“There is something truly exciting in trying to challenge and innovate the shape of both exhibitions and disseminative art projects, in breaking and remaking rules about how to collaborate with artists, and even in failing at that”
AT: How did you start engaging with the art world and how/when did you decide it could become your profession?
ML: The nature of the project was really spontaneous at the beginning, in fact NEVVEN was born as an artist-run space when we opened in Spring 2015. During the first three years, it became clearer and clearer how much potential and how many exciting possibilities could have come from transforming NEVVEN into a stable project, but also we were very aware of our personal ambitions and how much energy and commitment would have taken to accomplish that. So, while my partner and co-founder of the space Alina continued to curate the program but kept her art practice as the main focus, I progressively left mine and finally started working 100% at the gallery. It was after this realisation that NEVVEN grew into the international hybrid space which is now, merging a gallery and a non-profit, publicly funded, contemporary art project. The project has now organised more than 40 exhibitions, it moved to the very centre of Gothenburg and involves a whole team of collaborators.
AT: What moved two Italians opening your own space in Gothenburg, Sweden?
ML: Mainly chance, but not only. Our project exists in its current shape only thanks to the advanced situation of public fundings dedicated to the arts which we’ve found here in Sweden. It is thanks to these that we could venture into shaping the project as a non-profit and that we are able to work with artists in a such an ethical and sometimes atypical way, being able to juggle between the opposite ways of working of a public art foundation and a commercial art gallery. The public support received by the project is also what allowed us to focus and find space for the production of a broad and ever growing program of disseminative events and contents.
AT: What are the toughest and the most fulfilling aspects of your job?
ML: The toughest part has always been – and still is – for the project to find a way to be economically balanced, while being supportive to the artists and growing on the program’s quality. Regarding the most fulfilling aspects, there is something truly exciting in trying to challenge and innovate the shape of both exhibitions and disseminative art projects, in breaking and remaking rules about how to collaborate with artists, and even in failing at that. What keeps on fuelling our enthusiasm for the project is very much this empirical process, aiming to build a project able to have top-level collaborations and exhibitions, while being ethical in every one of its aspects and, possibly, a positive force for change in the commercial art world.
Installation view of Tom Volkaert solo show XXX (2019) | courtesy of NEVVEN | ph. by David Eng.
AT: Does your gallery have a specific and coherent thread passing through the exhibitions? How do you select the artists to collaborate with?
ML: The gallery aims to and works towards an inclusive and intersectional program, while exploring the widest possible range of artistic expressions. For these reasons, we are not interested only in showcasing a particular aesthetic (which we believe is anyway shining through our program and curation), but instead we prefer to work to individuate and showcase what are the most relevant contemporary trends and expressions within the visual arts. The result is a broad selection of artists, including both emerging and mid-career practitioners, that have in common a strong yet individual artistic language, while working with different media and subjects.
AT: How do you intend the gallerist – artist relationship?
ML: We like to think about it as a collaboration, where both parts work towards the best for each other’s interest.
AT: Your gallery “represents and collaborates with a broad range of emerging and mid-career artists from Sweden and actively interacts with several Swedish public institutions”. How would you describe the contemporary art scene in Sweden?
ML: The Swedish scene is quite local, very focused on Scandinavian artists, with very few exceptions of international galleries in Stockholm, which regularly exhibit also North American artists. The curious thing is that there is quite a gap of attention when it comes to the European art scene, and this is precisely where NEVVEN has found its place and its trying to make a difference.
Installation view of Dimensions / Of Possibility the current show at NEVVEN | courtesy of NEVVEN | ph. by David Eng.
Installation view of Idun Baltzersen solo show Mask (2018) | courtesy of NEVVEN | ph. by David Eng.
AT: How important is ‘networking’ in your job? How do you relate with your same-field colleagues?
