The phone rings late at night, just before midnight. “Have you been looking for me? Have you heard the last fight on TV? With Giampiero Mughini on the Maurizio Costanzo Show…Since it’s an interview for my 70th birthday, I’ll talk for 70 hours (laughs, ndr† Vittorio Sgarbi makes it clear right away “Don’t worry about the time, also because I’ve never understood this difference between small hours and big hours” and it’s believable, as one of his last posts on Facebook tells of a night spent with only three hours of sleep. This time, it was the war in Ukraine that sparked the heated argument between the art critic and the journalist, already in 2019 protagonists in a furious dispute (in which case the differing views on the judiciary had lit the fuse, ndr† On May 8, Sgarbi will celebrate 70 years and does so by adding another clip to the collection of high-voltage television moments to which viewers are accustomed.: «I believe I am the world record holder of complaints, I took 680 and so far I have won 560† Ironically, I can say that a fight is the best way to celebrate this birthday, I consider it a medal ».
Sgarbi, where do we begin to tell these 70 years?
“Meanwhile, let’s say my masters are all dead.”
Not a good start.
“When they ask me “How are you?” I always answer, “Well, when I was alive”. As if I was already in the afterlife. Returning to my masters, I remember Mario Lanfranchi, the first director who made opera on TV died in January at the age of 94. My uncle Bruno Cavallini died at the age of 64 in 84. Finally Francesco Arcangeli left when he was 58. So I survived them and in two out of three cases I even grew older It’s not clear how long I’ll be staying, but I’m still here ».
There were already precedents with Mughini, among others.
“Everyone was talking about it before the episode aired. Let’s say that with the fights I invented a television genre, which I want to clarify never had a screenplay. Nothing written. My television quarrels have always come from the same realization that led Silvio Berlusconi to say that he felt a superiority complex towards MPs. I feel the same and when I have a television confrontation I naturally feel superior, my cultural model is Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali, ndr): if I have someone in front of me they have to accept the law of the strongest or else I live it like a hurt Majesty. And if he doesn’t accept it, that’s enough (laughs, ndr† The hitting has no controversial will, but only the realization that my strength is respected ».
Almost all of his fights have become cult.
“Some are really memorable. But none was linked to an antipathy towards the other, rather at that one point where the clash apparently arose ».
What have been the most important moments of these 70 years?
«Research in the fields of art, discovery, hunting from a certain point of view and studying to understand things better. My family’s collection of works, which has been on display in Ascoli Piceno in recent weeks, for example, along with the Foundation, represent the physical home of my thought. I’ve always thought I wanted to create a community of artworks in Sant’Egidio. Together with the books and the works, I consider this my already prepared monument. My legacy for the future”.
Art critic, collector, historian, television personality but also politician. Which of these roles have you always felt most comfortable in?
“I’ve always wanted to see my life – and I think I’ve succeeded – as a work of art and the variety of things that have been done makes me say that I have probably been a performer in all that has been done, giving posterity a takes on a new facet, which is the sum of all the others, so it is difficult to speak of one face ».
Is there a crossroads in your life, a crossroads that you think affected everything else back then?
“What I call my time is succinct with the development of a television that was no longer closed but gradually opened up to the talk show. So I think I invented the reality show, that’s the TV character you see on the screen just the way it is in life. But times have favored different entities, I’ve done many things with a lot of versatility and this does not presume that one has prevailed over the other ».
Returning to the fights, is there anything you remember the most?
“I had a lot of fun with Mike Bongiorno because he was an incredible cashier and was somehow the model that was replicated at other times then, it was basically the first. It went like this: During the shoot of Telemike, my participation was supposed to last about 12 minutes, but in the end 8-9 minutes were cut short as we started fighting. The discussion arose from a sentence of mine about the houses destroyed by the lava from Etna or from the possibility that this was due to unauthorized construction. Nothing was heard of it, but then it was Antonio Ricci with Strip the news to release the film ».
But have you ever regretted or regretted arguing with someone?
“My argument with Letizia Battaglia, a recently deceased photographer whom I have never seen again, caused quite a stir. Even there we were at the Maurizio Costanzo Show and the thing that made noise was that I made her cry for not agreeing with an initiative. At the time, she was alderman for the quality of life of the mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando. I asked her if she was responsible for some marble benches, by Ettore Sottsass, in Piazzetta Garraffello, which had broken down unimaginably. In the dilapidated historic center, I found that cool intervention shocking. I brought it into crisis ».
