Mariagrazia Costantino
‎Artistic Director, OCAT Shanghai

Mariagrazia is a sinologue, an art and film scholar and a curator. She is currently the Artistic Director of OCAT (OCT Contemporary Art Terminal) in Shanghai. Prior to that, she carried researches at the New Media department of the National Academy of Fine Arts, under the supervision of videoartist Zhang Peili. Mariagrazia has written extensively about contemporary art and film in China. Her reviews and essays have been published on several anthologies, websites and magazines such as Art Review Asia, Kaleidoscope Asia and She is co-author of the book Arte Contemporanea Cinese (Electa, 2006), the first Italian monograph on contemporary Chinese art, and contributor for World Film Locations: Beijing (Intellect Books, 2012) and World Film Locations: Shanghai (Intellect Books, 2014). Mariagrazia holds an MA in Media and Film from SOAS, London, and a Ph.D. in Film theory from Roma Tre University.

April 9, 2015

Art is important in your life, because…

Art is an encounter with the imponderable, what I don’t know or I don’t understand, with what makes me want to know and understand more. As a paradigm it’s inbuilt in my vision, it’s the way I look at the world, my eyes and what they long for, how they automatically detect beauty and get relieve from the ugliness around us. And this kind of art is everywhere, accessible to everyone.

Art goes best with…

Good food and a reliable friend

Art is valuable, because...

Because by compelling us to rethink our pre-conceptions and gain access to a critical knowledge of the world, art adds value to life.

The three words that first come to your mind when you think about art.

I’d say images more than words, and they are a bit of a clichés that I carry along since childhood: a colors palette, a book with beautiful photographic reproductions I found in my dad’s library and read over and over again throughout the years. David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash, also in that book.

The best museum show/ exhibition you saw in 2014

“Landseasky” at OCAT Shanghai (Apr-Jun) and Hans Op De Beeck “The Night Time Drawings” at Galleria Continua, Beijing (Sept-Nov).

Your favourite museum in the world

For contemporary art perhaps Hamburger Bahnhof (Berlin), and Mumok (Vienna). But I like to discover small hidden museums, like the Ottoman Bank Museum in Istanbul, where (financial) traces of people’s presence in the world are kept and preserved. Another place very dear to me is the National Archaeological Museum in Reggio Calabria, my hometown: the artefacts from the area called “Magna Graecia” which used to adorn houses and temples more than 2000 years ago have found there a new abode… I like this “organic” idea of museum.

The best city to go for art

Every city is good for art, as long as what you are looking for is art. But then again, I would say ancient cities have their own special way to embed art in their own ecology: so Rome, Istanbul and Venice.

An artist (dead or alive) you would like to have lunch with

Definitely someone with whom I could talk endlessly about films and music, like David Lynch and Alan Vega. There is a restlessness about these American men that charms me.

The artwork you would like to hang in your living room

If I had a living room, it would definitely be the one I mention in answer n. 4

If you were an artist, who would it be?

A mix of Andy Warhol and Spike Lee (an their frantic irreverence).

Name one of your favourite artists and tell us why. 

Impossible to name just one…

In the field of film and moving images, I love the oneiric approach of Eija-Liisa Ahtila, and her way to present multiple possibilities in a simultaneous way.
Michael Snow is a constant source of inspiration and his masterpiece Wavelenght is the most complete, challenging, torturous piece of art I’ve had the pleasure to look at.

I’m a big fan of young Chinese artists such as Li Ming and Lin Ke, for their effortless intelligence, and the natural, almost unconscious way they inherited the legacy of Chinese art.

I respect enormously Jimmie Durham and Jeff Wall: A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) is simply epic. I can’t think of a most perfect combination of visual flawlessness and civil commitment.

Also, I’ll repeat myself but I like David Hockney very much: a multimedia artist in the real sense, he has patented many ways to articulate an image through photographic devices and engaged himself in a research about the most effective way to represent a mental image, succeeding in going beyond representation and the very image. For example the portrait of the artist’s mother (the 1982 photographic collage) and again, a work like A Bigger Splash is a breathtaking metaphysical experience: it’s a riddle (who dived in the pool?) but also a paradigm of what L.A. is for a British man (the distant which becomes familiar and vice versa).

What is the unmissable art event that you go to every year?

Venice Biennale is an unmissable art ritual for me. Simply, it’s the mother and father of all cyclical exhibitions, as such, a delightful remnant of modernity showing the sublimation of post-modern (or post-capitalist) visual thinking.

Describe one of your best art experiences.

When I was a child, I visited the Italian city Ravenna and its Byzantine complex of the Basilica of San Vitale, with the mosaics depicting Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora (VI century AC). I felt simply overwhelmed by the glory of that place and those representations, vivid, majestic and peaceful at the same time. I thought nothing else could make me feel that way, and I was right! Years later, classic landscape paintings by Chinese masters like Ma Yuan, Guo Xi, Wang Meng and Ni Zan made me roam around mountainous peaks with the eyes and the mind, and experience the same feeling of lightness and power. Watching Sally Potter’s cinematographic adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando and Zhang Yimou’s Raise the Red Lantern meant for me the discover of carefully crafted beauty in motion.


As a curator, my ideal project is a total one, one that goes beyond the (already) trite definition of “visual culture” and encompasses film, music, literature, dance, and of course design and fashion. I am aware that the risk of indifferentiation and simplification implied in such an approach is high, but I think that excessive labelling most of the times conceals economic strategies (in order to maximize profits) and is therefore even more dangerous.

I appear in Yang Zhenzhong’s Italian version of the on-going project “I Will Die”: when I watched the video exhibited, and myself in it, people next to me made all sorts of creepy comments without realizing I was the same person. This is the type of irony of life that amuses me.

I enjoy idle moments that prompt total oblivion or suspension of judgement. These are: watching a film, a concert, or any other type of fully involving spectacle. Traveling (by which I mean being on any locomotion mean). Being in a waiting room.

Most of the times I am calm and reflexive (as it can be inferred from the previous statement), but I can also be a rebel, if this word makes any sense… I need to question certain beliefs, and I need confrontation.

I’m into Lindy Hop, a type of swing dance that came to prominence in the Thirties, in New York’s Harlem. Pure joy.

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