I lost my father when I was ten, and I was the oldest of four siblings. I had to quit school and start working at age fourteen.
On 13 May you turn eighty, so it’s been sixty-six years since then. How do you feel about living such a long life and about this birthday?
When you find yourself in a situation where the head of the family has died, and you are the oldest child, you turn into a person that reasons like an adult. I have to say that, at that time, nobody was spoiled like they are today. Now there’s this idea that we have to protect little ones constantly, and I think this is a mistake.
Did you expect this success when you were working in a fabric store in Treviso at age fourteen ?
I dreamed, and I’ve always been an optimist. I pushed things in the direction of my dreams.
So did your dreams come true?
I dreamed of being successful at sports. I played basketball and rowed, but I wasn’t successful at sports. But success came with work, where there is also competition like in sports, and it was really wonderful.
Are you a really competitive person?
I am a person who doesn’t waste time. I listened a lot to others, trying to understand which way I needed to go.
Have you always been tempted to invent and innovate? Without taking yourself too seriously…
That’s true. And I’m especially drawn to the idea of travelling, to meet people and have experiences that will help me.
And this concept of travel has never left you?
Did your latest big undertaking Imago Mundi, which brings together works by 10,000 artists, originate from travel as well?
Yes. Inspired by travels.
How did that happen?
The idea of Imago Mundi was born eight or nine years ago through visits to art galleries and, by meeting art critics, I met artists. And I asked one of them for a business card – we were in Chile – and instead I received a small canvas with a painting that was 10 centimetres by 12 centimetres. Taking off on the fact that in the 18th Century, for example, those who travelled took with them small painted portraits of friends and family members for use during their travels. They were easy to transport, so I thought that works of this size could be brought together in catalogues in three languages. And then there was the idea to do an exhibition and even a website.
Speaking of exhibitions, in Turin at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo you are inaugurating an exhibition with four hundred of the works, curated by Luca Beatrice. What is this about? A journey through Italy?
It’s mapping. Italy has more potential, perhaps beyond just the artists we consulted, but I think Italy has always had great artistic and cultural importance. I wanted a representation of artists, architects, photographers, and even some personalities from the cinema and the theatre.
So it is a sort of 10 x 12 centimetre “x-ray” of Italy today through art?
Yes, it is. A representation of art with artists that are now known throughout the world, along with other young people who are less known.
What kind of Italy emerges from this?
The title “Praestigium” means that even if Italy can be criticised lately for some things, it is still a country of prestige with a long history, especially in the field of art. Even if we have some negative points and there are some things lacking, I would like there to be respect for Italy in this field. In art, the dialogue within a country should be absolute, going beyond religion, politics and the economy.
And there is going to be another exhibition inaugurated at the end of August at the Fondazione Cini in Venice?
Yes. There will be thirty-five countries represented, and it will be curated – this exhibition will run through October – by Tobia Scarpa, who in any case has been with us for fifty years.
At this point, Luciano, are you no longer in charge of the Benetton Group?
Not in an active way. I left my job to managers who are continuing on in the way of our family and who are creating the future of our business.
Are you fine with that?
I feel fine with new energy, and I think it’s right to rely on younger people who see further ahead.
What about your dreams of travel?
Today I travel in a more selective way especially to make contacts with curators, art critics and artists. Because there are collections hidden in every country, and you need specific people that know each of these countries and their cultures.
Obviously, always works of the same size?
Yes, of course.
What is your objective?
To do worldwide mapping.
Isn’t it a bit symbolic of the United Colors of Benetton?
In this sense I haven’t changed jobs. I like to meet people, see countries, and this new world of art is something I didn’t know.
What does the world of art give you?
It satisfies my curiosity. For example, I got to know the Native Americans to some extent. I am especially interested in groups that are less integrated. I would like to act before globalisation comes. I have met the aboriginals, and I think it would be very hard for them to integrate. The Kurds, for example, are spread over four countries – Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and a diaspora throughout the world. I would like to put them together in a single catalogue for Kurdistan, which is a country that unfortunately doesn’t exist.
So art has courage as a function, for example?
Yes. Courage and optimism.
What will happen to your collection?
It is very well managed and it will be part of the Fondazione Benetton. It will be constantly updated via the websites. It is a democratic collection. It has to be a democratic collection.
At eighty years of age, after having realised many of your dreams, how do you see your life?
It’s an extremely lucky life. It went in the direction of fulfilling my dreams. Dreaming means seeing three steps ahead. And I say that without presumption. Also because I’ve always dreamed with my feet firmly planted on the ground.
How do you define yourself?
I think that for both myself and my siblings what has been important is having partners and friends that have given us that something extra. And one thing leads to another. Today, for example, I’m having a deconsecrated church in Treviso renovated, and one day there could be permanent exhibitions of, for example, Imago Mundi. I am always on the move. I try to realise my dreams, but with my feet on the ground as I said. It’s true that we live for ourselves, but in a world with so many problems we can’t save the world, but we can perhaps help it to grow.
How do you see Italy today?
I see a bit of hope for the future. I am more optimistic than I was a few years ago. Today Italy is well represented, and it is following its dreams to some extent and on the way to becoming a normal country.
Do you always live in Treviso?
I go around the world.
Do you have a lot of houses all over the world?
No, I don’t. I stay in hotels. My home is here in Treviso. I like the nature, the trees, and in any case we are very active here in this area, as is our Foundation. And I know everyone, the cuisine, the flowers, the scents, and they are things that remind me of my entire life. It is true that I like to travel, and I’ve always done it easily. I mainly go to see friends or meet new people. As I said, I prefer to stay in hotels because there are too many complications with houses.
Have you spent a lot of time sailing?
Yes. I’ve sailed around the world, and this is the greatest thing you can do with a boat. Now I prefer other kinds of trips, in Italy. I go and discover Sicily, Puglia, Calabria…various places I don’t know. And I like to travel in Europe. Now that I have more time and I don’t travel for business I travel at a different pace.
Do you consider yourself a collector?
Yes, of democratic art. I went into the art market specialising in Italian futurists, and I have works that I jealously keep to myself. But with Imago Mundi I consider myself, as I said, a collector of democratic art. I really like this idea. It’s a collection that I like, and I hope to carry on having fun with it. There are peoples like the Inuit that live up near the North Pole, and practically speaking it’s difficult to come across them. You only come across them in the summer, so you need to plan well for that. So what I wanted to say is that I try not to exclude anyone. And I’ve understood that in the field of art, it’s not difficult to have a dialogue.