PRINT Summer 1998


the New School of Milan

MILAN IS EXPERIENCING a disheartening decline in institutional support for contemporary art. Nothing is happening: public spaces that once offered notable exhibitions and events are now underutilized or host survey shows of question— able quality. The city government does not seem inclined to muster the energy and resources to put Milan back on the map culturally, and the result is the banality and mediocrity one would expect of a provincial city.

But Italians are resourceful, and their inventiveness and initiative—in finding alternative uses for publicly funded spaces and creating private venues for viewing art—have made up for their institutions’ low profiles. In Milan, where publicly funded venues have not recently shown artists of international repute, various art conferences have brought Hans Haacke, Alfredo Jaar, Marina Abramović, Jimmie Durham, Pipilotti Rist, and others to lecture and give slide talks before large Milanese audiences, acquainting people with their work even in the absence of exhibition opportunities.

Roberto Pinto, an enterprising art critic, has organized many of these initiatives. He also convinced the Sports and Youth Councils (the Cultural Council turned down his request) to create Open Space, which was inaugurated in 1995 in a building facing the Piazza Duomo and is the only public space specifically dedicated to young artists. Its new season opened with “Wide City,” a show by Luca Vitone installed as an office disseminating information about foreigners in Milan. Vitone displayed pamphlets on cultural centers and restaurants and organized bus tours to various ethnic hubs around the city. This sort of installation is characteristic of Vitone’s work, which always attempts to give a sociopolitical context to the site in which he intervenes.

If the reception of the recent exhibition of Milanese artists’ work from the past decade at the Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea was mixed, “Generazione Media” (which means “middle generation” as well as “media generation”), at the Palazzo della Triennale, was an interesting survey of young artists working with new technology. Federico Tanzi-Mira, who shows at the Artra gallery, stood out among those who might be called neo-Conceptualists in Italy. Tanzi-Mira mixes clips from famous films with video sequences he has shot, creating a dialogue between the fictive and the real as he attempts to deconstruct the language of performance while creating his own narrative. Tanzi-Mira is an enterprising Milanese intellectual who has organized exhibitions and performances at a variety of venues, from Open Space to the foyer of the Teatro dell Arte; he tends to involve artists whose sensibility is close to his own, such as Marco Vaglieri and Francesco Voltolina.

Indeed, young artists are the only vital presence on the Milan art scene today, in part because of the adventurous policies of the private galleries that actively promote their work. Artra, Studio Casoli, and Rafaella Cortese—and more established galleries such as Emi Fontana and Claudia Gian Ferrari—are all dynamic spaces. Milan consequently draws artists from other Italian cities where the art market is less active. Enrica Borghi, for example—one of the few authentic Italian bad girls, who makes barbaric sculpture-clothing fabricated from recycled plastic—is from Novara; she now shows at Gian Ferrari. Botto & Bruno are from Turin, but their photographic collages of the urban periphery often appear at Milan’s Case d’Arte gallery or as enigmatic billboards around the city. Sabrina Sabato, a photographer from Naples, is yet another young artist who has been drawn to Milan by the vitality of its galleries.

The enterprising activity of the Milanese is not limited to private galleries; it can also be seen in the art schools. At the Accademia di Brera, whose alumni include Vanessa Beecroft and Miltos Manetas, instructor Diego Esposito has moved beyond traditional educational models, transforming his classroom into an exhibition space for his pupils and (at one time) opening it up to the public. With equal open—mindedness, Alberto Garutti has turned his painting course into a veritable wellspring of young talent by encouraging his students to pursue their own ideas. A number of his former students have gone on to become major contributors to the Milanese and Italian art world—for instance, Sara Ciraci, whose computerized reworkings of found photographs have attracted much attention, and Giuseppe Gabellone, who met with international success at the last Venice Biennale and, most recently, in a group show curated by Francesco Bonami at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York.

An artist and architect, Garutti himself always works with the environment in which he is showing, be it a neutral gallery space, where he inserts visual signals that refer to his autobiographical experience, or a public meeting place, which he transfigures or from which he allows history to reemerge. In a village in Tuscany, for example, he removed decades of architectural decoration and wall paintings from the facade of a small theater, restoring it to its original state. For Garutti, this project, undertaken with the approval of local officials, was a way of engaging with the townspeople and their memories of the site. It is perhaps this respect for others' histories that makes Garutti so attentive to his students’ work. In his classroom, he patiently showed me an enormous number of slides, the work of recent graduates and of students in their final year at the Accademia. Here, too, there were names already in the public eye, such as Simone Berti (who has made a video in which he uses his hand to shape the atmospheric dust visible in a beam of light) and Paola Pivi (who creates sculptures out of cookies and installs in small spaces large, unbearably hot and bright spotlights). Their work will he on view at Massimo de Carlo later this year.

Many current students have already shown adventurous work—often with a provocative focus on the body and on process—in group exhibitions organized by critics such as Giacinto Di Pietrantonio and Laura Cherubini. Irene Prinzivalli, for example, paints her canvases with parts of her body—her tongue here, a nipple there. Valerio Carruba makes paintings using the precise quantity of paint equal to his own body weight and ice sculptures made with the same quantity of water that is contained in his body. Roberto Cuoghi shows writings presented as wall posters or self—portraits, recording the consequences of existential choices he has made, such as letting his fingernails grow abnormally long and wearing eyeglasses that invert his view of the world.

