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Back to Reviews 97

Martino Coppes.

Alberto Garutti's 
invite at the 
Casa Masaccio.

Rirkrit Tiravanija's 
invite at 
Emi Fontana.

Carsten Höller,
The Image of Europe.

Carsten Höller,
at Massimo De Carlo.

Mario Airň.

Martino Coppes.

Monica Carocci.

Luisa Lambri, 
Untitled #6a, 1996

Frank Moore
Pearline, 1991

Armin Linke
Enzo Cucchi, 1992

report from 

by Gianni Romano

One of the peculiarities of the art system 

in Italy is that we don't actually have an 

art system, at least not one that you would 

notice, especially when it comes to 

contemporary art. Italy is a country in 

which history is overwhelmingly present, 

and the contemporary is sometimes met with 

fear. Here in Italy is a hidden 

consciousness--especially in bureaucratic 

institutions--that contemporary art may 

carry an unwelcome freight of controversial 

issues. This is also, of course, the reason 

why many of us love contemporary art. 

Our country's lack of museums, nonprofit 

galleries and other public institutions 

dedicated to contemporary art was the topic 

of a recent panel at the Castello di Rivoli 

in Turin. The panel itself was unbalanced 

by the age of the Italian speakers, who 

were all well into their 50s, compared to 

the comparative youth of the German 

participants, Udo Kittelman (director of 

the Cologne Kunstverein) and Ute Meta Baier 

(director of the Academy of Fine Arts in 

Vienna). While the German speakers provided 

useful information about the German and 

Austrian art system, with its network of 

city-based Kunsthalles, the Italians bored 

what little audience there was by declaring 

that Italy doesn't really need public 


Actually, Italy does have its own chain of 

exhibition spaces similar to the German 

kunsthalle or French F.R.A.C., that is, 

public spaces that don't collect art but 

instead just organize temporary 

exhibitions. They are called "Galleria 

Nazionale" or "Galleria Comunale." The 

problem with these spaces is that they are 

not, as a rule, run by a professional 

curator, but by some local politician. 

Since the importance and prestige of any 

art space depends on its programming, one 

can imagine the poor results of this 

arrangement. This missing link is a pivotal 

one: consider the fact that 22 percent of 

German artists have their first important 

exhibition in a nonprofit space, compared 

to two percent of Italian artists. As a 

result, the Italian scene is almost 

completely supported by artists themselves, 

private galleries, individual collectors 

and a bunch of art critics who do their 

best to invent and create art events.

One of the few examples of a Galleria 

Nazionale working in professional terms is 

the one located in Bologna. Unfortunately, 

the new director, Danilo Eccher, seems as 

interested in pleasing a large, popular 

audience as he is in creating a hard-edged 

exhibition program. After a successful 

overture by Gilbert & George, the Galleria 

Nazionale recently opened a retrospective 

of Julian Schnabel. This extremely 

expensive and (in the end) predictable show 

by the champion U.S. Neo-Expressionist 

(and, now, filmmaker) was heralded by the 

local newspapers with three-column 

headlines reporting not on the artist but 

on his jet-set pals, viz. "Gianni Versace 

to Visit the Galleria Nazionale," and 

attended by crowds of people queuing up in 

order to have their catalogue signed by 

Christopher Walken. 

Italian art-addicts are forced to travel 

all around their country to see real 

exhibition activity. One new destination, 

for example, is the public space Casa 

Masaccio in San Giovanni Valdarno, a few 

miles from Florence. There, curator Rita 

Selvaggio has been able to draw support 

from local banks and other institutions to 

give life to a new space for contemporary 

art. Casa Masaccio's first opening took 

place Dec. 13, 1996, with a show of new 

work by Alberto Garutti, whose installation of 

layers of velvety moquette fabric, mirrors 

and other furniture manages to combine 

formalist issues with private ones. 

But most experimental art is left to 

private galleries, which provide the real 

skeleton of new art in Italy. Rirkrit 

Tiravanija, for instance, is well known for 

entertaining art-goers by feeding them 

curry and noodles. This time, at his 

exhibition at Emi Fontana in Milan, only 

tea was put out--though the space of the 

gallery had been preciously arranged 

according to the rules of "feng-shui," the 

newly popularized Chinese art of dealing 

with space. A short documentary film shows 

the dealer herself discussing "feng-shui" 

with local Chinese.

