will exist, it’s unbelievable to think that they’ll be replaced by a direct trade between collectors and artists or by the auction houses or whatever, of course art galleries will change the way they work, they sell, they relate to the system… but they’ll resist!


AT: Next projects on site?

MB&PB: A solo show by Irene Fenara at UNA, hopefully opening in February, with the presentation of a new body of works and a publication… can’t wait for it! A new program at Spazio Leonardo, starting with a collective exhibition of non-conventional paintings and a couple of site-specific interventions, and then we hope to start again with the fairs, Miart should be the first. Finger crossed!


AT: If you had to give some advice to a youngster who wants to open a space, what it would be?

MB&PB: First of all, we suggest to have clear in mind the program direction, to have a well-defined line. Secondly, to carefully choose the physical space, its location, dimension, functionality… Thirdly, to develop a good network within the art system: relationships are crucial. And then, to be moved by real passion, because it won’t pay a lot at the beginning and you have to struggle before obtaining results!

Sabot, Once more into the grey, installation view UNA, 2020 | ph. credits Marco Fava
UNA is a contemporary art gallery dedicated to the promotion of artists from the generation born in the 1980s and the 1990s, established in spring 2018 in Piacenza out of a collaboration between Marta Barbieri and Paola Bonino. Although the gallery dedicates a particular attention to Italian artists, its program includes various collaborations with international artists and galleries, aiming at developing a dynamic approach and an exchange between the Italian and the international art scene. 

UNA focuses on artistic research based on an in-depth investigation of phenomena characterizing the contemporary era, which try to respond to some of its most concerning issues: the cultural and aesthetic homogeneity, the levelling of individual identity, the manipulation operated by Internet, commercial communication and political propaganda. Spanning a wide range of media – from photography to video, painting and sculpture – the silver thread among the artists working with UNA is the use of installation as the privileged outcome for their presentations.