Archivio Conz houses artworks, documents, editions and personal belongings collected and catalysed by Francesco Conz (Cittadella, 1935 – Verona, 2010) over the course of more than 30 years, first in his house in Asolo and later at the ‘Secret Museum’ outside Verona. More than a collector, he worked closely with artists of the main artistic avant-garde movements of his time – Fluxus, Viennese Actionism, ZAJ, Lettrisme, Concrete Poetry, Visual Poetry, Sound Poetry and Gorgona. He left a collection of more than 3000 items by more than 150 artists that are now kept in a storage facility in Berlin.
Francesco Conz was a peculiar collector, both a fetishist and a catalyst, who was producing, working and living with the artists. The collection houses more than forty artist pianos by Nam June Paik, Esther Ferrer, Larry Miller, as well as Joe Jones’ music-machines, important sculptural works by Daniel Spoerri, Ben Patterson, Allan Kaprow and the entire ‘Edizioni Conz’, a vast collection of prints and editions that bear witness to Conz’ publishing activities, which he pursued with absolute vehemence and incredible refinement.
Francesco Conz was born in 1935, into an aristocratic Austrian- Hungarian family, in Cittadella, Italy. In the late fifties he studied economy and law at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Milan before travelling through Europe. In 1959, he worked for the Duke of Windsor, who opened up his vast library to the young man. After working various odd jobs, as a shop window decorator for Liberty in London and as a camera assistant for German television in Hamburg for example, he studied literature at the Menéndez Pelayo International University of Santander. It is during these formative years that Conz learns to communicate in more than five languages and develops his keen interest in the intersections of literature, art and life.
At the beginning of the 1970s, Conz opens an art gallery in Venice, “la Galleria d’arte moltiplicata”, exhibiting Italian Pop Art. However, he is so highly attached to the art works that he is unable to sell any of them. The gallery closes soon after.
In 1973 Conz rents the “Palazzo Baglioni” in Asolo and begins to create the collection as we know it today. In the years that follow, Asolo becomes a place for actions, happenings and get-togethers. In 1974, together with Günter Brus and Hermann Nitsch, Conz travels to New York where he meets John Cage, George Maciunas and Joe Jones among others. Joe Jones is the first artist to stay in Asolo. He stays for seven years and introduces Conz to other figures of the New York avant-garde, who also come to stay at the house and get involved in the production activities. Together they transform the little town of Asolo into one of the most interesting underground artistic hubs of the 1970s.
Conz not only collected ‘works of art’, but also the artists’ personal projects, documents, correspondences, photographs and the remains of happenings, performances and materials used in the production of the ‘Edizioni Conz’. More than anything, he was fascinated by the accumulation of witnesses of a life experience.
The works he collected were part of his life:
Francesco is an encourager. He puts things together that wouldn’t happen without him. And what a spirit the guy has. Francesco loves the dregs of art. He couldn’t care less about a nice clean painting. What appeals to him is Nitsch’s iconoclasm, Brus’s mysticism, Muehl’s compulsiveness, the irreverence of Fluxus, the chopping up of languages by Lettrists […] Francesco loves relics of artists’ activities, traces of existence and experiences. He bought Charlotte Moorman’s Volkswagen and brought it to Italy just because it had been Charlotte’s. That’s love.
– Jon Hendricks
Dick Higgins says Francesco Conz wasn’t collecting art but artists. In an interview given by Conz in 1991 for Lundi Art Press, he compared the artists he was collecting to modern saints “who’ve had something important to say about our whole way of life, people who’ve raised some very radical objections and shown a dedication to a different kind of consciousness, a different kind of awareness”. He thought of his edition project as “a way of documenting and collecting these relics and preserving them”.
In 1978 Conz leaves Asolo and moves to Verona. Like relics in a church, Conz keeps his treasures in his secret ‘Casamuseo’, located in Cappella Fasani in Erbezzo, on the north-western side of Veneto, above Verona.
The Secret Museum becomes a hermitage for him and the artists, where they can dedicate their time to work, their conversations, their thoughts and the meals they share.
The Francesco Conz collection narrates a story of a man who was devoted to the expanded picturesque family, a collection that bears witness to the commitment of the collector as patron and of Francesco Conz’ force behind the artistic movements of the time.
“What is going to happen to that gigantic amount of art the moment the collector isn’t there anymore? This collection contains quite a few very worthwhile unique pieces that every museum would want to own, hundreds of editions made by Conz. What should be done with the dozens of pianos intervened by artists? What will happen to his fetish collection? And what about the typewriters on which the artists typed their concrete poetry?”, questions Harry Ruhé about to the future of the collection.
After Conz’ death in 2010, the collection travelled via Austria to Germany. In Conz’ spirit, Supportico Lopez was invited to direct the archive and represent the collection henceforth. Supportico Lopez directors Stefania Palumbo and Gigiotto Del Vecchio have worked on a grand reprise of the oeuvre of Henri Chopin, one of the founders of Concrete Poetry and an artist in the collection. Bringing together historical positions and contemporary artists has always been a peculiarity of the gallery program, connecting experiences in the notion that art is determined by an attitude, and, just like Conz, Supportico Lopez has always believed in art as an experience of life.
The main focus now is to not only document and catalogue all the items present in the archive, but to reconnect them on a wider level with the histories they belong to and the realities they can present in the future.
After the collection was inaccessible to the public for seven years, Stefania Palumbo and Gigiotto Del Vecchio understood the necessity to open this world of physical and spiritual information and continue the work Francesco Conz had begun.
The inherently process-based material inhabits a world outside of hierarchies and the two curators have initiated various projects to revitalize the collection, to renew the artistic discourse in order for it to find access to its symbiosis with life once again. Various pieces are loaned to institutional exhibitions, a selection of editions has been made available for sale and the ‘Edizioni Conz’ will continue the work of producing multiples with contemporary artists. The Performance Agency – a Berlin based project that investigates new genre crossing possibilities – has also been invited to program a trilogy of events at the archive which have reconnected the fluxes of energies of the collection to current forms of expression. MASS 01, 02, 03 was realized at the storage space in Berlin and with the year long series DIAS 018 the agency is continuing to develop and expand the public program of the archive, orchestrating a variety of events in different institutions throughout the city.
In Fluxus there has never been any attempt to agree on aims or methods; individuals with something unnameable in common have simply naturally coalesced to publish and perform their work. Perhaps this common thing is a feeling that the bounds of art are much wider than they have conventionally seemed, or that art and certain long established bounds are no longer very useful.
– George Brecht
The Francesco Conz Collection is a collection of life experiences.