Speck and Span

Andrew Berardini at the opening of the new Museion

Bolzano, Italy

Left: Museion president Alois Lageder, director Corinne Diserens, and architect Bertram Vandreike. (Photo: Othmar Seehauser) Right: Artist Rudolf Stingel. (Except where noted, all photos: Andrew Berardini)

On my way to the press conference last Friday afternoon for the opening of the new Museion in Bolzano, Italy, it was abnormally difficult to circumnavigate the drunken men in lederhosen and Alpini hats munching on speck. The local prosciutto is so ubiquitous that I quickly learned in the region’s two principal languages (German and Italian) how to ask for food without it. I would like to think they were celebrating the beautiful new building for the museum of modern and contemporary art overlooking the Talvera River in the city’s center, but in fact they were enjoying the carnivorous bacchanal known as Speckfest.

Past the proud revelers extolling their favorite meat in Piazza Walther, the central square, and farther down the quiet Via Dante, lined with Alpine trees, stood the new, starkly modernist Museion. Workers carrying shovels and boxes hurried about busily. “As you can see, we’re still working, but we’ll be done by 10:59 AM tomorrow—in time for the 11 AM opening,” joked Corinne Diserens, the Museion’s director, halfway through the protracted press conference, which was conducted haltingly in three languages. (German and English seemed to dominate, to the ruffled chagrin of a few Italian journalists.) Diserens was flanked by the president of the Museion, local vintner Alois Lageder, who looked the part of the aging playboy with his yacht tan and inexhaustible good cheer, and one of the building’s three architects, Bertram Vandreike, who sat looking stiff and bureaucratic in his gray suit.

That evening, a bus shuttled a handful of journalists to Lageder’s countryside villa in the shadow of the Dolomites for an ostensibly unofficial concert and dinner. Composer Johannes Maria Staud conducted the jarring and beautiful musical program in what appeared to be an old wine cellar, complete with bowed beams and candles casting spooky shadows along the walls. The one-two punch of Lageder’s wine and the two-hour-plus concert sent more than a few guests into a sort of torpor.

Left: Museion curator Letizia Ragaglia. Right: Curator Francesco Bonami.

I awoke to the shuffling of the wooden chairs as the crowd flocked to the sushi and more Lageder wine out on the ground-floor terrace, where our host had flown his two favorite Japanese chefs (and a gaggle of traditionally clad female servers) in from Tokyo for the occasion. At the sushi dinner held on the villa’s fourth floor, in candlelit rooms filled with stressed frescoes and gloomy ancient paintings, there was little talk of the Museion. However, a few of the artists present were happy to eulogize Rudolf Stingel as the hometown boy made good, noting his teenage success as a traditional South Tyrolean dancer of the knee-slapping, lederhosen-wearing variety.

The next morning, I rolled out of the creaking cot a local friend had secured for me in the principal’s office of a Catholic school and ran to catch the scheduled walk-through, getting my first glance at the Museion’s collection. Letizia Ragaglia, one of the exhibition’s energetic curators, led a handful of foreign journalists on a twenty-minute jaunt through the exhibition, which, despite its bloodless title (“Peripheral Vision and Collective Body”), appeared thoughtful and complex—if only a tad like an overstuffed strudel. (A Richard Prince joke painting was relegated to high above a doorway, while a Tacita Dean was stuck in the stairwell.) The museum prides itself on being an advocate for alternative positions, and one can roughly trace an experimental history from the early-twentieth-century avant-garde to the present. The collection includes everything from architecture (of which there were few examples, like Yona Friedman and Tatlin’s Tower) to dance and performance (of which there was plenty, from Bruce Nauman to Yvonne Rainer).

Left: Galerie Nikolaus Ruzicska's Tilman Treusch and artist Peter Kogler. Right: Explorer Reinhold Messner.

During the tour, Ragaglia stopped to point out a set of carefully arranged metal sheets on the floor made by the lesser-known arte povera artist Emilio Prini, noting the work’s delicacy and recalling how difficult it was to secure for the exhibition. As Ragaglia left to prepare for the opening, a bemused crowd ambled into the Museion. About a half dozen people stomped on the Prini in the five minutes I stood watching it, one woman marching straight across its unpolished surface with nary a look down.

After more briefings from regional officials discussing this year’s Manifesta 7 (which will be based in Bolzano), I set off for an adjoining building, where Portuguese artist Angela Ferreira and curator Jürgen Bock were giving an impromptu talk about her installation, one of many pieces purchased from the last Venice Biennale. Midway through, an Englishman slipped into our circle and began to prod Ferreira with questions about her project involving Jean Prouvé’s Maison Tropicale. (Three prototypes in Africa had been disassembled and sold on the auction block—the last one for around five million dollars.) Ferreira finally teased the name out of the Englishman, who turned out to be Nicholas Logsdail, founder of Lisson Gallery, at which everyone around me seemed to tense up a bit.

After a brief chat with him, he motioned to step away. Shaking my hand, he said, “Pleasure to have met you. I suppose if you’re successful, I’ll see you everywhere, and if you’re not, you’ll disappear.”

Left: Lisson's Nicholas Logsdail and writer Silvia Sgualdini. Right: A view of Lageder's villa.

Left: Curator Jürgen Bock. Right: Artist Anri Sala.

Left: Artist Angela Ferreira. Right: Chef Hiroshi Tazawa with Alois Lageder.