Gallerist Q&A – Matteo Cantarella

In this series, we talk to the founders and directors of leading galleries from across the Nordics. Meet Matteo Cantarella who spontaneously opened a gallery back in 2022 in a residential building and later moved into a permanent location in Nørrebro, Copenhagen.

Portrait of Matteo Cantarella

Courtesy of Matteo Cantarella

Would you introduce yourself?

My name is Matteo Cantarella, I'm originally from Italy, and I run an eponymous gallery in Copenhagen that I started in 2022. The gallery started out in a residential building in Nordvest, an outer district of Copenhagen. Just some months ago, in December 2023, the gallery moved to Nørrebro, and is turning two years in May 2024!

How did you get into the artworld?

My first impressions of art probably trace back to quite an early age. Growing up in Italy had a lot of influence, as I was surrounded by art. But professionally, it wasn't until much later that I dedicated my time and career to it. Quite unusually, I didn't study art history, but was in business school instead. Throughout my studies, I was always involved with art and worked for galleries, which I found to be a model that I particularly enjoyed. I was required to fulfil many different roles and, at the same time, have direct contact with the public. I worked for many years for a Copenhagen-based gallery until I started my own in 2022.

Image of Frederikke Jul Vedelsby installing ‘Precious us’

Courtesy of the artist and Matteo Cantarella

Can you tell me about your first exhibition and the first artwork you sold?

I think you probably never forget the first exhibition. The two things happened concurrently as the first artwork I sold was from the opening exhibition. It was a large woven drawing by Frederikke Jul Vedelsby. I remember that work very vividly, because until the very end, I didn't want to let it go.

The opening exhibition came together quite spontaneously and also quite quickly. I decided just a few weeks before that I wanted to open the gallery. I had seen Frederikke’s work at the graduation show from Malmö Art Academy, which really resonated with me, and I was really eager to show her at the gallery. In September 2023, we opened our second solo exhibition at the gallery.

Frederikke Jul Vedelsby, Precious us, 2023, Installation view

Courtesy of the artist and Matteo Cantarella

What would you say are your primary responsibilities as a gallerist and to whom?

I would say that probably the biggest responsibility as a gallerist is to be transparent with the artist and to build encouragement around their work, both intellectually and, when possible, financially. I think it's a very encompassing job, as we are required to wear many different hats at the same time. That's also what makes our job interesting—it involves a large spectrum of tasks and roles, which always keeps it moving.

I tend to follow the development of the exhibitions very closely. It's something I'm very fond of and very involved in. I'm trying to give language to what the artists are already thinking and remarking with their work, so I often write texts for the exhibitions, a process that is quite important to me. Not only is it a way for me to personally connect more deeply with the artist's work, but it also helps to bridge that individual experience to an audience and broaden the reach of the work.

How do you balance the commercial aspects of running a gallery with supporting the artists and their artistic practices and careers?

The reality is that our work entails both aspects, and can be complementary. We work hard to seek a financial base so we can indulge in ephemeral instances of intellectual connections with an artist and their work, which is ultimately what I am interested in.

The gallery is still relatively young, and in the beginning—although it still applies today—I never really prioritised commercial ambitions, focusing instead on work that is relevant to me and hopefully to others, whether it's commercial or not. But of course the commercial aspect is very important, and we are very grateful to the collectors, institutions, and funding bodies that have recognised and supported our work so far.

Matteo Cantarella with artist Dyveke Bredsdorff at Charlottenborg Forårsudstilling, February 2024

Courtesy of Matteo Cantarella

How do you balance the online presence and physical gallery space in today's art world?

I think there is always going to be an unquestionable need for a physical experience of art, and I'm not just talking about the physical experience of the artwork but the entire context that surrounds art. I think 90 percent of my job happens physically at the gallery with conversations with collectors, artists, and the public at large who come and see the exhibitions. But of course I think the online channels are also great as they provide an opportunity to initiate these conversations and to discover new artists. But I never see this as a replacement for the physical experience, rather, it's a way to initiate a connection that can then continue outside the online world.

What do you think makes your gallery unique and stand out?

I think what is most fascinating, is how the programme of the gallery, stems from the gallerist's own personal interest - in my case, strongly emphasising the work of queer and female artists. This is something that reflects my interests and are questions that I also ask myself, and I therefore have a natural convergence toward this group of artists, whose work I represent and bring forth. But I also work a lot with artists whose practice is not recognised in Denmark. Many of the artists I'm showing are having their first solo exhibition in Denmark and, in some instances, their first solo exhibition ever.

Dyveke Bredsdorff, strangers, Installation view, 2023

Courtesy of the artist and Matteo Cantarella

Do you have any advice for collectors, any do's and don'ts for collectors who come to your gallery?

I think rather than suggesting where to look, I would probably suggest finding different and personal ways to engage with the world through art and to discover their own agencies as collectors. Understanding the role they can play, viewing the world from fresh perspectives, and finding artworks that can lead to new levels of awareness. I would also suggest looking to emerging artists for their potential to shape and instil change in our surroundings, and to think cross-disciplinary.

What is the future for your gallery - do you have anything in your pipeline?

The gallery will continue its work with new exhibitions and artists that I want to bring to the discourse here in Denmark. I am particularly looking forward to the next exhibition, which is going to open concurrently with CHART, and will be a solo presentation of works by Danish artist Vibe Overgaard. I think her work is very important right now.

If you were to open a gallery in another city, what city would that be?

It's probably got to be Naples in Italy, where I'm from. I would love to reconnect with that part of me and also create a discourse or a conversation between these two places, which are intrinsically very different. They're two different realities, but I think it could be refreshing to bring my program to Naples. I will definitely not rule out working more closely with Italian artists in the future.

Julia Selin, Julia Selin knows nothing about the trees, Installation view, 2024 - The gallery's most recent exhibition in Matteo Cantarella's newly opened gallery space

Courtesy of the artist and Matteo Cantarella

Julia Selin, ‘Life in the broadest sense possible’, detail, 2024

Courtesy of the artist and Matteo Cantarella

"I'm trying to give language to what the artists are already thinking and articulating through their work."

Matteo Cantarella

Founder and owner of gallery Matteo Cantarella

Matteo Cantarella was established in 2022 in a residential complex in the outer district of Nordvest, in Copenhagen. From the beginning the gallery has supported the career of emerging artists, oftentimes presenting their first solo exhibitions in Scandinavia.

The gallery focuses on positions which are critically invested in addressing our institutional, political and ecological surroundings. The programme reflects this ethos and places a particular emphasis on queer and female artists working with installation, performance, time-based media and painting.