“Europa Oggi”

Most visitors to Prato, a largely industrial town approximately 11 miles from Florence, don’t come for art, although there are classical works here that would be worth the trip. But now Prato, which is one of the richest cities in Italy, wants to polish its image—which has always been overshadowed by Florence in matters of art—with the opening of the Luigi Pecci Center for Contemporary Art. The initiative for this museum came from one of the leading industrialists of the city, Enrico Pecci, who died several months before the opening; he dedicated the building and its surroundings to his deceased son, Luigi. Although Pecci was not himself a collector, he wanted to contribute to the fundamental esthetic education of the people of Prato. Thus, there arose a collaboration between Pecci and the city administration to erect and maintain this museum, a unique concept for a museum in Italy. Whereas there are private collections for contemporary art in Italy presently open to the public, and numerous cities have active exhibition programs in contemporary art, Italian museums have never been able to keep up with the rate of production of living artists: their acquisition programs have lagged behind. Here, community interests have been met by private financial backing from a group of local industrialists. The museum has not only rooms for changing exhibitions and a slowly growing collection, but also an amphitheater, a center for information and documentation, and an education and events department. While the education department is limiting its work to schoolchildren, the information center has a wider scope, one that was established even before the founding of the museum; it will function as a center for the study and research of recent art.

At the opening press conference, Amnon Barzel, the artistic director of the museum, defended the construction of a center for recent art. One sees that this defense is necessary just by looking at the building: if it weren’t for the shed roofs, which allow natural light into the galleries, a visitor could mistake the Center for one of the many factory buildings of the area. This wrong impression is immediately corrected on the second floor, where the actual galleries can be found. Ten 40-by-40 foot rooms are connected in a U shape, giving the viewer the feeling of an open, luxurious space. The shape of several rooms can be changed by movable walls, but these rooms dead-end, and the visitor must return through them to exit.

The opening exhibition, “Europa oggi” (Europe now), with its 33 artists from John Armleder to Gilberto Zorio, demonstrated no curatorial thesis. Rather than making a strong statement, it offered the viewer a plausible selection of contemporary European artists; rather than illuminating affinities between artists and specific works, it presented a casual meeting of individual works, or, as in the case of Tony Cragg and Enzo Cucchi, of groups of smaller works. Barzel produced an anthology of several generations—from the “elders” (Joseph Beuys, Mario Merz, Jannis Kounellis, and Gerhard Richter) to the “youngers” (Rob Scholte, Jiri Georg Dokoupil, and Thomas Schütte). In this exhibition, abundance meant an abundance of energies and concepts; we were not presented with an unlimited potpourri, as in the grand international exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale. But the Center succeeded in attracting the members of this year’s inter- national art tour, just concluding their stay in Venice. This is not a bad start for the Center, which will have the enormous task of gaining for itself an audience that has not had the prior opportunity to educate itself about contemporary art.

Ingrid Rein

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.