Germano Celant (1940–2020)

Claes Oldenburg, Coosje van Bruggen, and Frank Gehry, Il Corso del Coltello, 1985. Performance view, Arsenale, Venice. Basta Carambola (Germano Celant).


For Germano:

Often the memories we have of friends are tied to small things that are marginal in the history of the friendship but which promptly come to mind the moment we remember them.

I met Germano in 1968. I had just made my works about the growth of trees in Garessio, a small town on the border between Piedmont and Liguria.

Germano asked me to send him material for a book he was preparing, the Arte Povera book published by Mazzotta.

It was only later that he told me that part of his family was from Leca d’Albenga, a Ligurian town twenty kilometers from mine.

This chance geographical proximity strengthened our friendship, which extended over time.

Every encounter we had was a small analysis of the art situation, also seen as he projected it over time.

His overall view and capacity for synthesis allowed him to clarify, in a few simple words, some complex aspects of the art world.

I met up with him last October in Paris, for a public dialogue on the occasion of an installation of mine.

At the end of that encounter I remember that, strangely, we spoke about the things each of us had kept in our native towns, but without living there.

Giuseppe Penone is an artist based in Italy.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.


My image of Germano Celant is inexorably linked to that time period, fifty years, during which our encounters, collaborations, and similar vision created a bond between the history of the Christian Stein gallery—which for me is the story of a lifetime—and his extraordinary position as a theoretician, curator, art critic, and friend.

Despite his constant and fruitful association with Milan in recent times, I fondly recall the early years of our acquaintance, also because these were the years of our youth.

I met Germano in 1971, when I, barely twenty, had begun working in the gallery that Margherita Stein (alias Christian Stein) had founded in Turin. Germano had come to see the Giuseppe Uncini show, which featured works made of bricks and cement. He had looked at everything carefully and took many notes. It was only later that I discovered it was customary for him to take notes—intuitions more than facts. Germano then spoke to Signora Stein at length, a calm conversation from which I was excluded. At that moment I couldn’t imagine the importance that these two figures would assume, not only in my professional career, but in the shaping of the artistic and cultural events of an era.

Germano Celant and Margherita Stein, two apparently distant personalities, one a young, militant critic, the other a polished woman from the Turinese bourgeoisie, but who shared the same lucid gaze onto the present and a desire to be active protagonists in the assertion of freedom of thought and action that marked those fervent years. They were united by a common attitude that identified the tool for action in a vital and energetic art, radical, free from social conventions. (This spirit is nicely conveyed by the title of the exhibition “Margherita Stein: Rebel with a Cause,” which the Magazzino Italian Art in Cold Spring, NY, dedicated to Arte Povera in 2017.)

Germano frequented the gallery from the time it opened in 1966. The Mondino and Schifano shows were followed, in January 1967, by the first solo show of Alighiero Boetti (works created with everyday building materials: Colonna di tubi, Castata di eternity, Scala, Mimetico . . .). It was the following autumn when Celant brought together, under the term Arte Povera, a small core group of artists whose work was heterogeneous but who had a well-defined radical identity. The same artists whose shows followed at the Christian Stein Gallery from the late 1960s through the ’70s: Luciano Fabro, Jannis Kounellis, Francesco Lo Savio, Mario Merz, Giulio Paolini, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Anselmo/Zorio, Piero Gilardi, Pino Pascali, Giuseppe Penone, and Marisa Merz. It should not be forgotten that the gallery also organized shows of Piero Manzoni, Lucio Fontana, Ettore Colla, Mimmo Rotella. During those early years, Germano’s presence and his attention to the gallery’s activity were constant, even though our choices, while extremely similar, always remained independent.

Germano Celant, 1984. Photo: Robert Mapplethorpe. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

In the ’80s opportunities to work alongside Germano intensified. This was the period of Arte Povera’s consecration, with large exhibitions and international artistic exchanges. In 1986, with the exhibition “Fideliter,” the Turin gallery celebrated twenty years of commitment to its original leading artists, whose work it had never ceased supporting, promoting and preserving. Without neglecting an interest in artists from outside Italy, it also organized solo shows of Dibbets, Kiefer, Barry, Wool. At the same time, in 1985, I opened a new venue for the Christian Stein Gallery, in an industrial space in the center of Milan, to allow more space for projects by the Povera artists and to put them in dialogue with other European and American artists. Serra, Penck, Baselitz, Schütte, Gilbert & George, Weiner, Förg, and Jeff Wall created works and ad hoc installations.

