About a decade ago, the Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti was going for a walk in New York City when he caught sight of something that made him stop in his tracks: His own name, emblazoned on the awning of a gallery near Central Park. “I was like, who is this imposter?,” he recalled on a recent morning in New York, then laughed. “But truth be told, I was the imposter. And I’ve been working on it with my shrink ever since.”
Jokes aside, it really did start to seem like “the other Fabrizio”—as Moretti, who conveniently goes by Fab, began to think of him—was haunting him. As unlikely as a scenario in which a rockstar would cross paths with an acclaimed dealer in Old Masters paintings might seem, it started to feel inevitable. And then, one fateful day several years later, the stars aligned: Fab received an email from Sotheby’s asking if he was interested in seeing “if there was any kind of thread to follow with this coincidence.” It didn’t take long to discover that indeed there was; cut to the present, and with a little help from Sotheby’s, the two Morettis have come together to mount an auction and exhibition that will run from December 15 to 18. (Advance bidding is already underway.)
“Fabrizio Moretti x Fabrizio Moretti | In Passing” is made up of 24 Old Masters paintings and sculptures from the 14th through the 18th centuries, curated by Moretti of Sotheby’s. Fab, on the other hand, is handling the display. Suffice it to say, it won’t look like your typical Sotheby’s auction: Fab, who’s also an accomplished visual artist, has been pursuing his mission to “modernize” the works by constructing an constructing an experimental labyrinth. He tells us what to expect, plus reminisces on his past as an altar boy, here.
The other Fabrizio has a very specific area of expertise. How did you find a point of entry into the realm of Old Masters? When we first fell into this sort of back and forth, I realized it would be interesting to play on that—this idea that we have this very similar identity card and such different identities. I thought maybe we could explore the modes of perspective, and then perspective kind of spilled all throughout this thing. He’s an Old Masters dealer, and I’m not a scholar in that sense by any means. I’m more of a contemporary art fan, but I do appreciate a good painting. The interesting thing to me was: Could we modernize these Old Masters paintings, just by the way that they’re viewed? I wanted to build something like a modern maze that could foster a more personal relationship between the viewer and the artwork. Most of it is built so that only one person can see at a time, like a kind of confessional where you actually have to kneel to reveal the painting. That kind of genuflecting gives a fresh perspective, but it also harkens back to the original intent of the paintings. It’s almost like an area where you ask for forgiveness, so for that one I chose three or four paintings that are more religious.
Are you religious yourself? I was when I was a kid and then I stopped. And then I went to college, and because of some silly choices I made, I thought I was going to hell.
[Laughs.] I’m sorry. I don’t mean laugh at you. No no no, not at all, it’s kind of laughable. I went back to the church when I was at college—I remember going when everybody would congregate to watch the Simpsons in my room and I’d be the only one missing because I would be at night mass actually altar serving. And then there was this beautiful moment. I can’t remember exactly what it was—I might have been turning the page for the priest or setting up the altar—but I was like, I don’t believe in any of this. It started getting so routine that the majesty kind of slipped away, and I saw it for what it was—just this ritual that kept us going.
What’s it been like to work with Sotheby’s? It seems much more bureaucratic than what you’re used to. It’s been eye-opening. It’s an intimidating place to walk into, and then there’s just the sheer fact that they have a whole building. But everybody has been super nice. One thing that’s been most disarming is how they expect you to approach and be involved with the art. They handed me a painting from the 1400s and I held it and I felt like I had been blessed. I’m not a big believer—well, I’m not a believer—but just the sheer sense of historical weight in my hand was inspiring, to say the least. For you, is there a work in this selection that particularly stands out? All of them. That’s the thing: If you were to see these paintings in the Louvre, they would be in a long line of other master paintings and you would be jaded by the time you got there. Your back would hurt. You’d want some water. You’d have kids yelling at you and stuff, you know what I mean? But in this light, you realize how important and beautiful these pieces are. Any single one of them can offer you a transcendence through time and space. Like the fact that I can see that the trace of somebody’s decision to put a little piece of oil paint to add more blush to the cheek to make that person look a little bit more alive. There’s nothing more human than the representation of oneself, and that was painted hundreds of years ago. It’s humbling, but at the same time it makes you feel expansive, and part of something grand.
