*Prior warning: this piece does contain an image of a sensitive nature*
(Main image: Toti Scialoja, Vezza, 1958)
About 30 minutes drive from the town of Perugia in Umbria, is the city of Spoleto, which is found in the north-east of Italy’s central Appennine mountain range. I visited during the swelteringly hot weather of mid-August, armed with a camera, my notebook and the intent of finding and researching Spoleto and its art scene. Amidst the steep cobbled pathways in between overhanging case and open markets where pounds of legumes were stacked in crates on small three-wheeled (and rather perilous) cars, there was to be found a modern and contemporary presence at the Palazzo Collicola in the heart of the town. The building, I learned, was an old aristocratic residence of the Collicola family, who when the line ended, gave the house to the Commune di Spoleto. It now hosts the collection of famed art historian, collector and critic Giovanni Carandente, in addition to loaned and donated works. The museum, in comparison to other monuments and buildings in the town, is remarkably forward-thinking in its approach, providing a reinvigoration of Spoleto and what it represents today.
This is, however, somewhat to be expected for a city which has had settlements since the early 1st Century B.C; Spoleto has its fair share of mesmerising monuments and attractions pertaining to the constant ebb and flow of cultural shifts. To name a few, there is the Roman amphitheatre and nearby domus, as well as the famed Quattrocentro artist Fra Fillippo Lippi’s frescoed apse Life of the Virgin at Il Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta, and the 18th Century fountain designed by Costantino Fiaschetti at the Piazza del Mercato. Works such as these help to unmistakably distinguish Spoleto as a place of rich cultural heritage spanning thousands of years.
(Fra Filippo Lippi, The Life of the Virgin, fresco, Il Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta)(http://www.tuscanyumbria.com/about-area/art/)
Spoleto’s key to enduring such a tradition lies in its arts programme, led by the Commune di Spoleto, which has allowed the city to adapt to the pull of modern tourism, and in doing so, generate fresh artistic perspectives. The multiple modern art museums, including the Museo Carandente, as well as the world-famous ‘Festival dei Due Monde’ are testimony. The festival was established in 1958 by Gian Carlo Menotti in the aim to try and draw together, or at least towards, two seemingly opposing worlds and cultures, Europe and America. As an international arts festival based in both Spoleto and Charleston, South Carolina, the festival still continues to simultaneously draw creativity from around the globe, helping bridge and extend cultures and legacies; rather akin to what the Museum aimed to achieve in curating the Carandente collection. Perhaps this is a shared ethos between the two organisations, maybe it is even part of a wider important human commitment to breaking down boundaries and allowing for comparisons and links to be made. What is certain, however, is that in 1961 the festival caught the attention of MoMA, who subsequently introduced prominent Neopolitan art historian, critic and collector Giovanni Carandente to the Spoleto festival. In effect, this set in motion his enduring and famous relationship with Spoleto throughout his life, and culminating in the founding of the Museo Carandente at the Palazzo Collicola.
Described as ‘the most important museum of contemporary art in the region’(1), the Museo Carandente’s programme is highly diverse, featuring two main sections. The first, the Carandente collection, curated by Gianluca Marziani, occupies the lower floor of the palazzo and is mainly compromised of works of art complied throughout the years by Carandente, in addition to works on loan or donations. The works here are split into fifteen separate rooms, each with their own individual themes pertaining to the overarching importance of the collection and Spoleto’s own artistic heritage, whilst looking at the collection in the context of ‘time’. Thematically, the collection is organised for the viewer to follow through methodically; the fifteen rooms take so-called ‘perimeters’ of discussion, and subsequently expand on deeper matters to place issues and questions under scrutiny.
Room 1: Alexander Calder
Room 2: Sculpture of the City
Room 3: Groups of Spoleto
Intermezzo: Spoleto prize
Room 4: Emotion of Colour
Room 5: Theatre of Life
Room 6: Leoncillo Leonardi
Room 7: Works by Leoncillo Leonardi and Marisa Busanel.
Room 8: Works by Claudio Marini
Room 9: Signs, Footprints, Matrices, Nuclei, Signs.
