Vaults of Milan
a Workshop-City by Anna Castelli

December 13, 2016 Vaults of Milan No Comments

In the 2015 preface to his very well-known book Milan Since the Miracle: City, Culture and Identity, John Foot draws a parallel between the innovations brought in Milan by EXPO 2015 and what happened in the 1950s and 60s when the city became the centre of culture and innovation after the World Wars.

Whilst describing the city streamlined elegance somehow like a cat, a sexy creature that hides its soul behind the gates of its neighborhood, Foot also stresses its characteristic of being a place free to change without having to carry the heavy weight of history (a rarity in the Italian landscape); it is a scene of continual transformation where buildings, urban areas and open spaces are subject to cycles of high and low utilization and where entire districts most often find new uses.



“L’Inarchiviabile/The Unarchivable. Italia anni 70” installation views at FM Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea, Milan, 2016. Courtesy of the artists; and FM Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea, Milan. Photo: Alessandra Di Consoli


In the past months, through a series of exhibition, such as “Ennesima” at the Triennale Museum or “The Unarchivable” at FM Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea, Milan has been re-reading and re-interpreting the chapters of its history starting in the late 50’s and the early 60’s. The shows approach different aspects of the recent Italian art history, telling parallel stories and linking different episodes. More such exhibitions seem to be on their way as Marina Pugliese, Barbara Ferriani e Vicente Todolí are preparing “Environments” at Hangar Bicocca, an exhibition on Lucio Fontana, an artist that foreshadowed many of the movements such as Arte Povera, Conceptual Art, Land Art and Environmental Art.

But is it just a moment of critical review combined with a widespread survey of what it has been? Is it a kind of nostalgia, a sentimental bond with the past far more powerful that memory alone?

In the years of Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Bruno Munari, and Gruppo T, Milan was “workshop-city,” a vibrant landscape where groups of artists sharing an experimental approach came together to create a new future for art. It was the place where the most interesting design was developed and architecture built as well as art created. It represented a culture of general progress where it was possible to imagine collectively the future.



“Ennesima,” installation view at La Triennale di Milano, Milan, 2015. Courtesy of the artists; and La Triennale di Milano, Milan. Photo: Roberto Marossi


Following different dynamics, in the last 10 years, the city of Milan has been rethinking and developing its contemporary art map, expanding the variety of its formats and extending the geography of its borders. Milan carries the signs of an ever more visible change with new locations that aim to carry on historical and/or experimental research in the field of art: luxurious venues such as the Fondazione Prada, institutional places like the Museo del 900 as well as non-profit spaces with their programme of events, residencies, workshops and educational activities, alternative temporary and/or informal, sometimes domestic, art projects. All have contributed to creating a new landscape.

Despite global political and economic crises and its de-industrialization, looking at this map, Milan 50 years later is probably, on a national level, once again a workshop or laboratory that follows the dictate of a contemporary “modus operandi”; a home for fruitful exchanges, an observation point where stories from the past are re-told following a wish to have a strong impact on the present.

–Anna Castelli


Anna Castelli is an art researcher and producer. She holds an MA in Contemporary Art
Theory at Goldsmiths University, London, and a BA in Art History at Alma Mater Studiorum, University of Bologna. Since 2012, Anna has been working as Programmes’ Coordinator at Fondazione Antonio Ratti in Como working alongside young and established artists like Matt Mullican, Tacita Dean, Yvonne Rainer and Renée Green.


Cover image: Alberto Burri, Teatro Continuo, Sempione Park, Milan