The process that determines the work often becomes a challenge to the artist, a test of endurance. Michela Veneziano forced herself to create six hundred canvases using a wide variety of techniques; Luca Bianco constructed a structure in wood, the design of which was governed by the movements of his own body in action; Shirley Beretta created a miniature landscape on the floor with earth brought, bit by bit, from her native village, near Como; Anna Galtarossa constructed a well of plaster and bricks around herself and remained imprisoned while she discussed with other students ways in which she might break free. In other cases, the artwork, no matter how objectified in its construction, exists solely for the time span of its own deterioration. Such is the fate of work by Rossana Buremi, creator of a headless statue made out of chopped meat wrapped in sheets of cellophane, and Alessandra Bonomini, who has exhibited vase—shaped sculptures made of butter.

While public institutions don’t always deliver, they can sometimes be transformed, or at least circumvented. The cultural climate in Milan may not be attuned to the most advanced tendencies in the international art world, but as the initiatives from figures like Pinto and centers such as Open Space and the Accademia di Brera demonstrate, the will to make things happen is often all it takes.

Giorgio Verzotti is a regular contributor to Artforum.

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.



In the small town of Serre di Rapolano, near Siena, Vettor Pisani has created a permanent installation in and around an abandoned marble quarry. Pisani has always been drawn to hermetic ideas (he is fascinated by alchemy and anthroposophy, for example), and in this project he returns to many of the symbols—taken from sources ranging from Greek mythology to the Rosicrucian cosmology—that have figured in his work over the past thirty years.

Virginia Art Theatrum (Museo della Catastrofe), 1997–, is the result not only of Pisani’s eccentric vision, but of the personal commitment of Giuliana Setari, a Milanese collector known for her support of avant-garde artists, who bought the quarry and the surrounding buildings. This site, which Pisani discovered while visiting the town, struck the artist as uncanny: it was as if the universe of his imagination had been made real. The sheer walls of the quarry and the cypress trees that have managed to grow in the rocky valley recall Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead, 1880, an image that has long haunted the artist and whose motifs are frequently quoted in his drawings, photocollages, and installations. At the bottom of the quarry, Pisani noticed a water-filled space in the form of a broken cross. The shape, apparently cut by machine when the quarry was in use, is precisely the form around which all of his work is articulated, symbolizing for him the confrontation of opposites.

Beyond these coincidences, the abandoned quarry—a blasted hole in the midst of one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world—embodies, for Pisani, the concept of catastrophe, an event of destruction followed by rebirth. But the site is only part of this work in progress, begun more than a year ago. Pisani has created numerous installations, in and around an old house (once a home to the quarry workers), various outbuildings, and a garden. He has also rebuilt part of the interior and has designed the furniture for a meeting space, which was inaugurated last fall with a round-table discussion of Pisani’s work. In the future the house may incorporate a contemporary-art library.

In the Italian art world, this sort of large-scale project is unusual, and the fact that the artist plans to spend time here regularly, to remain in direct contact with visitors, is altogether unexpected. Pisani, who is, in many respects, an artist every bit as elitist as the esoteric disciplines he loves, has created a work that reaches out to the public on every level.

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.



Every July for the past eleven years, the Fondazione Antonio Ratti has hosted the Advanced Course in Visual Arts, an intensive program for young artists, in a former church in the lakeside resort of Como. The foundation—the beneficiary of a leading textiles manufacturer—was created in 1985 to promote technical research on fabric production and has also established (in cooperation with New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art) a center for the restoration of antique textiles and an archive. The visual arts course originally catered to students in their first years at art school and until relatively recently offered a traditional fine-arts curriculum centered on figure drawing.

Since 1995, the course has evolved into a concentrated seminar open only to highly motivated students and run each year by a different visiting professor of international stature. Thus far, Joseph Kosuth, John Armleder, and Allan Kaprow have served as heads; Hamish Fulton will take the helm this summer. The shift to a less traditional curriculum reflects a deliberate choice on the part of director Annie Ratti, curators Angela Vettese and Giacinto di Pietrantonio, and coordinator Anna Daneri. Their efforts have made the program unique in Italy. While the course runs for only three weeks, it allows students intensive contact with an artist of international renown, is free of charge, and concludes with an exhibition of the students’ work.

GIORGIO VERZOTTI: What is the goal of the Advanced Course in Visual Arts?

ANNIE RATTI: The goal is to offer graduating art school students the opportunity to meet with an internationally renowned artist, as well as with other young people from all over the world, and to become acquainted with creative practices other than those traditionally taught in school. When I left the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and entered the art world, I didn’t have the tools to understand what was happening or to negotiate it. The Advanced Course in Visual Arts was developed in part to fill this need.

ANGELA VETTESE: The course attempts to offer the students a curriculum on the same level as a master’s program—to provide a postgraduate course in contemporary art, which otherwise does not exist in Italy. The curriculum is divided into three areas: lessons taught by the curators; lectures by invited art critics, curators, philosophers, and artists; and a seminar run by the visiting professor, who has a great deal of freedom in terms of what and how to teach. Each year the program sponsors a solo exhibition by the visiting professor, and during the seminar the students participate in the mounting of that show on every level, from conception to technical issues.

GIACINTO DI PIETRANTONIO: At the end we hold a group show of the students’ work, first on our premises and then at other spaces, usually in Milan. We also publish a catalogue that documents the students’ activity and the visiting professor’s show. The catalogue also includes some of the visiting artist’s writings, essays by the curators, and a transcript of the course lectures. I should also mention that our alumni include a number of artists who are now meeting with success, even on an international level, such as Giuseppe Gabellone, Mario Milizia, and Simone Berti.

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.