Villa Panza Di Biumo. Varese, 2013
by Fiammetta De Michele
I felt a little upset knowing that my friends were about to see the James Turrell show in New York, so I thought “why not visiting Villa Panza?”There are places that are real landmarks in the History of Art, places bearing an aura of legend, where the joy of being there is one and the same with our imagination.
Who knows what these walls could say, should they be able to speak. Villa Panza del Biumo is the foundation of Count Panza del Biumo, a collector, eager researcher, and a Minimalism lover. The Villa, which he generously donated to the FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano), has become one of the world’s most important Minimal Art museums.
Villa Menafoglio Litta Panza, Varese
Photograph by Fiammetta De Michele
Its major highlight is the largest existing Dan Flavin collection. In fact, although they were not in very good relations, Count Panza del Biumo was Dan Flavin’s major collector.
The Villa is huge, and surrounded by a stately park.
“Who knows what these walls could say, should they be able to speak”
A plethora of exhibition rooms all filled with impressive monochromes occupies the first floor and part of the second floor. Everything looks like a sort of visual preparation to the neon-lights area, on the second floor.
All his life,Giuseppe Panza tried to reach a point and materially fix the infinite – or its idea – as well as the abstract, the incorporeal and the spiritual metaphysical.
The rooms on the second floor, with those James Turrels, Dan Flavins, Robert Irwin and Michael Brewster, are among the most beautiful and evocative places I have ever seen.
Each of these artworks breaks the limits of space, and was a gesture of split towards its time. Finding myself in front of such historical pieces is always exciting. It is the thrill of crossing the border between seeing on a book an artwork that has marked a fundamental change in the history of art and actually facing it hic et nunc.
I feel like an archaeologist in a pyramid, violating the secret of some tomb, with the fear and desire to find something.By these walls, the feeling is that Art History as a whole happened here.
If it is true the artists’ energy actually remains in their work, then Dan’s work is one of the clearest examples of such truth. His works vibrate of a ghostly puissance of their own. Ghostly precisely because the artist’s ghost, his aura, remains bound to the artwork and tells us about the man and his soul. The walls of this magnificent Villa ooze with the image of a place haunted by the ghosts of the collector and his artists.
The colour of the neon lights pulses within the structure as if water were all around. The reflection of the lights on the wall and on the shining floor paints a suspended atmosphere. The “General Electric” brand, appearing on the salmon-pink assembled equipment, looks flaking and well-worn, and accounts for moments of contemporary archaeology and narration. They speak to our imagination more than any book.
I can imagine the artist moving around his neon tubes in the NYC Jamaica district, surrounded by the Big Apple’s sounds, colours and people. This artwork shows a static potential intensity, which, in spite of its light colours, reveals a most virile side.
In another room, a little square silhouette by the window projects a square sunbeam on the floor, changing intensity and colour according to the time of the year and the time of the day. This is an artwork by Robert Irwin.
The neon-light in this room is laying on the floor, laid down as if it were resting. Getting closer, one can hear its metal buzzing.In another room the neon light is standing, still and graceful. It is soaring. And it is lonely. Then an installation featuring several neon lights. This one looks military, nearly obedient.
It is amazing to see how the same medium can evoke so many different attitudes. Still, so it is with Dan Flavin. His works can be joyful, sad, lonesome, playful, doubtful, serene or circumspect, painful, tormented, restless or safe, silent and intense. In a word, warm, in spite of their neutrality.In the room ending the path, there is a sound installation by Michael Brewster, a sensorial experience on fullness and emptiness obtained by exploiting the echo between the walls.
The artworks in Villa Panza is just a small part of the collection which includes among the others Carl Andre, Joseph Beuys, Jean Fautreir, Franz Kline, Joseph Kosuth, Sol Lewitt, Bruce Nauman, Robert Morris, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Mark Rothko, George Segal, Richard Serra, Joel Shapiro, Antoni Tàpies, Robert Therrien.