Germano, who was a close friend of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, with whom he had created magnificent exhibitions and publications, brought the two artists to the gallery to meet me and he strongly supported me when I proposed that they create a large project conceived for our exhibition space. The result, in 1990, was the exhibition “Claes Oldenburg: The European Desktop,” with its desktop objects, oversized on a monumental scale.

It was also a decade when you traveled a lot, always in the company of artists and very often with Germano, the preeminent curator in the foremost international museums that at that time were celebrating recent Italian art. I often found myself alongside him in large exhibition halls, while we would discuss with artists the best way to “reinvent,” in the new location, works, and installations that I had seen originate in the gallery’s spaces. Today it is a trip through time, remembering the exhibitions “Identitè italienne” at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1981, or “The Knot: Arte Povera” at PS1 Contemporary Art Center in New York in 1985. That same year we were in Toronto for the group show “European Iceberg: Creativity in Germany and Italy Today,” at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Mario Merz’s first American retrospective, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1989, where Germano had become senior curator, was an unforgettable adventure. And the list could go on at length. Leafing through the catalogues that accompanied these shows or the books he created with incomparable professionalism and care, I am faced with an inexhaustible wellspring of memories of places, people, and shared life moments. I was joined to Germano not only by professional occasions but also by extraordinary bonds of friendship and respect with artists such as Merz, Kounellis, Paolini, Pistoletto, to mention those of longest standing.

We also shared a kindred vision in our focus on Italian artists in subsequent generations, such as Remo Salvadori and Marco Bagnoli, active presences at the gallery beginning in the late ’80s, whose work Germano not only wrote about in past publications, but also was the subject of catalogues he was in the midst of completing, for respective solo shows recently held at the gallery. He always followed and supported the work of the younger Paolo Canevari, who began collaborating with the Stein Gallery in 2002, and for whom he curated the exhibition and catalogue “Paolo Canevari: Nobody Knows,” at the Museo Pecci in Prato in 2010. A more recent publication is the catalogue published for the large retrospective the gallery dedicated to Pistoletto in 2017, in which Germano, through an interview focused on the exhibited works, revisits, along with the artist, the salient stages of their long, shared journey with the gallery.

And it was last October when Germano joined me at the opening of Mimmo Paladino’s solo show, to greet and pay homage to his artist friend, about whose work he had edited an important monograph, published in 2017. We all spent the evening together at the same table, few words, nothing superfluous, only what was essential, always friendly. After a life of shared experiences, each of us intuited the other’s thoughts and just a glance sufficed to understand each other. Germano we are grateful to you. We will miss you.

Gianfranco Benedetti is owner of Galleria Christian Stein in Milan.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Cover of Artforum, February 1982. Look from Issey Miyake’s Spring/Summer 1982 collection.


Forty years ago, almost to the day of this writing, Germano Celant joined Amy Baker and me, along with Ingrid Sischy, Artforum’s twenty-eight-year-old new editor, as a member of the editorial board of the magazine.  In 1979, when Amy and I acquired Artforum, she invited Sischy to take over as editor. We asked Germano for his help in our plan to differentiate Artforum from all other US art magazines by making us more reflective of the international contemporary art scene. Germano was already well known as a leading European curator and critic. In addition to providing us with much-needed outreach to Europe he was enthusiastically supportive of Ingrid’s innovations. Together they created the groundbreaking 1982 issue which introduced fashion as art in our pages with a model wearing Issey Miyake’s “Samurai” dress on the cover. This surely laid the foundation for their later cooperation in the world of fashion in Italy. Germano also introduced us to Ida Panicelli, the Italian curator and art critic who in 1988 became Ingrid’s successor. I remember our editorial meetings were often hilarious and always creative. Germano gave generous encouragement to the fledgling magazine and undoubtedly helped shape its future success. He lived by the advice he gave us: Never be predictable.

Anthony Korner is publisher of Artforum.