ML: We strongly believe in the importance of building networks within our field and to show each other support, and we think that now it is becoming more important than ever. As the system of art fairs and some other relics from the classic ways of structuring the art world are clearly (and even before the pandemic) starting to show cracks in their inherent sustainability, we believe that galleries and art spaces have to find more interesting, collaborative and open ways to build networks, and create occasions for the art-world to come together.
AT: In addition to gallery exhibitions, you also carry out many external projects such as Nevven Editions and Nevven Views. Can you tell us more about these activities?
ML: Indeed, beside a program of artist talks organised in collaboration with the Public Library of Gothenburg and some other sporadic curatorial collaborations, we do have a regular podcast program, Nevven Views, which features curated interviews with artists, and a publishing project, Nevven Editions, born with a focus on printed publications and editions, and with which we have just started to release digital catalogs downloadable for free from our website.
The disseminative part of the project is crucial for us, and we always strive to do more. In this perspective, we have also recently started a program of curated online exhibitions called NEVVEN ON SITE, a series of off-site shows where the invited artists are exhibiting new works in a non-neutral environment of their choice, often away from Sweden, in the city they work in, and presenting the documented results exclusively online.
Then, since 2019 we have also started an international residency program in Italy. This project is grounded on a collaboration with the wine producer Cascina Gilli, in Castelnuovo Don Bosco (near Asti). The first edition featured the American artist Charlie Roberts and, while the project was forcedly cancelled by the pandemic this year, we hope to come back with the second edition in 2021.
AT: What is the role of the digital tool in what you do?
ML: The digital tools are fundamental to us as we use them to reach our international audience and to find artists, collectors, colleagues and other spaces. So, while we strongly believe in the importance of organising physical exhibitions and interacting with the local public, NEVVEN could have never existed without the internet. Having a strong digital contents’ production has allowed us to actually decentralise while being accessible for an actually larger public, and to run an international project from a smaller Swedish city as Gothenburg in a more sustainable and interesting way than what used to be possible before these tools were made available.
Installation view of Fanny Hellgren solo show Withering Postures (2019) | courtesy of NEVVEN | ph. by David Eng.
AT: What do you think will be the role of the galleries and artist-run spaces, in the next future?
ML: Galleries and artist run spaces have the responsibility to help re-shape a lot of the dynamics in the art-world, which are currently being challenged, as the role of physical spaces has to remain relevant in the future and it can’t risk to be completely replaced by online-based spaces. At the same time the centralisation of spaces into few major cities, therefore making it only the field of established players, shouldn’t be the answer to this. Galleries and artist run space should lead the way into finding new solutions, and aim towards a more variegated, sparse and geographically peripheral placement, proposing a much more diverse way of shaping projects, and opening up to a broader spectrum of ethical and artistic directions.
AT: Next projects on site?
ML: The gallery is now closed for our Summer break, but we are looking forward to reopening again in early August. The program will continue then with our current group show including Anastasia Bay, Matthew Lessner, Lisa Lundgren and Emelie Sandström in a special full room installation while we are looking forward to our Fall program too. In this regard, this July we’ll be opening a new off-site online exhibition by Chloé Arrouy, while, in September, we will open a new solo show by Belgian artist Stevie Dix in Gothenburg.
AT: If you had to give some advice to a youngster who wants to open a space, what it would be?
ML: Try to find your own way to do things, be motivated by the desire to change existing models and/or to create something which is not there and is truly yours. Also, be patient and build sustainable, do not expect or start something that needs to function and be profitable straight away. Instead, give to a project time and space to grow.
Installation view of Sara Anstis solo show Discrete (2020) | courtesy of NEVVEN | ph. by David Eng.
Mattia Lullini (Italy, 1985) holds a degree in philology and Italian literature and is a licensed state archivist. He is the director and co-founder of NEVVEN, a hybrid art space conjoining a gallery and a public art project, located in Gothenburg since 2015.
The project promotes an intersectional perspective on the contemporary European art scene and curates a diverse output of exhibitions, disseminative events and contents, in partnership with multiple Swedish public institutions.