Vittorio Calabrese
in conversation with Andrea Baccin


Magazzino Italian Art

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(AB)   Hello Vittorio, I would like you to first tell us about the new MAGAZZINO spaces, recently opened a few miles from New York. According to what needs, assumptions and purposes was this place designed and set up?

(Vittorio Calabrese):
Magazzino means “warehouse” In Italian, and it is an art warehouse that hosts selected works from the Olnick Spanu Collection. The Collection—founded by Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu—comprises over 400 works of Italian art, and Magazzino’s mission is to open a dialogue around the exhibited works through collateral programs.
Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu started collecting Italian Art in the early ‘90s, and, three years ago, they commissioned the project for a new warehouse art space in Cold Spring—an hour away from New York City—to the Spanish architect Miguel Quismondo. The magnificent result is a 20,000 square-foot structure, articulated in eight galleries, with a central courtyard that represents an Italian “piazza” and acts as a centrifugal force allowing each gallery to pour out onto it from various angles. It serves as the cohesive element that unifies and connects the journey through the space, all the while granting a break in one’s line of vision.
The building was designed in order to facilitate the large-scale works typical of the conceptual art movements of the 1960s and 1970s in Italy. Owing to the nature of the artworks it was not plausible for the founders to exhibit their works in any domestic environment. Magazzino is well-suited to display these because of its high ceilings, referencing the nature of the facility itself as a ‘storage’ for monumental works.
As Nancy and Giorgio began studying and collecting, they felt the need for Italian art to be exhibited in the U.S. Even though Italian artists have been exhibited in art galleries throughout the years, both in Italy and abroad, there still remains a lack of representation at an institutional level. This is especially true for the Arte Povera generation of artists.
With Magazzino, we really want to try to fill the gap in terms of representation of Italian art at an institutional level, as well as to stimulate a conversation about what Contemporary Italian art is.
Magazzino is not a museum, but a private initiative that aims to share unique artworks with the public. Its mission is to give visitors the possibility of deepening their knowledge of these art movements. With this goal in mind, we also built an extensive library with over 5000 publications on Italian art.
We want Magazzino to be an educational facility, where students, researchers and anyone interested to learn more can find materials and inspiration.

(AB)   The opening exhibition Margherita Stein: Rebel With a Cause is a tribute to Margherita Stein, a central figure of the international scene that in the 1960s gave a significant impulse and a specific context to the Arte Povera research. Can you tell us about the coincidence of interest with Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu’s collection, which features over 400 works of artists associated with that historic moment?

Let me just clarify one thing: Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu own a collection of more than 400 works of Italian art, not Arte Povera, but without any doubt the conceptual art movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s in Italy represent the core of the collection and the focus of our inaugural exhibition Margherita Stein: Rebel With a Cause.
Nancy and Giorgio never met Margherita Stein, but they got to know her through the works in her collection, and through several trips to Italy. At the time—we’re speaking about 30 years ago—they were focused mainly on Murano Glass. They had been visiting Italy a lot, going to all the vetrerie, and eventually, upon a suggestion by their friend, the late gallerist Sauro Bocchi, they ended up in Castello di Rivoli, where they were first acquainted with what we define as Arte Povera.
Slowly, they started researching the works and came upon the figure of Margherita Stein—at the time Christian Stein. If we want to try to make a comparison between Nancy, Giorgio, and Margherita, what they really have in common is the relationship with the artists. Margherita Stein developed an extremely personal relationship with each of the artists that she supported since day one. Let’s think about Boetti: she gave him his first solo exhibition in 1967, and she acquired the entire exhibition. She was a mentor and patron for the artists—she was a gallerist and a collector, and almost had a maternal approach to them.
The approach to which Nancy and Giorgio have been collecting for many years is actually extremely personal as well. They developed friendships with the artists, especially through the Art Program – a residency program for Italian Contemporary artists. Furthermore, through Magazzino’s inaugural exhibition, I truly feel that they capitalized on the relationships and friendships that they created with the estates of the artists, the archives, and of course, the artists themselves.
Margherita Stein always spoke about the artists as “her” artists, and Nancy and Giorgio do the exact same thing; there is a sort of rigore in the way they collect. They always try to get the most representative pieces, never failing to consider the relationship with all the other works in the collection; no piece is overlooked or under-looked—there is always a deep level of research.
Like Margherita Stein, the founders are fully devoted to art. Mrs. Stein opened her gallery without any experience, constantly trying to place the works of her artists in the best collections, the best museums in Italy, and eventually, in the U.S.
To exhibit her artists in the United States was her last wish, and Nancy and Giorgio hope to fulfill her dream. They’re bringing to the U.S. the best of Italian Post-war art, as well as looking to the future, keeping a close eye on the Contemporary art scene.

(AB)   Germano Celant said “in 1964 the Americans took over the Venice Biennale [with reference to the Golden Lion assigned to Robert Rauschenberg, Ed.] but for me Turin was at the center of the world!” The Sixties thus saw a clear separation between two cultures, two attitudes, two different impulses that saw on the one hand Pop Art dominating the Art Biennial of that year and, on the other, a more radical attitude aimed at overthrowing the system, represented by Arte Povera. How can these two attitudes be read and explained today? And what does it mean today to bring the banner of Italian art and Arte Povera to the U.S.?

