“Castelli in Aria”

THE FORTRESS OF CASTEL SANT'ELMO, built in Angevin times and enlarged during the sixteenth century, is located on the hilltop of the Vomero, next to the extraordinary monument of the Certosa di San Martino. When you get there you feel as if you've climbed over the clouds. From its many terraces and windows the fortress offers precisely the spellbinding view of the bay that comes to mind when one thinks of Naples. The title “Castelli in Aria: Arte a Napoli di Fine Millennio” (Castles in the air: Art in Naples at the end of the millennium), not only points to the somewhat surreal site of the museum, but says something about the intentions of its curators, who are evidently aware of how ambitious they are in putting on a show like this—one that tries to conjure visions. With it, Nicola Spinosa, head of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Artistici e Storici, and Angela Tecce, chief curator of Castel Sant'Elmo, inaugurate in the ancient castle both a new cycle of temporary exhibitions of contemporary art—far more systematic than those sometimes held here in the past—and a working lab for Italian and foreign artists. This is no easy task, given limited financial resources, but one they arc determined to pursue.

Naturally, Spinosa and Tecce have decided to start with a show presenting art that has been either produced or simply admired here during the last decade or so. To this end, they have worked in close cooperation with local galleries such as Alfonso Artiaco, Dina Carola, Framart Studio, Lia Rumma, Raucci/Santamaria Scognamiglio & Teano, Studio Morra, Studio Trisorio, Theoretical Events, and Vera Vita Gioia. Especially because public institutions have enjoyed only spotty support, dealers have played an essential role in fostering the visual arts in Naples, acting not only as entrepreneurs but as cultural critics, informing the public and kindling the taste of collectors.

The show brings together more than fifty works (paintings, sculptures, photographs, videos, and mixed-media installations) by established artists as well as by lesser-known figures, including younger artists whose reputation so far is mainly local. While recognizing the contributions of such familiar names as Anselm Kiefer, Haim Steinbach, Jannis Kounellis, John Baldessari, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Mimmo Paladino, Nino Longobardi, Sol LeWitt, Urs Lüthi, and Vettor Pisani, the exhibition also honors the undertakings of Berry Bee, Franco Scognamiglio, Mariangela Levita, Marisa Albanese, Paolo Berardinelli, Perino & Vele, Raffaella Mariniello, the team of Quartapittura, and others. The artworks, dispersed among spacious rooms, open passages, and intimate alcoves, are allowed their own autonomy even as they form an ensemble, and they often reveal unexpected forms of kinship—as if you were turning the pages of some still unwritten history of Neapolitan taste in contemporary art.

Finally, the show pays special tribute in memory of three charismatic individuals who contributed to that history: Carlo Alfano, a Neapolitan artist thoroughly engaged in exploring issues of representation and identity; Lucio Amelio, whose pioneering gallery led the way in launching new artists since the 1960s (Amelio is represented by Andy Warhol's 1975 portrait of him); and Gino De Dominicis, who, though based in Rome, visited Naples often and left, with the works he exhibited here, an indelible trace of his passage.

Gabriele Guercio