It’s a long way – geographically and conceptually – from the rustic beauty of Naples and Italy’s Amalfi coast to the flat Midwestern plains of Oklahoma, but Francesca Giani feels right at home in the heart of Oklahoma City.
Giani is a native of Italy, but came to the United States a few years ago for volunteer and internship opportunities that were not available in her country. She was guest curator at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at OU before being named curator of modern and contemporary art at the OKC Museum of Art earlier this year. We caught up with Giani and asked about her vision for the museum, as well as her life in Oklahoma.
As a professional curator, describe your favorite part of the OKC Museum of Art. “I think our Washington Gallery of Modern Art collection is just dynamite and certainly one of our strengths. Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Diebenkorn, Gene Davis, Morris Louis, Edward Corbett, Robert Indiana, Josef Albers … the works are too many to mention, and they are all treasures. We also have a small but strong collection of op and kinetic art, really cool work from the ’60s and early ’70s I am hoping to showcase in 2018. I am very excited about that.
“Also, OKCMOA is now looking to showcase its collection more and to expand it, which is very exciting for a curator. Other large museums have more encyclopedic collections. Large, encyclopedic collections are of course wonderful, but smaller, more focused collections can put up very strong and less dispersive exhibits, especially with the help of other institutions.
What I like about OKCMOA is that it has a unique history, with a collection that traces the history of the city. It is a civic institution in a sense, and integrated in the community.”
What are some of the plans you have for the Museum? “Michael (Whittington, OKCMOA president) and I have talked about possible ways to showcase and expand our collection and to open up to local artists. We also talked about trips to other cities as a way to expose ourselves to what major institutions are doing. I have discussed with Michael Anderson, our director of Curatorial Affairs, the possibility of featuring work by artists active in regions of the world that are going through deep socio-political change. We think the community can benefit from an institution that opens a window onto an international arena.”
Is your family still in Italy? “Yes, my whole family is there between Naples, Rome and Sicily – except for my brother, who lives in London, and my sister, who lives in Valencia, Spain. I guess we are all scattered.”
How different is the rolling Italian countryside from the heartland of Oklahoma? “It is hard to compare the two. As far as the landscape goes, in a city like Naples, my eyes tended to migrate upward and sideways to the historic buildings and architecture. On the Amalfi coast, my eyes are always glued to the sea, which is the bluest blue you will ever see. And I get high on the salty sea breeze. In Oklahoma, my eyes get lost in the sky, which is just spectacular, both when it is completely clear and when it is populated by cloud formations, the most impressive I have ever seen. I also love driving on a straight line forever, something you definitely cannot do where I am from. It is liberating in a sense.”
Positano, Sorrento and the Amalfi coast have a sheer grandeur all their own, but what are some of your favorite parts of Oklahoma City? “I like the River Walk and I love walking at the Myriad Gardens as a break from work. I do not eat out very often, but I am a sucker for a well-crafted cocktail and I think Sidecar makes excellent ones. I was also very impressed by R&J Supper Club. Great old-fashioned cocktails and tasty dishes. It’s a bit like stepping back in time.”
Where will we find you in your spare time? “I do not have much spare time. When I’m not working, I study, and when I’m not studying, I spend time with my two children, who are 10 and 5. We go to movies, jump on the trampoline, eat out some and travel some. I do have fun cooking nice Italian meals for them and friends who visit us for dinner, and sometimes I have time to watch my favorite TV series. Right now I am hooked on ‘Humans,’ ‘Stranger Things’ and ‘Mr. Robot.’ I don’t have time to read, but since I commute from Norman, I listen to audiobooks and podcasts quite a bit.”
Final thoughts you want 405 Magazine readers and Museum guests to know about you? “I am just very glad and thankful to be here in Oklahoma!”