So last month I covered Lucio Fontana at Fondazione Magnani Rocca near Parma, Italy, but staying with the venue I wanted to focus on the wider enterprise and its rather extraordinary collection of art and its curatorial history, a true hidden gem so to speak.
To give some context, the Foundation itself was founded in 1977 at the Villa dei Capolavori (Villa of Masterpieces) in the frazione of Mamiano di Traversetolo. The Villa houses works by a diverse range of notables including Gentile da Fabriano, Filippo Lippi, Albrect Dürer, Tiziano, Rubens, Van Dyck and later modernist figures such as Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, and De Chirico. The collection boasts over fifty works by the Bolognese still life guru Giorgio Morandi, along with stunning sculptures by Canova and Bartolini. This alongside some outstanding, big name temporary shows in its varied and airy spaces, all of which have a decidedly more contemporary feel.
The foundation was based on the villa and collection of its founder and benefactor Luigi Magnani (1906-84). The collection and the discerning eye of the collector are evident throughout, there are some choice works in the exquisitely decorated palazzo, and the hits just keep on coming. As if one couldn’t be impressed by the extraordinary, near blinding detail of Durer’s engravings, I was left reeling by the glut of Morandi’s and legendary vision of De Chirico and Cezanne. So there we go, a great visit eh?
Well yes and errm, no. The single drawback of this fabulous collection is the complete absence of diversity in the present and the past. I say this mindful that most of the interns and staff of the venue appeared to be female, which only served to accentuate the fact that this collection, like many foundations, seems frozen in a more patriarchal and 'whiter', heterosexual, male-dominated time, i.e. the 1950’s-60’s. Of course it isn’t Magnani’s fault, he was a benefactor and social philanthropist with impeccable intentions and an equally informed eye, but perhaps there is a need to raise questions about the status and profile of the temporary exhibitions programme, which could set up some amazing, and more divergent dialogues with the permanent collection.
For example, over the past 20 years the temporary exhibitions programme has featured: Sutherland (2012), Warhol (2008), Modigliani (2021), Burri (2007), Monet to Boltanski (2006), Paul Delvaux (2013), Boccioni and Futurism (2009)… Cocteau, Mirò, Pasolini, Lichtenstein, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh, do I really need to go on? Not a female or black artist or designer in sight. Neuro-diverse maybe.
Now I appreciate the mission of the foundation and the fact that it is an absolutely incredible cultural oasis of huge historical importance and value within the region. It has absolutely my full support as a punter, but wouldn’t it be amazing to interrogate the collection through the lens not only of female curators (which they do have), but also to enable a reflection on the time of the collection and its evolving relationship to history and the contemporary? This is surely a way to keep the collection alive, relevant and vital as the potential audiences for art history continue to diminish globally. I also find it hard to believe that it is not within the financial or curatorial orbit of the museum to problematise the narratives around its own collection, I mean look at the life(style) and work of Morandi, which was only sustained by the sacrifice and care of his sisters, how about the relationship between more contemporary forms of the surreal in terms of conceptual games design, to the forms/visions of De Chirico. What if a diverse range artists/students from Milan or Parma or La Sapienza (Rome) or L’Aquila were invited to create works to intervene in the well-rehearsed narratives of the collection? It’s all curatorially up for grabs really and what’s to lose, but of course such ventures are not without risk; reputational and insurance notwithstanding.
I love this collection, the building, the gardens, the peacocks and the unique sense of history and legacy (plus a great restaurant), but I fear that the survival and future attendance revenues may wither on the vine without the elixir of change. I don’t say this lightly, no one was more surprised than I, as programmer of East Gallery in Norwich, England, found that an exhibition of games design and interactivity blew the roof off the gallery attendance numbers and reached out to entirely new audiences for the arts. What if Magnani Rocca allowed more interactive content. Just asking. The absence of diversity won’t stop me coming back, but of course I am a man of a certain age, and even as such I might feel fearful or disappointed.
In summary, a brilliant visit, a brilliant collection, great temporary shows, superb curatorial/art historical scholarship, but a lack of diversity. I would love to see a POC/LGBTQ+ take on the whole gig, just to shake it up a bit.