Italian creative Stefano Guerrera has built up a reputation for creating witty art history memes that play on our everyday contemporary concerns. Posting his series Se i quadri potessero parlare (If the Paintings Could Talk) on his social media pages, Guerrera highlights how paintings from hundreds of years ago can still resonate with a modern audience.
His latest project collaborated with Google Arts & Culture and former royal residence La Venaria Reale near Turin, Italy. Guerrera was given access to La Venaria Reale’s impressive art collection, which houses works by artists such as Francesco de Mura and Paolo Veronese. The creative then had free reign to add his signature captions to the works and bring them into the 21st century. Here, Guerrera talks about his creative process and La Venaria Reale explains why meme culture and art history are a match made in heaven.
Talking with the meme-master
When did you first start connecting meme culture with art history?
Stefano Guerrera: I started years ago, I was unemployed with lots of spare time, so I tried to keep myself busy. I came up with the idea to write captions for fine art masterpieces because they actually speak to you, and painters have been aware of this since the beginning. Often you can find yourself in a painting or find similarities to your everyday life.
I mixed all my ideas together and Se i quadri potessero parlare (If the Paintings Could Talk) was born. I went through many changes in those initial years, first I used Snapchat and Facebook, now I use Instagram, but the aim is still the same, what I do is ‘art-ertaiment’. Art speaks to our everyday life, so if you keep an eye on it you can come up with a funny meme.
What's your process for creating these works? What comes first the image or the caption?
Stefano Guerrera: It depends. Here’s a story: last summer, I was sunbathing. I was focused on relaxing when a boy — a total stranger — screamed something that made me laugh for hours. Inspiration comes from real life in general, so the process is dual: sometimes I find a piece of art, other times I think of the caption.
What are the challenges of what you do?
Stefano Guerrera: I always try to pay respect to the art I use, even if though it’s trying to make people laugh.
What was it like to work with La Venaria Reale on the residency?
Stefano Guerrera: Choosing works of art straight from the galleries of the museum was a dream come true, most of all because Venaria put a big effort in explaining the historical context behind the paintings, which allowed me to translate them into pop culture and exist on social media.
Making collections fit for modern audiences
In what ways did the museum work with Guerrera on this project?
La Venaria Reale: Stefano Guerrera visited the museum halls which gave him the chance to discover the history of Sabauda residency and the art collections stored in there.
Later, he was given, based on the artworks chosen, a collection of brief historical-artistic datasheets with some useful information and funny or interesting facts that could help him with his work.
Why do you think connecting meme culture with art history is such a successful combination?
La Venaria Reale: Memes are a simple and informal language, and can be a useful tool to communicate reality. Using complex and historical paintings is a way to make that more accessible.
The chance to use this kind of language with the masterpieces can spark some curiosity in people to actually come and visit the museum, where these works live, and discover something more about them.
Words by Rebecca Fulleylove