Room 10: The Mystery of Forms
Room 11: Artifice and Nature
Room 12: Cathartic Symbols
Room 13: Mental geometries
Room 14 and 15: Sol LeWitt
Before even entering the palazzo, however, you were greeted by a large photo montage atop the main door, which spoke boldly of all matters political, but in a satirical manner. Donald Trump’s eyes (amidst others) had been replaced by yellow stars, mocking the state of the European Union in this tense political time, whilst a Robert Mapplethorpe-esque nude lunged across the scene. Past the absurdity of the montage, it was a work of art which zeroed in on its ability to conjure reaction from the public to no avail. The art and the door way itself was being held up by yellow scaffolding, to counter the devastating effects of multiple earthquakes; this echoed works of art in the museum by the artist Vincenzo Pannacchi, and was particularly interesting in relation to the frescoes by Fra Fillippo Lippi at the Duomo. By exploiting the cracks and crumbling wall plaster in Aereo Rapace, Pannacchi explored ideas of regeneration and reinvention. No longer was the destruction seen as a ugliness, or something needed to be covered up and made perfect. Pannacchi turned decay into new life, and in doing so helped present the old Palazzo as a work of art, an architecture, defined by its history and by Spoleto.
(Artist unknown, photo by M.D.Bentley)
Inside, the sheer amount of art was astounding. Each room featured between five and ten works of art, some of considerable scale (such as Leoncillo Leonardi’s “Taglio grande bianco”, 1959; a work of pottery which resembled a large piece of tree bark that had just been shaved away, and left to dry out in the sun.) True to the collection, the works explored issues which encouraged the viewer to experience a ‘journey’ which took them through ‘memory’ and the ‘future’. The first nine rooms (1-8, including Intermezzo) were well-organised, and suited to describing Spoleto’s heritage and the museums circumstance, which provided the tourist with ample visual references to the town’s heritage. One major downfall, however, was that little additional information was provided, therefore making it rather difficult to place the artists and their works in sufficient context. The preceding five rooms (9-13) were more exploratory of theme and juxtaposition. Works such as Luigi Manciocco’s “Ruber” played on the visceral, and the cathartic; art as a way of expunging held feelings or how the artist toils over his work as a passion. Manciocco’s work showed a single paper clip jammed into a white, metal so-called “canvas”, which was bleeding his own coagulated blood. It made you think, especially on the ‘emotional and conceptual nature of art’.
(Leoncillo Leonardi, Taglio grande bianco, 1959, (Premio Spoleto, 1959)
(Luigi Manciocco’s “Ruber”, 2013/2014)
Whilst the exhibition encouraged the visitor to move through the lower floors and work upwards, a standard progression route used by the majority of curators in large set museums, there was a strange sense of discontinuity between the striking modern art below, and the piano nobile above. Donated by the Collicola family, the room hosted an array of 18th Century portraiture, making the room feel rather austere. Looking upwards, the ceiling had been entirely re-clad in yellow varnished mock wooden coffers that was a stark contrast to the elegant original wooden furniture below. It all felt strange and quite unwelcoming; the piano nobile gave the palazzo a sense of its traditional order, and yet it was jarred by the inclusion of flashing neon lights above on the balcony, and the inclusion of a second exhibition of Eugene Lemay’s Ghost Witness Shadow, which crossed 18th Century elegance with destruction, ‘the evil of humanity with the metaphorical pace of art’. There was an intense amount of suffering and expression in works such as “Mozart” to rival that of a Frank Auerbach. Despite this, the works conjoined to deal with real issues that highlighted the ‘virtues and vices of the world’, whilst exploring ideas of ‘legacy and renewal’ in a space that allowed for free expression of creativity and conceptuality.
(Mozart, Remarkable Men, Eugene Lemay, Collezione Collicola)
(Photograph: R.J Bentley)
Spoleto’s key to an enduring artistic sensibility lies in its members, and their ability to shape, rejuvenate and adapt a modern presence. Essentially, this was brought about by juxtapositions between the old and the new, the past and the present, and Spoleto’s presence within modern and contemporary art and culture. Exhibitions such as Onthewall, the Collicola Collection and the Carandente Collection are unmistakably distinguished by an attention to detail in driving Spoleto’s creative direction forwards, akin to that at the ‘Festivale dei Due Monde’. In this way, I was particularly surprised by what I found at Spoleto, and the Museum. The exhibitions didn’t just want for the spectator to like them, but instead they acted to encourage independent thought on the forces which are shaping and evolving today’s world.