PRINT July/August 2020



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

PARIS, JUNE 1981. Germano Celant and I are drinking at a bar after the opening of his exhibition “Identité italienne. L’art en Italie depuis 1959” (Italian Identity. Art in Italy Since 1959) at the Centre Pompidou. He points to a young woman on a banquette, engaged in intense conversation. “That’s Ingrid Sischy, the new editor of Artforum,” he said. “I’ll introduce you.” That introduction transformed my life.

Germano and Ingrid changed the magazine forever. They were perfect partners, truly phenomenal, each bringing out the best in the other. She: street-smart, a voracious consumer of the present moment, her inquisitive gaze always on the future. (“What’s next?” was her opening line at our work dinners.) He: firmly entrenched in the history of art but a great weaver of contemporary narratives, tied together by his relationships with international artists. He looked at everything, even off the beaten path, always supporting and encouraging younger curators. To him, the field of art was a “site of infinite crossings among languages.” Together, Germano and Ingrid opened up Artforum to architecture, fashion, music, design, cinema, television, turning the magazine into a mirror for an uproarious decade, one that dissolved all boundaries between high and low culture. The February 1982 cover featuring Issey Miyake was a watershed, ushering a fashion genius into the realm of the visual arts. Both Germano and Ingrid were very proud of that! It was a move that, in retrospect, presaged their futures. I am thinking of Ingrid’s tenure as editor in chief of Interview, Germano’s artistic directorship of the Fondazione Prada, their joint 1996 exhibition “Il tempo e la moda” (Time and Fashion) in Florence, and more.

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

Germano had a subtle sense of humor, sometimes very wicked, and a wonderful laugh. He was a paradox: A figure of modernity, he was also one of the last Renaissance men. I can imagine him, with his broad face and unflinching gaze, sitting for Mantegna. Instead, it was Mapplethorpe who immortalized him. An intellectual with great charisma, Germano was nurtured by, and in his turn nurtured with courage, every aspect of art. Certainly, as I look around the art world today, I don’t see anyone resembling him; there is no other personal or professional trajectory quite like his. But it would not be true to say that he leaves no heirs. Through his memorable publications and carefully planned exhibitions, he taught my generation and subsequent ones so much. From Futurism to the most recent avant-gardes, he had a clear ability to put all the art he touched on in historical context. He believed deeply in the value of studying. Anyone who had the privilege of visiting his extraordinary personal library and archive up on the steep Salita di Oregina in Genoa knows its wealth of information—documents, books, and catalogues—and how Germano would open it all up to young critics and scholars for research.

With his ability for interpreting the signs of his time, he shaped the world he observed.

With his ability for interpreting the signs of his time, he shaped the world he observed. He invented Arte Povera when he was twenty-seven years old, his young, nerdy face betraying no hint of his subsequent metamorphosis into a cult figure known for his ponytail and black leather jacket. Throughout his career, he remained loyal to the artists of Arte Povera. Although the movement was born from a singular Italian reality, he succeeded in circulating those artists around the globe. He always drew on the strength of his Italian roots, but his chosen home was New York, the capital of a wider art world. And so, in turn, since the ’70s, he was also bringing American art to Italy. I have a very early memory of attending one of his remarkable lectures: He sat on a table, not on a chair, and projected slides taken on the streets and in artists’ studios from which we could almost smell America. The images, his gaze, were so close. To have us understand art’s context: This was his passion. Little did I know then that, years later, I would edit his work at Artforum.

In my entire life, I could never have imagined writing about Germano’s death in these pages. My heart is breaking. I feel like an orphan, even if I didn’t consider him a father. But he was a master, and yes, here I am. Forever grateful. 

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Ida Panicelli is a contributing editor of Artforum.