Do you go to auctions? Was your approach a conscious decision to break away from that type of white walled display? I don’t, which I think it’s key because I might have been intimidated by protocol. But these guys have been so accommodating and made me feel like I was really free to do a lot of cool things. Like the first painting that you see when you walk in—which is also another Fabrizio [the 17th-century artist Fabrizio Chiari]—is obscured by two walls. Only a sliver of it is visible. You know Ways of Seeing by John Berger? I was thinking about how there’s a determined story the painter tries to tell you, with specific placements and colors to draw your eye in sequence to a story, but by traveling your eye in different directions over the canvas, you can tell your own story. So as you walk towards [the Chiari painting], and you switch from one side to the other, the weight of your bob will reveal different parts of the painting, and then maybe you’ll realize that you have control over where your eyes are going to go. You don’t have to see the whole thing right at once. It’s almost like a crescendo; the more you approach the painting, the more it reveals itself, and finally you finally have to put your face up to this small opening to reveal the full thing.
It’s nice to build anticipation; sometimes the crowds in front of something like the Mona Lisa can actually make you even more excited. That was one of the reasons why I was so focused on making a personal experience for each piece of artwork. I was living in France alone for a while and I got thoroughly depressed. I thought it would be like the bee’s knees to just have Paris as my playground, but there were moments that were very difficult, and through that I found that ritual can help diminish the sense of nebulousness. So on Fridays, when the Louvre was open late, I would go to see the Mona Lisa. It would be dark and you would have this cozy feeling that you’re the only person in this grand hotel, and you could go and stand in front of the Mona Lisa and take your time with her. I tried to bring my mom to have that same experience recently—it was nighttime, but it was summer so the sun hadn’t set, and they’d moved her to that special room. And it was such a fucking bummer, like a TSA experience. There were two people that stood between me and the Mona Lisa to tell me to move on after five minutes. So it really was a relief to come [to Sotheby’s]. The first time I was invited here to see a Leonardo da Vinci drawing and we stood there for 10, 15 minutes—a real amount of time.
Do you collect art? I have several pieces I consider art, and several pieces that I bought. One is a Vanessa Prager, and another is an abstract photograph by Richard Caldicott, which is actually of tupperware. And I’ve been looking at the Sotheby’s app, which is really cool. The idea of owning art doesn’t seem like such a distant prospect anymore thanks to these guys.
What other art have you been into lately? There was this show several years ago at the Marlborough gallery called “Stray Light Grey,” of Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe. It was so immersive and amazing and beautiful—like a maze through the apocalypse. It was hugely influential to me.
What about music? Weirdly, a lot of opera right now. I never thought I’d be so moved by opera, but I recently saw that movie about Maria Callas on the airplane, and I was crying like a baby. The airplane makes things more emotional, I’ve been told. [Laughs.] I remember being like, ‘I don’t get it, mom,’ when my mom would go on about how her voice was so beautiful, and now I sound just like my mom.
Do you try to keep your music and art separate, or is there some overlap? I think they inform each other. I used to have to separate the two, because I didn’t have the attention span to switch from one to the other. You need to dedicate yourself so much to be a competent musician and something that I didn’t know when I first started I was like, you know, you play drums like by hitting stuff, right? And it’s like, no, no, no. There’s just a lot of time dedicated to that to become a competent musician, and then to speak the language, to be able to converse with your bandmates, you have to learn each other’s instruments. So I guess when the routine of practice was less cumbersome, the ideas become easier to translate. That’s when you stop being a technical musician, and you become somebody that can focus on creating something.
Are you still worried that you’re going to hell? Absolutely not. I don’t believe in the afterlife. I do believe in this being the perfect place for us to share what could be a heavenly moment and yet we’re squandering that day by day. This is a heavenly moment.