The archive of Francesco Conz, an Italian art collector, patron and publisher who counted Nam June Paik, Hermann Nitsch, Joe Jones and Allan Kaprow among his friends, is making its public debut in Berlin with a show of “prepared pianos” at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art.
The works to be displayed from 15-19 January include a piano covered with artificial tropical plants and fruits by Benjamin Patterson, one wrapped in toilet paper by Walter Marchetti, and another stuffed with walking canes by Rasa Todosijevic. For the artists Conz asked to produce the works, “the piano was something to subvert, to be reanalysed,” says Gigiotto Del Vecchio, the chief curator of Archivio Conz.
Formerly a valet to the abdicated King Edward VIII and his American wife, Wallis Simpson, Conz opened an art dealership in Venice in 1972 and started up his publishing company, Editions F. Conz. He hosted dozens of artists at his villa home in Asolo in northern Italy from 1974, including Paik, Charlotte Moorman, Al Hansen and Jon Hendricks. He obsessively collected memorabilia from their visits; everything from typewriters, fridges and cars to shoes and even the wine bottles from their dinners together.
The archive, which includes several fridges and ten cars, including a Volkswagen used by Paik and Moorman, describes these objects as “fetishes.” Conz also took hundreds of photos documenting the visits.
“He was more than a Modern art collector; he collected things from his life with the artists,” Del Vecchio says. “Many of the works were the result of a conversation, of time spent together.” His collection, Del Vecchio says, is in keeping with the ethos of the Fluxus artists, who focussed more on the artistic process than the finished product.
Conz died in 2010. A private German collector, Daniel Hopp, purchased the archive containing over 3,000 items and works from more than 120 artists. Managed by Del Vecchio and Stefania Palumbo, the Berlin-based archive is focussed on Viennese Actionism, Fluxus and Zaj, an experimental Italian performance art and experimental music movement.
Del Vecchio says they aim to “reactivate” the collection by exhibiting it, digitalising it and ensuring curators at museums are aware of its existence. Covering 700 sq. m, the archive can be visited by appointment.
It contains 65 pianos in total; 24 will go on show at the KW Institute in the five-day exhibition, called Pause: Broken Sounds / Remote Music – Prepared Pianos from the Archivio Conz Collection. The pianos will create a backdrop to a series of performances linking them with contemporary art and sound experiments. Among the performance artists are Nina Kurtela and Angharad Williams; the experimental composer and visual artist Charlemagne Palestine will give a concert.