Piero Tomassoni is an art curator, critic, and lawyer who has been working in the international art scene for more than ten years. He is also the founder of Artvisor, a platform which uses technology to help collectors find new art. Piero sat down with Method Magazine to answer a few questions about the business of art, and where it might be headed.
Please share a little bit about your growing up years. How and where did you experience art as a kid? Who were some artists you enjoyed in your teenage years and did your tastes in art change over time as a result of “growing up”?
I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by art and artists. Besides what was at home, in my early teenage years I was mostly looking at geometric abstraction, Constructivism and the Bauhaus. Then I opened up to everything else.
You trained and qualified as a professional lawyer, why did you decide to pursue the arts instead of the law?
It was a natural progression. Art was always there. At some point Artvisor grew and needed my full attention, so I gradually transitioned. I am still a lawyer: I do most of the legal work that Artvisor needs, and I retain a consultancy role at a law firm in the City.
The law is all about rules and structure. Art, I presume for you, isn’t. Can you share a little bit about this divergence since you’ve spent considerable time pursuing both these fields. How have each shaped your opinions, perspectives and world view?
Art can shape your way of thinking and living. Practicing law teaches you how to approach and resolve problems, particularly where different parties have conflicting interests (most human interactions). Art is, or should be, concerned with higher questions.
What was the first piece of art you purchased? Where does it hang/live today?
My collection started long before I bought anything, thanks to artists’ gifts that they brought when they were coming to visit my parents. I treasure all those works and remember the story behind each of them. On the other hand, I do not recall my first purchase (over ten years ago; maybe a quadrilogy of polaroids by Araki which I keep in London). I can tell you the last one: an edition of nine lithographs by Giulio Paolini to support the “Art for Covid” initiative in Italy.
A polaroid by Nobuyoshi Araki
Can you share a little bit about the Joseph Beuys exhibit that you have recently curated?
The idea came to me in Paris many years ago at the house of a major Beuys collector. The project changed several times and it finally happened in London when the timing seemed “right”. This year, it works both as a prelude to the centenary of the artist (happening in 2021), and as a 40th anniversary of a major event and exhibition my dad curated with Beuys in Italy in 1980. Of course on the other hand the timing was terrible since our opening was scheduled right when the Covid-19 crisis was starting. But as we went through with it, it meant that Joseph Beuys: Gespräch is now the only solo show of Beuys so far this year, and possibly for the rest of the year (we have just extended it for the foreseeable future). It is quite an honour considering the stature of the artist. The exhibition mostly revolves around two important large works from the 1970s (which immediately got the attention of museums preparing Beuys celebrations for 2021), and around a group of editions from Difesa della Natura, the artist’s final major project, spanning the last 15 years of his life.
You didn’t study art before you started Artvisor, but had you already been curating art in the preceding years? If you were, can you share some insights into how it got started.
I began writing about art when I started high school. When I moved to the UK for university, in 2008, I wrote my first essay for an exhibition in Rome and shortly afterwards I curated my first show (on the photographer Mario Giacomelli) in a gallery I had co-founded with a friend in Umbria.
Can you share a little bit more about the technology that Artvisor uses?
The platform is currently based on a proprietary algorithm and architecture which interprets the users’ interests through criteria based on art history, matching artworks with users. The mechanism works quite well, but we are now in a transition period, moving towards an AI-powered mobile app which will function based on many more data points.
Is there a resistance to incorporation of technology in the broader art industry? Or do you feel it’s something that’s seeing significant innovation already?
There is a resistance. At the same time, the global pandemic has suddenly made everyone embrace new ways of discovering and experiencing art.
As a curator, what do you look for in emerging artists?
I am generally drawn to artists whose work is intellectually stimulating and culturally engaged, while being aesthetically valid. But I am not sure that is necessarily a recipe for commercial success nowadays. Factors other than quality of the work seem to have taken precedence.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced while building Artvisor?
Forming a strong team and directing resources the right way.
How do you think the art industry will shape up over the next few years? Will COVID-19 play a significant role in the industry? if so, how?
It is too early to tell. Things may change, perhaps for the better. Magda Sawon of Postmasters gallery has recently written a very enjoyable piece on Artnet on this.
What advice would you give to young collectors?
Invest time in your passion. Read, go to museums. Learn to recognise reputable sources (the right galleries, advisors, websites, auction houses), and collect artworks that move and interest you; beware of, and try to ignore, market hypes.
If someone is looking to invest in art, how should they approach it?
Ideally, in the same way described above. If they don’t have the time and it’s pure diversification… it’s a pity, but they should definitely be speaking to an art advisor (N.B. it is an unregulated profession, so they should make sure to work with a reliable firm).
How would an artist approach the way he/she prices their work?
Avoid pricing your work too high too early. Aim for sustained growth instead.
What is your advice to a young artist seeking to pursue a career in the arts? How should an artist balance out their “artistic vision” with commercial work that pays the bills?
Ideally, artists should aim to express their vision freely. There is no shame in doing something else on the side to pay the bills, until your work becomes commercially viable. Remember Einstein was a clerk at the patent office and Borges was a librarian. Don’t compromise your work.