Paola Colombari is the fourth generation of one of the oldest antique-dealer dynasties of northern Italy. After several years in competitive skiing as a member of the Italian National team (including participation for six years in the World Cup for downhill skiing) and her studies at the University of Middle Eastern Archaeology, she co-founded in the 80s with her sister Rossella two art galleries in Turin and Milan, exhibiting works by leading international designers.
She soon became a cultural reference in the Italian and international design markets. In 2000 Paola Colombari also launched her Gallery’s Contemporary Art sector. Her passion and talent allowed her to develop and promote contemporary artistic avant-garde movements in the fields of photography, painting, and installations.
Now in her 60s, she doesn’t seem to stop learning and having new goals. According to her: “Ageing means freedom and finally being able to read things differently from a deeper perspective“.
Paola, you’re bursting full of energy. You have thousands of interests and you also have been a ski champion in your youth. When and how did you start dealing with art?
Actually, art is part of my DNA. Mine is a historic family of antique dealers and since I was a child I’ve lived surrounded by beauty. My father often took me around attending large exhibitions or visiting museums and therefore my sister and I have always been exposed to a sophisticated language as well as the dramatic nature of art. However, instead of dedicating ourselves to antiques, we decided to use this cultural heritage to propel us towards pioneering design, opening up a brand new gallery. We were part of the foundation of European modernism which was very innovative in the 1980s and that brought a massive change to the contemporary language and therefore gave birth to postmodern art.
Many women, in their 50s, would like to change their jobs and lives. But it’s not always easy and automatic. What do you recommend to those who finally want to live a life closer to their desires?
We shouldn’t be afraid of change. I have changed my life many times. I was an Egyptologist, a sports champion and then I studied Middle Eastern Archeology. But in the end, I got the opportunity to open an art gallery. Art teaches us that there is nothing definite, everything is continuous research. I think that change is the result of a deep cerebral desire that can happen at any moment and we can achieve at any age. I am a great advocate of mystical quantum physics and I believe that we are able to build our future with the power of our thinking. Our desires are very important as they are the first blocks of a reality that we can build. Our passions stimulate our perception and therefore the visualization of one’s path but we must have a great motivation to pursue our goals. You see, there is never an end to one’s desires but they also cost time and money. So, in order to achieve them, you need to know what you want and how to channel your desires, otherwise, nothing is accomplished and the risk is that your passions become just a pastime. I do believe the most beautiful thing in life is being able to create the one you love. If your desire is not strong enough to build what you want and you are not prepared to take risks in life, then you can’t really change your path. So, even if I am over 60 now and I am an established art gallery owner, I still continue to work on new projects and set new goals: these days I’m also into cultural management and I am writing a book.
How has your approach to life and profession changed over the recent years? Has growing older changed your outlook on life?
Sure. I am much more confident about myself and my abilities. Also, starting from the age of 50 onwards, I’ve noticed my desire for accomplishing new goals has increased. I really think that the older we get, the more things we want to do and experience. Ageing means finally being able to read things differently from a deeper perspective. You know, expectations are different and what in past was so important for us or used to hurt us, no longer has the same effect. Our perception of life and things change and now in midlife, it’s like entering a kind of muffled world where we are able to see things from above. This makes us feel better. We learn how to better protect ourselves and become more selective with the people we let into our intimate world.
What about the relationship with the mirror? Has it changed, too?
Actually, I’ve always wondered if the mirror can really show you exactly the way you are because others don’t usually have the same impression as you. You know, in the mirror we see ourselves according to our projections. Of course, we can’t deny growing older affects our body and our image. However, I think women often deal with a kind of dystonia because, on the other hand, we know we don’t age so much inside. We are usually much younger than men from a mental point of view. Women in their 60s for instance are still vibrant, bright and full of initiative, while men at the same age might show signs of psychological decline. That’s why sometimes I think for women being single at midlife is a chance to experience a second youth and second freedom. You see, it’s important for us to always keep that inner beauty that gives us light. Of course, I don’t want to deny how important is to take care of ourselves. However, the best way to fight the ageing process is to nurture our youth from within. You know, I don’t mind saying I dress how I want, I keep fit, I enjoy having an extremely busy life leading it with the same energy I used to have at 40.
Many women over 50 struggle to find a satisfying relationship. What do you suggest to midlife single women who would like to find a partner?
I think they should enjoy their freedom instead. Fortunately, today’s women have the opportunity to create new lifestyles for themselves even in terms of relationships. I believe that what becomes important after the age of 50 is knowing how to live well with oneself and, if necessary, even knowing how to accept one’s loneliness. You see, women nowadays have learned that men are no longer such a vital resource in their lives. They keep busy working, cultivate their passions and above all nurture great friendships, with generosity. This is the right approach for leading an independent life and that’s the same thing that allows us to also choose younger partners if we want. Women over 50 have more confidence and life experience and are no longer needing protection from a man but mainly looking for fun and sharing the same passion for life. That’s why many of us refuse to find a partner just for the sake of keeping each other company. In short, it is necessary to debunk the myth that women as they get older have very little to offer whether aesthetically or sexually. That’s not true, especially if a woman retains her own charm.
The world of art design is quite colourful, rich and varied. In your opinion, is it the curiosity and creativity that perhaps keeps insiders always young?
Yes, of course. Creativity is one of the dynamics that put the brain into motion with passion. As an art gallery owner, I’m like a talent scout who needs to have all of her senses constantly open: I have to be sure to read and enhance the content offered by artists working in design, contemporary or avant-garde art. My work, in particular, keeps me young because it implies never-ending research and attention to new creative languages. And that makes me feel great. It keeps me young because I need to have enough energy to support artists who are often challenging and demanding. In short, mine is a profession that invigorates you. Also, being a gallerist is a physical job and in fact, there are few women in the field. You see, you don’t only need to know how to manage and develop a marketing plan for your artists but also need to know how to keep your company growing finding a balance between the surreal world of art and real life.
For those ladies who are not very familiar with the world of the art design and contemporary art but are keen to learn more what advice would you give?
I suggest attending international exhibitions and fairs such as MiArt, Artissima and MIA Fair in Italy, or Art Basel (Switzerland), Frieze London (UK), and Paris Photo (France). For those lovers of art design and trends in general, the Salone del Mobile in Milan is an event not to be missed, too. That’s the best way to have a first cultural education. Then, I suggest you start following the programs of the galleries that you enjoyed most at the fairs or learn more on the web. Artnet, for instance, is one of the most important online platforms displaying several auctions and galleries. Even Artsy is a very good source for contemporary art.
Finally, Paola you are a very lively woman. How do you recharge your batteries in your spare time?
I am fortunate to have a fairly inexhaustible energy field that I nourish with positivity, generosity and above all by remaining true to myself. Only by living beyond the mirror can we experience the endless depth of ourselves.
Illustration inspired by Uli Weber‘ s picture for Paola Colombary Gallery