Setting up art shows globally for the past 40 years, Paolo De Grandis was recently in Karachi where MAG had a candid chat with him. Excerpts:

Since 1995 I have organised 118 exhibitions in the Venice Biennale, 54 national participations and 64 collateral events presenting the first official participation of many countries like Andorra, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Jamaica, Morocco, Principality of Monaco, Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine, Singapore, Ecuador (with an independent Pavilion, 2015) and the collateral participations of Taiwan, Hong Kong, US Virgin Islands and Macau.

One of the columns of the State Bank Museum is where the afternoon sun shone with all its intensity as the Venetian faced the lens. As traffic blared, a mundane scene around Karachi’s downtown, MAG got a chance to chat with Paolo De Grandis or ‘Paolo the Great’ as the Italian likes to translate his surname in English.

“I come from a family of architects,” shares the youngest of five brothers. “My dad wanted me to be an architect too, but I did not like technical things,” says the ‘free brain’. “Secretly I would go to the Art Academy of Venice (Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia), while I was enrolled in an architectural school; I was very bad there, but was a top student in Academia,” De Grandis talks about his school days. “I didn’t have any documents and was enrolled in the school without being recognised as a student,” he says shedding light on his professor who got him registered. “My professor was Emilio Vedova, one of the world’s biggest artists,” he recalls the revolutionary Italian painter.

As a train nearby chugs down the track, it seems the steam of the locomotive, struck a chord with the dreamer. “The real Paolo is a young dreamer,” he starts off, “when he was 12 years old, he was leaving a biennale in an afternoon in August jumping on a wall and getting inside another world,” the free and lonely soul shares who hopped on a sea cruise in his adolescent days from a biennale.

Contemporary art can live anywhere; it depends on the intelligence of artists and the strength of their piece

“When I was 12, I spoke just a little bit of English,” De Grandis brings to mind the day when he “was walking around the city and saw many people speaking different languages.”

It was in in the late 1970s that De Grandis moved to Florida with his bag of dreams. “My dream was very simple – to (put up) the biggest exhibition in the world,” recalls the man in the pinstripe suit whose life revolves around the sphere of creativity.

De Grandis’ job according to him takes him places. “When I was 20 to 30, I was in the U.S.; from 30 to 40 I was in Europe, and 40 onwards I have been travelling around Asia, from Japan to Vietnam,” the avid traveller puts across.

It is the first time De Grandis has visited Karachi, and the one thing that struck him with gloom “is the pollution of the sea. Since I come from Venice, the sight of a dirty sea makes me sad,” the man from the Floating City laments, hoping Karachi’s sea is cleaned someday.

This creator has an aversion for the word curator. “I started to curate shows when the word curator didn’t exist,” he marks out. For all those who want to know what he does, hear him out: “I find a nice wall and use a hammer and nail, and with artists I hang the work and try to (display) the right way,” says the ‘piece of art’. What he is keen on is “to have a nice opening (of the exhibition). I like to check the food before people can eat it… so I’m not a curator, but a piece of art,” says the melancholic individual. “I’m a melancholic person,” De Grandis sheds light on his own self. He is one who is not a guest of his own show. “I build up the exhibition,” he talks about his ventures, “I never go to see the ongoing exhibition rather think about the next one and not the last one,” De Grandis reveals, who has curated 25 exhibitions this year alone.

The quality of Karachi’s first ever biennale is what De Grandis found to be ‘very good’. “It’s a clean biennale with a good quality of artists; here you have reality, you have art,” says the highly positive De Grandis who hails inspiration from himself. “I love myself and like to agree with myself often,” says the loner who loves to stay with himself.

I trust that my collaboration with Pakistan can continue in the future and my aim is to present the first official Pakistan Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of 2019

De Grandis has a list of his most loved people and on that list is a name prominent in the local art circle. “For me Amin Gulgee is one of the 10 people I love in this world. Amin is energy for me and I see him in a mirror,” and he flashes light on 20 years ago sharing, “Amin helped me with my first OPEN,” De Grandis talks about OPEN International Exhibition of Sculptures and Installations where artists from all over the world interact in outdoor spaces of Venice. And De Grandis hopes that in the time to come, his collaboration continues with Pakistan. “I trust that my collaboration with Pakistan can continue in the future and my aim is to present the first official Pakistan Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of 2019.”

Being the international guest curator for the Karachi Biennale, De Grandis received photographs of the locations for the Biennale. “The connection between the space and the artwork is very important,” he tells me, pointing out his work ethics sharing an example from the Venice Biennale where he “invented an extra pavilion; we used a historical building, for instance a church where a magnificent painting of a big (art) maestro from 100 years ago was placed in a very modern and interactive (setting).”

According to the soul who breathes and lives art, “Contemporary art can live anywhere; it depends on the intelligence of artists and the strength of their piece,” he remarks.

You may be wondering what his favourite piece of art is. “It’s the mirror which I see every day.” As for art, and how important it is, De Grandis doesn’t use words, instead he points to the focal point from where blood is pumped; the heart is equivalent to art for this man who lives in a creative cluster.