Another important Milan gallery is Massimo 

De Carlo, where, after a brilliant show by 

the Cologne artist Carsten Höller featuring 

"plastic fungus" (a see-through inflatable mushroom

placed in the middle of the gallery) and a 

spinning-top big enough for a person to sit 

inside and rotate, there was a new 

psychedelic show by Mario Airň. A talented 

vision-catcher, Airň planned a space where 

sound and light could intermix through 

objects and hand-made constructions having 

light or sound or both. 

Photography is fashionable in Italy now 

and, luckily enough, among its younger 

practitioners are some interesting artists. 

At Monica De Cardenas is Martino Coppes, 

who refashions stage photography with 

unexpected ecological issues. His camera 

examines plastic wastes in search 

of...what? What results are beautiful and 

intimate landscapes. Coppes is also 

preparing a show for Galerie Philippe Rizzo 

in Paris. 

Similarly, the photographer Monica Carocci 

has plenty of work to do. Beside being a 

new mother for the first time, she's having 

a double exhibition at Guido Carbone in 

Turin and Galleria S.A.L.E.S. in Rome. In 

her new body of work, her black and white 

is more and more blurred, to the extent 

that sometimes we barely recognize a 

landscape. This painterly effect may well 

be due to the new generation of young 

painters (such as Enrico De Paris, Daniele 

Galliano, Pierluigi Pusoles) who re-

energized the Turin art scene. Carocci has 

now gone out of her house--the favorite 

subject in her previous exhibition being 

her own bathroom--to make new highway 

landscapes, with the writing erased from 

any road signs that happened to appear. 

After an exhibition of James Casebere (and 

an outstanding catalogue printed in 

collaboration with the Ansel Adams Center, 

San Francisco, and the Lisson Gallery, 

London), the Galleria Galliani in Genoa 

begins the new year with another young 

photographer who has been drawing a good 

deal of recognition lately. Luisa Lambri 

takes "portraits of places," as she defines 

them, and--paradoxically--all these places 

photographed throughout Europe look like 

models as much as Casebere's models look 

real. The ethereal bluette of her pictures 

produces a strange alienating effect for 

viewers, and these deserted places stage an 

atmosphere that is typical of ruins even 

though we are inside a contemporary new 


There has always been a not-so-hidden 

conflict between the art scenes of Rome and 

Milan. Romans are buried in their past and 

when they speak of art they often relate to 

the lively scene of the `60s. But, while 

the Milanese tend to spot Rome as an 

"archeological site," Romans decided to 

change their attitude by giving the first 

prize--the sum of $55,000--of the Rome 

Quadriennale (the second largest art event 

in Italy after the Venice Biennale) to 

Milanese artist Stefano Arienti. Also, the 

legendary gallerist Fabio Sargentini (he is 

the one who discovered Pino Pascali and 

hosted Jannis Kounellis' horses in his 

gallery L'Attico) is hosting a variety of 

artists from Milan, including Mario Airň, 

Carlo Benvenuto, Marco Cingolani, Sarah 

Ciracě, Luca Pancrazzi and Diego Perrone. 

Also in Rome, the colourful paintings of 

Frank Moore are brightening up the original 

space of Gian Enzo Sperone. AIDS, death and 

a strong ecological awareness are the 

topics presented for immediate attention 

via a subtle symbolism and a certain humor. 

Moore's ecological background seems related 

to existential issues as well as any more 

topical problematic. One breathless picture 

you ought to see in this show is one of a 

bald guy--Moore himself?--throwing up 

butterflies. In the exhibition catalogue 

text, My Studio, Moore writes, "Artists are 

not terminals of the art machine, but real 

means to new and socially charged 


That notion was the basis for "Mutoids," a 

show of 50 international artists organized 

by art critic Massimo Sgroi. The exhibition 

takes place in the Maschio Angioino--the 

beautiful castle located in the center of 

Naples between city hall and the harbour--

and is regarded as an effort by the current 

city administration to demonstrate 

political change by giving space to 

contemporary art. Also in Naples, Lia Rumma 

put up a brand new show of Haim Steinbach, 

while the prestigious Capodimonte museum 

opened, after some years of idleness, with 

an exhibition of Enzo Cucchi and a show of 

works from its contemporary collection. 

One last word for net-surfers. The Internet 

is a new business in Italy and no providers 

have taken art seriously so far. For 

general information concerning contemporary 

art in Italy I would suggest Undo.Net, 

a real container of what is going on day by day, with 

exhibition listings, an archive of artists, 

info on galleries and more. For a more 

creative approach to the net I suggest 

visiting the Website of Florentine artist 

Maurizio Nannucci and his rich "Justified 

Choice of Dimension." 

To be continued.

GIANNI ROMANO is a curator living in Milan.