This is a great question because the two souls of Magazzino are Italian and American at the same time, and they really lived and were active in the late ‘60s; I’m speaking of Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu.
Nancy, American, was collecting American Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism before getting into Italian art. Pop Art was a contemporary but juxtaposed movement to Arte Povera, the two movements were opposite reactions to the ongoing political and sociological transformations at the time. On the other hand, Giorgio Spanu was collecting European Modern art, by masters such as Paul Klee and Jean Dubuffet.
Keeping alive this conversation between Italy and the U.S. is at the base of what we’re doing.
Throughout the works in the collection, you can see how much those artists were looking at the U.S.—but through very different eyes. There was an almost complete refusal of Pop Art. It’s amazing to see this at Magazzino: how from opposite sides of the ocean, Italians and Americans were dealing with the same issues. The world was changing, as it is changing right now. It was extremely important to open Magazzino and to look back at Arte Povera in this specific historical moment. In fact, the political, social and economical circumstances today are much closer to that period than ever, and creating a conversation now that looks back at those generations of artists, and their way of dealing with the consequences of their time, is almost mandatory. Magazzino’s inaugural exhibition is meant to bring this to fore.
Dedicating the show to Margherita Stein, and titling the exhibition Margherita Stein: Rebel With a Cause, was necessary. The creation of a new, individual language—free from any social, political, academic constraints—is at the base of what we are doing, and is also the base of Nancy and Giorgio’s approach to art and to life.

(AB)   The focus on Italian art, even stated in the name MAGAZZINO Italian Art, seems even more significant in a system where Italian artists are rarely offered exhibitions. How will the scheduling work?

When we decided to pick the name for our space, it was really important for us to have an Italian word in it, but also to explain what we were trying to do. Of course Italian art is in Magazzino’s DNA, but at the same time, we’re an American organization. What we’re trying to do with Magazzino, as I’ve mentioned before, is to give the opportunity to visitors and researchers to see works which otherwise would have been impossible to be seen in an institutional context and, right now, even at a gallery level.
The artists of Magazzino’s first show are the most well-known artists of the Postwar period, but we will also show the latest generations of artists through our future programming. We’ve already started, as the last gallery of the inaugural exhibition is dedicated to Domenico Bianchi, Marco Bagnoli and Remo Salvadori, who embody the generation following Arte Povera represented by Stein.
The programming at Magazzino will be key to give exposure to artists that unfortunately are not represented by any gallery, and have a hard time being exhibited in the U.S. We would like to be part of a system – to create a network, to partner with other art institutions in order to exhibit those under-recognized artists. We aim to create an open language to show what Contemporary Italian art is, coming in with an open attitude toward collaborations.

Gilberto Zorio 
Giulio Paolini (Left) and Mario Merz (Right) 
Mario Merz (Center) and Jannis Kounellis (Left and right) 
Jannis Kounellis 
Giulio Paolini (Front Left) and Alighiero Boetti (Back left and right).  
Giovanni Anselmo (Left) and Alighiero Boetti (Right) 
Mario Merz 
Luciano Fabro 
Giulio Paolini 
Giulio Paolini (Center and right) and Mario Merz (Left) 
Luciano Fabro 
Luciano Fabro 
Giuseppe Penone 
Luciano Fabro (Hanging center), Michelangelo Pistoletto (Left and right) and Mario Merz (Left Floor) 
Luciano Fabro (Center and right) and Jannis Kounellis (Back Wall) 

(AB) Will you invite artists to work on the interior or exterior of the building? Will there be any site-specific works?

We already commissioned the first site-specific work on the building’s exterior, in the courtyard, to Remo Salvadori: Nel Momento/Magazzino. Made of 7 lead elements, and through a process of cutting and folding that discards nothing, the artist reveals the material’s potential. As the artist states, the work is a metaphor for the transformation that occurs when we direct our gaze upon ourselves.
The notion of site-specificity is extremely important for us. Magazzino is born from the Olnick Spanu Collection, as well as the experience of the Olnick Spanu Art Program, a residency that commissions site-specific works on the founders’ personal property. These installations were commissioned to artists representing the generation following Arte Povera up to contemporary artists. The program ran for over 10 years, with works created by Francesco Arena, Stefano Arienti, Domenico Bianchi, Massimo Bartolini, Mario Airò, and Paolo Canevari.

(AB) What will the future hold? Will you also involve new generations of Italian artists?

(VC): It is fundamental for us to open a window on Italian art. There’s an entire generation of artists living in New York right now whom we would love to partner with, create site-specific projects with, and to really support. We feel that this entire generation of Italian artists living in New York need a point of reference, and we would like to be that for them.
In a world that is much more global, we feel that it is necessary to highlight the diversity of what the Italian culture has to offer—we feel that now more than ever, it is important to partner and to create a system that helps promote this art, especially in the U.S.

Vittorio Calabrese is the director of Magazzino Italian Art



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