Vaults of Milan
Where the Artistic Languages Meet by Sara Dolfi Agostini
Contrary to popular perception of Milan as only the centre of the fashion industry, the city also boasts long-standing renown for experimentation and cross-pollination in the art field. Historically speaking, Milan was the birthplace of Futurism in 1909 and of Spatialism in 1947, respectively founded by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Lucio Fontana with the aim to go beyond traditional notions of time and space in painting. Today, many years later, the contemporary art institutions of Milan, both public and private, have mastered the city’s avant-garde tradition and vocation through a continuous exploration of the potential of contemporary art across all languages and media.
Among the public institutions, the Contemporary Art Pavilion (PAC) devoted to the most recent experimentations in the arts, has built ties with cinema, performance, science as well as politics, central to the work of artist Santiago Sierra, opening on March 29. “He is an extraordinary, versatile yet controversial artist who makes no compromises” explains Diego Sileo, Curator of the institution, who has invited Sierra to develop a new action for the exhibition.
“Philippe Parreno’s Playlist. Concerto di Mikhail Rudy per pianoforte e Marquees”. Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, 2016. Courtesy of Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan. Photo: Andrea Rossetti
Besides PAC, many private ventures have shaped the Milanese art scene, bringing ideas and vision. The Fondazione Prada started as early as 1993, with a basic yet substantial question: what is the purpose of a cultural institution today? “All these years we have tried to share possible answers with an even richer program since 2015 when we opened our permanent home,” says Project Director Astrid Welter, who supervised projects as diverse as artist-curated shows, archaeological exhibitions and film festivals at the Fondazione’s own cinema. One of the many focuses of attention at the moment is scientific knowledge, with installations by Michael Wang and Pamela Rosenkranz (respectively on view through April 9 and May 14).
As original as it may be for an art space, Pirelli HangarBicocca even has a “sound and music performance curator”, Pedro Rocha. “Since 2013 the Artistic Director Vicente Todolì has added sound to our exhibition program in order to create a dialogue between music and art” recalls Giovanna Amadasi, Head of Cultural and Institutional Programmes at the institution. From then on, the industrial architecture of Pirelli HangarBicocca has often turned into a stage for the joint work of artists and musicians, like Joan Jonas and Jason Moran, or Philippe Parreno and Michael Rudy. It will do so again on April 1, when the live concert ‘A Cuppa Tea with Trim’ will see a collaboration between artist Laure Prouvost and grime musician Trim within her exhibition, which is on view until April 9.
Jerome Bel, Shirtology (1997) performed at UOVO Performing Arts Festival, Milan, 2014. Photo: Lorenza Daverio
The very possibility to think in these terms is the outcome of a strong experimental attitude stemming from an array of experiences, two of which were born in 2003: UOVO Performing Arts Festival and Fondazione Nicola Trussardi. The former came from the realm of theatre, in a time when it was still a much more coded art form. Its founder Umberto Angelini, who was recently appointed Artistic Curator at Triennale Teatro dell’Arte in Milan, felt the need to attract new audiences and create a shared ground for participation. “Bringing to Milan musicians Antony and the Johnsons, choreographer Jérôme Bel or the cult movie series Cremaster Cycle by Matthew Barney, which we showed in a forgotten cinema d’essai, was a way to define new borders for contemporary art discourse,” he remembers.
Audacious incursions in hidden places and mixed media installations were also the signature model of the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, as an abrupt caravan by Elmgreen and Dragset sprang from the floor of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, paving the way for many new artistic revelations. “We wanted to introduce the idea of a moving museum for a nomadic art form, matching inaccessible places like the baroque Palazzo Litta or the former Mascheroni Barracks with daring artists such as Fischli & Weiss and Cyprien Gaillard,” says Massimiliano Gioni, Artistic Director of Fondazione Nicola Trussardi since its inception. New on its agenda is a collective show at Triennale Museum titled La Terra Inquieta and meant to investigate our time of crises and tragedies from the vantage point of art.
In a city where the drive to excel has never been stronger, art is unexpectedly one of its main engines.
—Sara Dolfi Agostini
Sara Dolfi Agostini is a curator and a writer specialised in contemporary art and photography. She is an Advisory Member of the photography board of Triennale Museum in Milan (2017) and has co-curated the public art project ArtLine Milano (2014-16). She is also a contributor of Sole 24 Ore (from 2008) and Klat Magazine (from 2013), co-writer of Collezionare Fotografia (Contrasto, 2010/14) and has published texts for Skira, Rorhof, Yard Press and Danilo Montanari Editore. Besides writing and curating, she is Professor of Contemporary Photography at the Fondazione Fotografia Modena (2016) and IAAD in Turin (2017).
Cover image: “Slight Agitation 2/4: Pamela Rosenkranz” Infection, 2017. Fondazione Prada, Milan. 9 February 2017 – 14 May 2017. Courtesy of Fondazione Prada. Photo: Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti.