PRINT Summer 1998


Casina Pompeiana

NAPLES, LIKE LOS ANGELES AND MEXICO CITY, has always existed in a state of postmodernity, a stratified agglomerate on the brink of natural catastrophe. The fact that the city sits geographically “under the volcano” has become a metaphor for its culture and its life. One lives there in constant expectation; anything can happen at any time. This is why Naples is simultaneously chaotic and a laboratory for the possible.

The Casina Pompeiana is a case in point. Artists Eugenio Giliberti and Nino Longobardi and filmmaker Mario Franco managed to convince the Municipality of Naples—specifically the “Assessorato all’Identità” (Identity office), perhaps the only government bureau in the world with such a Kafkaesque name—to entrust them with the management of an exhibition space in the center of the city. The program that has emerged since they took charge nine months ago has not been that of the usual artist-run space.

The physical space of the Casina Pompeiana is extraordinary. The building is a late-nineteenth-century structure erected to exhibit painted views of Pompeii. Hence, the name “Pompeiorama,” which still connotes the sensibility of a bygone era when German travelers in particular—including Wilhelm von Gloeden, a photographer who specialized in portraits of naked young boys as mythological fauns, Adolf von Hildebrandt, a sculptor and theoretician, and Nietzsche—sought the Mediterranean sun.

The intellectual space that Giliberti, Longobardi, and Franco envisioned the gallery occupying would link Neapolitan artists and the international community, particularly in discussions about “making art.” Which is why they also launched Melting Pot, a modest art journal. Twenty-six editions of Melting Pot have already been published. On occasion, the magazine becomes an extension of exhibitions at the Pompeiana, such as the recent issue devoted to Carlo Alfano, a Neapolitan conceptual artist who, before his death in 1990, was an inspiration for many among the city’s current generation of artists.

This year’s programming at the Casina Pompeiana has been called “two hundred days of contemporary art,” divided into five periods of forty days each. Running concurrently with the shows, a series of debates has featured artists, critics, philosophers, art dealers, and even political figures discussing the future of art, Naples, and the cultural, architectural, and artistic plans for the city. Between February and April, two artists, Sasa Giusto and Maurizio Colantuoni, installed a gym, a physical and metaphorical space for “fitness.” Several guest artists did performances in the gym. Currently, there is a two-person show featuring an installation by Raffaella Nappo, a local artist, and sculptures by German artist Stephan Huber. Clearly the German connection to the Casina Pompeiana is still alive.

Up next will be a group show entitled “Possono gli artisti pensare in grande?” (Can artists think large-scale?). The title is intentionally ambiguous, referring both to the physical scale of the work and the question of whether artists can play a larger social role. Obviously Giliberti, Longobardi, and Franco are proving that they can.

Marco Meneguzzo contributes regularly to Artforum.

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.