Brought to you by: Monaco Life
From establishing the Principality’s first international gallery and its transition in to contemporary art, to Monaco’s “golden era” of the 70s and 80s, Adriano Ribolzi – one of Monaco’s most beloved and respected individuals – shares his story with Monaco Life.
This wasn’t the 100th anniversary celebration that Adriano Ribolzi had in mind when planning began in early 2020. One of Adriano’s favourite artists, Pablo Atchugarry, had been commissioned for the special occasion and a grand opening of the exhibition was set for 4th December, the day his father – Annibale Ribolzi – opened Maison Ribolzi in Lugano in southern Switzerland a century earlier. In 1974, Adriano brought the legacy to Monaco.
But Covid took the world down a very different path than anyone could have ever imagined.
“To plan an exhibition with an important artist like Pablo Atchugarry takes a long time,” says Adriano. “But by the time it came to creating the programme, it was clear that we would not be allowed to do a grand opening like we would do normally, with hundreds of people.”
It was a difficult moment of realisation for Adriano, who has never done things by halves. For the gallery’s 40th year in Monaco, he had the surrounding streets of Monte-Carlo closed so he could host a big bash. “I like to make large celebrations,” he says unashamedly.
But he was determined not to let a worldwide pandemic stop this exhibition.
“I said we will do the exhibition and I will make the catalogue. I know I can’t have a big opening, but we are lucky that the Prince is just putting in a curfew, not another lockdown. I decided that it will be a month-long opening, and we will welcome you every day in December. So, here we are.”
Visitors to the gallery are just as pleased with the compromise as Adriano himself, who acknowledges that it is important for cultural institutions such as his to remain open during difficult times.
“It is also very important to keep the art market open in Monaco, because we are fortunate enough to be in a position to do it. So, let’s push ahead,” he says, full of enthusiasm.
It is that drive and passion that has defined 88-year-old Adriano Ribolzi throughout his entire life, and put him squarely where is today – as one of the most respected gallerists and art collectors in Europe.
His story began with his father Annibale Ribolzi, who studied 18th Century French furniture design in Lyon and opened his firm in Lugano in 1920. Located within close proximity to Milan, Annibale’s post-war business boomed, and Adriano was sent to study art in Zurich.
“Amusingly, it was a school of modern art,” remembers Adriano fondly. “But I didn’t renounce the masters. In fact, I exhibited the masters for 10 years. My history was 18th Century French furniture, but I was passionate about the modern movement.”
This composition is still played out in Adriano’s gallery today. Situated parallel to the exquisite Hôtel Hermitage, the gallery is designed in classic Louis XVI period, with decorative motifs, straight lines and gilded features. Set against this backdrop are abstract paintings by Schifano, Fermariello, Olivieri and Atchugarry’s latest sculptures.
What some would see as sharp contrasts, Adriano embraces as the ultimate expression of art.
“I always say that the quality of the art is what is most important, not the period,” he says. “They can be of a different period, but if the quality is not there, then it doesn’t work.”
When Adriano opened his gallery in Monaco in 1974, he initially took up residence on the aptly named Avenue des Beaux-Arts, Monte-Carlo. It was the first real foreign art gallery in the Principality, and Sotheby’s hosted an art auction just one year later. “With that, Monaco became the art market centre of the world, the most important in sales. Then Christie’s came to hold an auction in the Sporting d’Hiver. It was all very clever.”
That same year, at the request of the director of tourism, Adriano was charged with helping to create Monaco’s first Biennale des Antiquaires de Monaco, putting the Principality firmly on the art collectors’ map.
“Surely, this makes you the godfather of art in Monaco?” I ask, only half-jokingly. He laughs and responds, “but I did of course start a lot of things in Monaco.”
Adriano has clearly been a solid force in Monaco’s cultural scene from the very beginning. But it is the 1970s and 80s that he remembers most fondly: the Principality’s “golden era” when fine things were celebrated unashamedly.
“The lifestyle of Monaco then was at such a high level,” remembers Adriano. “If you want to know what Monaco was like in the 70s and 80s, look at photos of the dinners in the Hôtel de Paris. It was not about the money – of course there was a lot of it – it was about the elegance. It was an unbelievable time. Monaco really was the centre of the world.”
In 1998, Adriano brought the gallery on Avenue de l’Hermitage, two striking gallery spaces in fact, where he still spends a lot of his time. Today, his excitement for Atchugarry’s sculptures is as palpable, I imagine, as it was for any Warhol or Picasso painting that has come before.
But it is not the expensive artworks, the parties at the Hôtel de Paris, or the gallery itself that Adriano Ribolzi cherishes most about his career as an art dealer.
“What I have loved most is the people I have met through my work, what I have learned from them, and their attitudes. I have always asked questions and wanted to know more. It is immense and incomparable.
“As an art dealer, I have a special bond with these people. They open their homes to me, and everyone is different. I am lucky to have been fortunate enough to be in that position; to be able to exchange ideas about art, politics, business… there is such a richness to people, and I am not referring to money.”
The Ribolzi Gallery will be exhibiting Pablo Atchugarry’s sculptures for the month of December and into the new year.
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