Beginning of the End

Pia Capelli at the opening of the Centro Pecci per l’Arte Contemporanea

The Centro Pecci per l’Arte Contemporanea. (Photo: Mario Gianni)

IF YOU IMAGINE the End of the World as a grand affair, with heavy rains, big crowds, unfinished business, and universal judgement, well, then Fabio Cavallucci, director of the new Centro Pecci per l’Arte Contemporanea in Prato, has definitely chosen the right theme for the inaugural exhibition of the Tuscan museum—closed for renovation since 2010 and reopening now with an 85,000-square-foot architectural extension by Dutch architect Maurice Nio. 

“The End of the World” pre-previewed on Friday evening, but the grand opening program for the weekend—a busy one in Italy, with Art Verona, Collezione Maramotti in Reggio Emilia, and the Contemporary Art Day in twenty-four museums and over 1,000 venues—comprised three full days of happenings. And a series of odd events.

Two days before the vernissage, a portion of the museum’s ceiling collapsed on the electricians installing lights over Julian Charrière's piece, sending one of them to the hospital. (He survived, but no one could charge their phone inside Pecci for the next three days.) Despite this omen and a black, gloomy sky, the Italian art world flocked to Prato, and in the early afternoon I boarded a minivan with a handful of braves. First stop of the VIP program: Villa Celle, the seventeenth-century farm (and chapel, and sixty acres of park) that hosts the collection of Giuliano Gori, on the Tuscan hills, thirty minutes from Prato. A “musical door” by artist and composer Daniele Lombardi was unveiled, and our slippery path took us to site-specific pieces by Burri, Kiefer, Stefano Arienti, Robert Morris, Loris Cecchini, Michel Gerard, and Magdalena Abakanowicz. 

Left: Centro Pecci architect Maurice Nio (left). Right: Centro Pecci director Fabio Cavallucci, artist Carlos Garaicoa, and Galleria Continua dealer Maurizio Rigillo. (Except where noted, all photos: Pia Capelli)

Miranda Macphail, curator of Villa Celle’s collection, and the only one in proper country attire, had us all hike up a steep field to preview Hera Büyüktaşçıyan's installation, a mysterious semi-emerging skeleton, glimpse of a future post-Anthropocene archaeology. On that hill, our own immediate future seemed doomed, as rain began washing over the small elegant crowd dressed up for that night’s exclusive dinner. Macphail called it a day only when a pretty art wealth-management expert shakily declared she “just wanted to go back.” 

By the time we returned to Pecci, to attend the conference that brought together the museum’s former directors, my fellow minivaners were sweaty, frizzy and covered in mud. In the new auditorium, Amnon Barzel (who launched the “first” Pecci in 1988), Antonella Soldaini, Bruno Corà, Daniel Soutif, Marco Bazzini, and Stefano Pezzato regaled the audience with anecdotes from twenty-eight years of Pecci’s history, and gave Fabio Cavallucci tips for his future management of the museum. But Cavallucci’s mandate expires in spring 2017, and unfortunately his first exhibition at Pecci is also very likely to be his last (hence, maybe, the apocalyptic subject). How a museum director can work brilliantly under such premises is an Italian mystery. This also explains the massive presence of many other museum directors, all checking on the new territory that, in the sibylline words of Irene Sanesi, president of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts in Tuscany, “will go to whomever will have it.” (For now, Nuoro’s MAN director Lorenzo Giusti is the most accredited). 

The Pecci’s loopy first floor that welcomed us for the exhibition preview that night was a museum in full last-minute, do-not-panic-ok-maybe-let’s-panic mode. The striking golden circular structure conceived by Maurice Nio as a spaceship with an antenna (project named “Sensing the Waves”) was boldly shining even under the Armageddon sky, but the interior was far from ready. Right outside the museum’s entrance, the bookshop’s delivery van sank into the parking’s pavement, and looked very much like an Elmgreen & Dragset installation. The rumbles of a thunderstorm blurred with the sounds of working drills, making the End of the World atmosphere quite palpable.

Left: Collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and MAXXI artistic director Hou Hanru. Right: Irene Sanesi, president of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts in Tuscany, and Elena Pecci.

