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Politi was born in Trevi, in Umbria. He had a brief spell as an artist and poet before turning to art criticism. In 1965 he moved to Rome, where he started his own art magazine in 1967, a bilingual publication called Flash, and then changed it to Flash Art. In 1970 he moved the headquarters of the magazine to Milan, where he founded his own publishing house, Giancarlo Politi Editore. Politi started publishing art books, exhibition catalogues, and Art Diary, a directory to artists studios, art galleries, art critics and art institutions.
In 1978 Flash Art was split into two separate editions, Flash Art Italia, mostly focused on the Italian market, and Flash Art International, covering the rest of the world. Over the years several attempts were made to publish the magazine in different languages, including Czech, French, German, Russian and Spanish. In 2004 he launched the first edition of the Flash Art Fair.
In 1993, Giancarlo Politi founded the Trevi Flash Art Museum. The museum has hosted several exhibitions featuring international artists, including Maurizio Cattelan, Vanessa Beecroft, Damien Hirst, Miltos Manetas, Piero Golia, Andres Serrano, Paola Pivi, Karen Kiliminik, and Mark Kostabi. In 2005 Politi withdrawn his support, and the museum is currently operating under the name Palazzo Lucarini Contemporary.
In 2001, Giancarlo Politi started the so-called "no-budget biennales". The first one was held in Tirana, Albania, but then, following a disagreement with the local art institutions, he opted for Prague. The first Prague Biennale inaugurated in 2003 and was followed by five other editions as well as three editions of the Prague Photo Biennale.
Politi has often been a magnet for controversy. In 1972 he announced from the back page of Flash Art that he was selling his services for $1,000 to galleries, museums, and attractive female artists. In 1997 Politi publicly defended Alexander Brener for spraying a green dollar sign on Kazimir Malevich's painting Suprematisme. In 2011 a story emerged about an intern candidate[better source needed] who was mocked and offended after she has been denied a fair compensation. The episode raised some interest in Italy, due to a permanent situation of exploitation of youth work and skills of young graduates.[better source needed]
- Giorgio Celiberti, Gallery 63, New York, 1963.
- Sante Monachesi: Sculture, Bruno Alfieri, Venice, 1965.
- Brajo Fuso, Edizioni Il Foglio, Piombino, Italy, 1967.
- Dario Villalba, Galeria Vandres, Madrid, 1974.
- Italian Painting Today, Multhipla, Milan, 1975.
- Flash Art: Two Decades of History, Politi Editore, Milan, 1990.
- Daniel Spoerri from A to Z, Fondazione Mudima, Milan, 1991.
- Mimmo Paladino, Politi Editore, Milan, 1992.
- Fabio Sargentini, Politi Editore, Milan, 1992.
- Antico Amore, Edizioni Pulcino Elefante, Milan, 1992.
- Tirana Biennale 1: Escape, Politi Editore, Milan, 2001.
- Prague Biennale 1: Peripheries become the Center, Politi Editore, Milan, 2003.
- Prague Biennale 2: Expanded Painting, Politi Editore, Milan, 2005.
- Pino Pascali, Cambi, Florence, 2006.
- Prague Biennale 3: Glocal and Outsiders: Connecting Cultures in Central Europe, Politi Editore, Milan, 2007
- Prague Biennale 4: Expanded Painting 3, Politi Editore, Milan, 2009.
- Prague Biennale 5: New Location, New Face, Politi Editore, Milan, 2011.
- Prague Biennale 6, Politi Editore, Milan, 2013.
- "Artnet News". artnet. 19 May 2005. Retrieved 21 May 2010.
- "Daubs". Village Voice. 13 December 1976. Retrieved 21 May 2010.
- Rail, Evan (19 July 2009). "In Prague, Art is Everywhere but Not Always Easy...". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 May 2010.
- The intern, the art magazine, and Italy's secret 'exploitation' "The Independent", 19 October 2011, Michael Day.
- Indignata per stage gratis, le danno della mignotta. “All’estero ho un contratto vero” Il Fatto Quotidiano, 18 October 2011, Luigi Franco.
- Caterina querela per l’epiteto ‘mignotta’: il caso Flash Art finisce in tribunale Il Fatto Quotidiano, 6 November 2011, Luigi Franco.