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Italy's Conservative Culture Don Vittorio Sgarbi in the News

JANNIS KOUNELLIS’S “EXCREMENTAL ART” REFUSED: Who would have ever thought that Jannis Kounellis would be lumped together with Piero Manzoni and Wim Delvoye, two deans of scatological aesthetics? That is precisely what Vittorio Sgarbi, Italy’s undersecretary of culture, has done, recently calling Kounellis’s exhibition at the Prato “excremental art.” Sgarbi, who is also seeking to have Robert Hughes appointed curator for the next Venice Bienniale, has refused an acquisitions proposal made by Nicola Spinosa, director of the Capodimonte Museum in Naples. Spinosa is seeking to expand the museum’s collection with works by Kounellis and Sol LeWitt. Kounellis’s installation—composed of oil placed closely together on the ground and realized in the early ’80s in Naples—was to be donated by the artist. Le Monde’s Geneviève Breerette reports on the scandal, while Catherine Bédarida takes stock of the growing opposition among Italian artists to the center-right government of Silvio Berlusconi.

In an interview with Salvatore Aloïse, Sgarbi, using highly charged language, called contemporary art a “dictatorship” and described himself as a liberator of art of the “ghetto”: “I regularly attack what I call the ‘art mafia,’ this fashion that means that the same artists are always being presented. I fight for minorities, I am for pluralism.” Just what is Sgarbi’s vision of pluralism? It seems that the Renaissance specialist and former television art critic has a penchant for still life, seascape, and landscape paintings, which he continued to sell on TV during his first months in office.

DESTRUCTIVE ART: Given his dislike of contemporary art, Vittorio Sgarbi probably would have enjoyed Michael Landy’s Break Down, 2001. For two weeks last year, the London-based artist destroyed all of his 7,226 possessions, including some works of contemporary art, at a vacant building on Oxford Street. More than 45,000 visitors turned up to watch Landy and his assistants transform his possessions into landfill. The Guardian’s Tim Cumming checks in with the artist as he prepares for The Man Who Destroyed Everything, a documentary film of the project that will be broadcast on Britain’s BBC4 arts channel next month. According to his former gallerist, Karsten Schubert, Landy blew his chances for a Turner Prize nomination last year by destroying the artworks he owned—what Turner jury members considered “an act of complete vandalism.” Despite the charge of vandalism, the São Paulo Bienal invited Landy to do it all over again next month. Alas, since Break Down knows no multiples, the artist will be presenting a series of drawings.