The Wick - Marisa Bellani 
Photo by Retts Wood The Wick - Marisa Bellani 
Photo by Retts Wood
Monday Muse

Interview: curator, talent hunter and art strategist Marisa Bellani

Marisa Bellani
22 January 2024
Marisa Bellani
22 January 2024
Belgium-born curator and art strategist Marisa Bellani has spent a decade unearthing talent and catalysing artists’ careers through her gallery Roman Road in west London.

To mark its tenth year in 2023, however, she shifted the focus away from the conventional gallery model, closing the Golborne Road space to place the emphasis on creating a support system for artists and a flexible programme of curation, underpinned by research.

In response to the changing tides in the art world, Roman Road now hones in on two main aspects: studios and curation. Next month, the first curatorial project will come to fruition at Christie’s auction house: We Are The Future: Knocking On Heaven’s Door.

The exhibition – running from 1-14 February – will offer different artistic visions as to how we can live our lives today, when we think about how the future will unfold. Exploring the “tension between hope and numbness,” as Bellani puts it, it will feature work by Antony Cairns, Channatip Chanvipava, Daisuke Yokota, Daisy Dodd-Noble and Julie Maurin, among others.

She tells The Wick more about the show, how the art world is shifting, and why we should all have courage in our convictions.

THE WICK:   When you are looking for new talent to support through your curatorial programmes, how does your hunt begin?

Marisa Bellani:   My research starts with society concerns, politics, novelty and trends. Once I have a direction, I start to research which artists have something important to say on a given topic. Then the proper talent hunt begins. I contact artists and visit them in their studios, talk to them and they often recommend fellow artists.

TW:   When you founded Roman Road gallery back in 2013, what were your driving principles?

MB:   In 2013, I named the gallery Roman Road, as opposed to Roman Road Gallery, as I didn’t know then what it would become. I always wanted it to be a space that existed beyond its walls, not only dedicated to the promotion of young artists and the sale of their works but to also offer a community, to help them build confidence and direction, and realise their visions with no ties, such as representation. That has always been challenging, however, it feels as though the art world is finally ready for it and alternatives to the traditional gallery are emerging and settling.

“I always wanted it to be a space that existed beyond its walls, not only dedicated to the promotion of young artists and the sale of their works but to also offer a community, to help them build confidence and direction…”

TW:   What was your inspiration for We Are The Future: Knocking On Heaven’s Door at Christie’s?

MB:   The partnership with Christie’s marks the beginning of Roman Road’s new fluid approach as a curatorial and studio platform. It allows us to come back to our original mission to serve artists in the development of their careers.

Knocking On Heaven’s Door is the first in a series of exhibitions falling under the umbrella curatorial heading of “We Are The Future”. It evokes my desire to look forward conceptually and to bring community concerns to the forefront with a unique selection of artists born after 1980.

For this exhibition, I asked artists working with diverse media to consider our current situation – a post-pandemic world in a climate crisis where most traditional values are challenged – and consider where we are heading. Are we at the door of Hell? Is this the end, or just the beginning of a bright new world?

TW:   This is the first time you’ve worked with an auction house. How are you seeing the relationship between galleries and auction houses change?

MB:   The experience has been fantastic. It is amazing to work at such levels of professionalism. There were some concerns among the participating artists because of the connotation that auctions can have on their career, however, this is an exhibition that will not be auctioned but rather will operate direct sales to collectors, exactly like we do in a gallery. It allows us to work at a top level and give young artists a massive increase in visibility through Christie’s network of collectors in a very central and accessible location.

Since Damien Hirst’s auction in 2008, the definition of what an auction house is has gradually changed and expanded, and this show reflects that.

TW:   What is the exhibition or moment you are most proud of?

MB:   There is no particular exhibition; I have liked all of the shows that we have presented. However, I am proud of starting Roman Road. I was probably naive and began without a clear plan, other than following a passion for artists, but I have learned so much about art, artists and myself. I am looking forward to this new chapter focused on curation and research.

TW:   Your favourite go-to fashion brand to wear at an exhibition opening?

MB:   I don’t have a go-to brand but I love high-waisted, wide-legged trousers or long skirts, and beautifully cut vintage jackets. My main concern is to be comfortable so that I can enjoy the evening.

TW:   As a Belgium native, what is your top Brussels tip for the culturally curious?

MB:   Panoptès, a private art collection founded by Emilie De Pauw, which is open several times a year and by appointment. It is very focused on perceptual abstraction and minimal art, highly researched, and devoted to artists and to commissioning new works. It is built to continue the founder’s grandmother’s collection, showing commitment to protect a legacy and expand it.

TW:   What is the one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?

MB:   I wish I had had less doubts and maybe listened less to other people’s opinions. So my advice would be: ‘Trust yourself.’

TW:   Who is your ultimate Monday Muse?

TW:   My ultimate Monday Muse is Isabella d’Este (1474 – 1539), known as ‘The First Lady of the Renaissance’. Ruler, collector and patron of the arts, Isabella was a rare example of a modern woman who left a long legacy. Part of her collection was added to Louis XIV’s collection by Richelieu and entered the Louvre collection after the French Revolution.

Beyond collecting antiques and contemporary works by artists such as Mantegna, Michelangelo, Correggio and Titian, she counted da Vinci among her close friends, founded a school for girls and regularly invited writers, artists and poets to her home to exchange ideas.

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