I don’t usually particularly dig modern art exhibitions. I guess I feel like I have seen enough of them. No matter how good they are, my feeling is that when visiting a museum there are hardly any surprises. There will always be an embroidered map by Boetti, an easy pleasing Mao by Warhol, a wrinkled Kiefer. This suffocates me.
There are very few modern art temples I can visit without feeling like I’m having a panic attack. One of these is the Bayeler Foundation – one of the reasons being its curators’ will to always refresh its collection with some contemporary accents –another one is the Rothko room at Tate.
However, my curiosity and a huge flag signalling a Collection made me enter this amazing building in the heart of Milan, just in front of Piazza della Scala, where I was checking Lord knows what financial issues at the bank.
My curiosity towards collections is deep, for one can really see the temper and soul of the founder.
As soon as I realized that the collection just featured modern art, and on top of this, only Italian modern art, I thought I would run away in no time.
Luckily enough, my adventurous nature and the charming environment made me go beyond the cafeteria and its outstanding espresso, to explore this historical palace.
For it is indeed a palace penetrated by history, with stately fittings of rare beauty, a true jewel of the Belle Époque.
I am amazed! The main entrance where part of the sculptures are on show is a manifestation of that Italian style the Made in Italy is world-famous for, as a synonym of luxury and quality.
Of course, it has to be considered that it is a bank’s collection. In the past few years, Intesa San Paolo has incorporated other banks and hence their collections, which it has reinvested in prestigious buildings all over the country, including this one, namely, the historical seat of the Banca Commerciale Italiana.
The palace, where the bank’s offices also have their seat, is thus their buttonhole.
A red, wounded conceptual-tasting Fontana bean thrown against a jubilation of marbles, arches and huge windows produces an unbelievable visual impact on me. Happy and grateful for this sensation, I decide to come back later, with more time at disposal to enjoy this aesthetical experience.
Let me just sketch out a few historical notices. Luca Beltrami, one of the most famous Milanese architects of his time, built the palace on the vestiges of a Church meant to gather the mortal remains of the nobles who had been sentenced to death.
Something similar happened with an American museum of contemporary art that was built on top of an Indian cemetery.
Since at the time the Royal Family was still present and powerful in Italy, this decision can only be explained by Beltrami’s fame. Evidently, no one meant to thwart his wishes.
Beltrami’s inspiration for the bank palace was the world-famous theatre Teatro alla Scala, which is located just in front of the building.
The curator for this show is Francesco Tedeschi, a critic, philosopher and art historian of the 19th and 20th centuries. The exhibition is a selection out of over 3000 artworks belonging to Intesa San Paolo, and is entitled Cantiere del Novecento, “cantiere” meaning “building yard”.
The curator conceives the building yard as a place to dig. It is a place for searching, but also a place for building, both concretely and stylistically. In other words, the metaphor of a never-ending existential, political, civic search artistically transposed.
Increasingly surprised by the opulence of the rooms, I explore the various sections, each standing for a topic following the line of the Italian history of art. Different artists are united by some kind of brotherhood feeling, in their belonging to an epoch or a movement, separated and yet communicating.
I am rebound between Concrete-Abstract and Informal Art, Kinetic Art and Spatialism, Nouveau Realisme and Conceptual practises in a sort of journey in time leading to art’s level zero.
One of the highlights is a room consecrated to the work of Fontana, a mini-retrospective of his artistic career, passing through the evolutions of his special concepts and getting to a surprising, colorful oil and glass on canvas entitled La Luna a Venezia (The Moon in Venice).
Another climax is the room dedicated to the Arte Povera movement, with two amazing Giulio Paolini. One is called Dimostrazione (Demonstration) and it’s a 1975 installation made of two music stands facing one another and sporting photographic reproductions of the music stands themselves instead of the partitions. The other one is entitled Narciso (Narcissus) and it’s a 1982 photographic black and white reproduction of a classic statue crossed by a paper silhouette of the statue itself. Its fragments are scattered all around the garden of ruins where the main figure is located.
Fiammetta De Michele