The clashes with Roberto D’Agostino remain perhaps the most famous.
“It all started with the words of praise that Francesco Cossiga had addressed to me, which apparently bothered him. But the most surprising thing is that, given my previous and subsequent fights, many remain convinced that it was me who hit him. A total overthrow ».
Has politics always been a passion or was it born with Berlusconi’s descent into the field?
“In reality, I had already started voicing my polemical remarks about the political action of the judiciary. I’ve always liked being on the hardest side, because it’s also the funniest: it happened recently when I had to fight the MPs’ austerity. In the early 1990s, that attack on the parties that led us to today’s disaster was born, with names like the 5 Star Movement that mean nothing. But already in ’92 I was the main character of a singular story ».
“In the early 1990s, in the same round of elections, I ran for the Socialist Party in San Severino Marche and for the Communist Party in Pesaro, a candidacy which I then withdrew. Eventually, I also became mayor of San Severino. That is, I have already started to launch myself as an autonomous political representative and in the end I can say that I have reached an adequate dimension in the balance between the political role and cultural competences. It should make us think about something…”
“That I am the deputy with the greatest number of lawmakers behind me, there are those in the Senate who beat me, but at the same time I remain one of the most valued by young people. That’s why I created Rinascimento, which is seen as a real alternative. Let’s say I feel the regret that I went there in the First Republic, the one where there was still politics and in the next one we saw the great void ».
Many experiences here too: mayor, parliamentarian. Perhaps you regret that you were never Minister of Cultural Heritage?
“Yes, and I believe that it would always have been necessary to create one ministry with that of Economy, because we are talking about a heritage of our country. But I’m not giving up and I still have all the energy and the will not to back down and that’s why I hope to be there in the next elections too ».
Were there any personalities that had a major influence on your education or thinking?
«I am thinking of Carmelo Bene, Franco Maria Ricci, Francesco Cossiga but also Luis Borges and Pier Paolo Pasolini. All belonged to a world that no longer exists ».
Moving on to the most intimate affections, what relationship did you have with your parents, both pharmacists?
“My mother Rina Cavallini was certainly more important in my education and in sharing my passion for art. My father Giuseppe Sgarbi I can say that I discovered it at the age of 93, when he decided to make my debut in fiction, he showed me that he had great writing skills. In 2014 with “Lungo l’argine del tempo: memories of a pharmacist”, then with “Don’t ask what the future will be”, the third book was “She speak to me again” with the beautiful and moving film adaptation of Pupi Avati and finally the “Channel of Hearts”. Before this literary “revelation” of his, we might have had more rigid relationships, even though he was a nice man, who had led a stern and ordinary life. It didn’t have the vitality of my mother because it was connected to an older world. In those four books, written in the four years before his death, he showed me his irony and a world that I entered thanks to his narrative power ».
And with his sister Elisabetta Sgarbi?
“As a boy she had to endure my hegemony and masculine exuberance, now that she has been left without parents she has given herself the role of a little mother, she is very protective of me as she watches me grow old. I think I conveyed to her the desire to compete, which she then translated into the wonderful initiatives she conducts and which also made her dare, such as the Nave di Teseo or the Milanesiana and other editorial creations. I would describe it as a unique relationship in which I may have prompted her to be enterprising in dealing with me ».
His relationship with women has always been emphasized by his quest for adventures.
“There have been many people who have been close to me, but my quest for individual freedom has always triumphed. This led me to tell Berlusconi that what has always divided us is one aspect: he has always been “occupied” by women and I, on the other hand, have been “visited”. And from this point of view, he has always been a prisoner of it and instead I liberate ».
Is there an artistic discovery that you are most proud of?
«I have discovered many contemporary artists, but also appreciated many classics, such as Niccolò dell’Arca, of whom I own two works. The “hunt” that I shared with my mother gave me great satisfaction, with the discovery of real phenomena ».
It’s very late, the very last question: how are you going to celebrate these 70 years?
“The idea would be to go to Lido di Boretto, in the province of Reggio Emilia, on the Po. There is the Motonave Stradivari and with 200 people my birthday should be celebrated, unfortunately the dry river does not allow navigation which ideally will those places of the painter Ligabue but also of Don Camillo and Peppone connect with my city Ferrara. But why does he say it’s late? The small hours are getting big and vice versa, what’s the problem? ».
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May 5, 2022 (change May 7, 2022 | 20:48)
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