Inside though, Italian art aristocracy gathered among works by Thomas Hirschhorn, Adel Abdessemed, Marlene Dumas, Olafur Eliasson, Qiu Zhijie, Cai Guo-Qiang, Henrique Oliveira, Jimmie Durham, Carlos Garaicoa, Marcel Duchamp, Umberto Boccioni, Tadeusz Kantor, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Boris Mikhailov. Dinner tables were set in Robert Kusmirowski's heavenly all-white Quarantine, with an organ playing Hanne Darboven’s “Requiem.” Center stage was occupied by Tuscan powerhouses: the holy trinity of Galleria Continua, Lorenzo Fiaschi, Mario Cristiani, and Maurizio Rigillo with artist Carlos Garaicoa, and the new director of Palazzo Strozzi Arturo Galansino, who just opened his first (and controversial) Ai Weiwei exhibition. Close by, curator Sergio Risaliti, guilty of installing a giant bronze turtle by Jan Fabre in Piazza della Signoria (a huge scandal among conservative Florentines), was deep in conversation with former superintendent Cristina Acidini. 

Mart director Gianfranco Maraniello hung out with old Neapolitan pals Andrea Viliani, director of MADRE, and dealer Alfonso Artiaco. By 10 PM, with abundant Tuscan wine but no food in sight, they were rehearsing lines from Totò e Peppino movies. Queen of their table was collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, not-so-secretly glowing after her latest achievement: the launch of the Italian Council, a much awaited agency for the support of Italian art: “I’m so happy to see that the ministry included our committee of private art foundations in the official announcement!”

Sandretto Re Rebaudengo’s hometown of Turin was also represented by Christian Valsecchi, Secretary General of Fondazione Torino Musei, and the thirty-one-year-old Nicola Ricciardi, who is in charge of the OGR, Officine Grandi Riparazioni, a new 215,000-square-foot cultural hub that will open in fall 2017 with a program of time-based visual and performative arts—an operation in which Fondazione CRT invested a whopping €80 million. “It’s a complicated building. It’s got over 1500 windows!” Ricciardi joked. 

Left: Curator Sara Dolfi Agostini, Lottozero curators Arianna and Tessa Moroder, and artist Anna Rose. Right: Artist Ekaterina Vasilyeva.

The following morning, we were all back to the (still) unfinished Pecci for the press conference, under an unexpected sun. Dario Franceschini, the Minister of Culture, did not show up—no one complained, and we enjoyed the presence of younger artists instead: Camille Henrot, Ekaterina Vasilyeva, and Francesco Bertelè among them. That night I opted out of Pecci’s DJ set (which I later discovered was—of course—canceled because of the bad weather again) and blindly ventured in North Prato for the opening of Lottozero, a new space for contemporary textile design, brainchild of sisters curators Arianna and Tessa Moroder. When I left for a quiet dinner in Piazza Duomo with curator friends and dealer Guido Costa, a group of resilients laid down pillows for the Sleep Concert that would take place from midnight to 9 AM.

Sunday was the mass opening, with a mile-long line going around Pecci's spaceship: over twelve-thousand people eager to witness the End of the World. The last ones were admitted at 10 PM. In Prato it is clear that those who survive the many ends of the world are not the strongest, but the most patient. 

Left: MADRE director Andrea Viliani, MART director Gianfranco Maraniello, and dealer Alfonso Artiaco. Right: Collector Carlo Palli and composer Daniele Lombardi in front of Lombardi's “Musical door” at Villa Celle.

Left: MAN director Lorenzo Giusti and Gamec director Giacinto di Pietrantonio. Right: Art historian Cristina Acidini and curator Sergio Risaliti.

Left: Villa Celle curator Miranda Macphail with artist Hera Büyüktaşçıyan (center), artist Remo Salvadori (third from right) and guests. Right: Dealer Eduardo Secci and Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi director Arturo Galansino.

Left: Composer and artist Daniele Lombardi, artist Remo Salvadori, and collector Giuliano Gori. Right: Architect, artist, and critic Gianni Pettena and his installation.

Left: Dealers Matteo Boetti and Andrea Bizzarro. Right: Dealer Caterina Tognon, Pinacoteca Agnelli director Marcella Pralormo, and collector Giorgio Fasol.

Left: Centro Pecci directors Amnon Barzel, Antonella Soldaini, Bruno Corà, Fabio Cavallucci, Marco Bazzini, and Daniel Soutif. (Photo: Centro Pecci) Right: Artist Andrea Martinelli.

Left: Artist Francesco Bertelè. Right: Centro Pecci's first director Amnon Barzel and current Pecci director Fabio Cavallucci.