MiArt made it, Milan thanks its unique collection of private art institutions

Stefano Pirovano  -  April 4, 2017

The four-day-long contemporary art week in Milan confirms that the city is living a state of grace and it is rapidly gaining a firmer foothold in the international art arena. Like in 2016, roughly 45.000 visited MiArt, that is to say almost half of the visitors generally attending the world’s top art fairs in New York, London, Paris or Basel. But if you take into account the many high standard off-site exhibitions in town, which are the real news, and if you add to the bill the 600.000 visitors Milan is welcoming this week for the Salone del Mobile, the data looks very different from what it may seem – most of the above mentioned exhibitions will also be open during the Salone, and shows in private galleries, too.

MiArt’s detractors could also argue that most of the top galleries still don’t take part to the fair, but we would reply that it is not affecting the quality of the event at all. On the contrary, we think that this is becoming one of its strenght, as at the moment only a few other cities in the world – namely Los Angeles, Chicago, Sao Paulo, and Berlin – are giving an alternative to the main tricky cliché the contemporary art giants mostly from US and UK have been imposing to collectors starting from the end of the WWII. As a matter of fact these two leading nuclear powers are still covering, together, almost 60% of the global art market, but China is growing fast and the post-Brexit EU may sooner than later become less prone to their cultural penetration.

Similarly, also another structural weakness of Milan, that is the lack of a public museum of contemporary art, turned out to be a strength, thanks to some high professional private collectors who decided to open their own art spaces. For instance, those many foreigners who attended the parties hosted last week by the Hangar Bicocca have likely enjoyed an exhibition space with enormous potential. Their current exhibition, a rigorous and comprehensive retrospective dedicated to Miroslaw Balka, is actually a rare opportunity to experience all of the monumental pieces created by the artist up to now, as well as two seminal large scale pieces by Fausto Melotti and Anselm Kiefer, which are on permanent exhibition and which are probably the biggest pieces produced by the two artists currently accessible to the public. Those detractors may complain about the fact that the Hangar Bicocca is located too far from the city centre, but we would argue that the outskirts of Milan are considerable nearer to down town than those of Paris or London.

Opened in Sepember 2015 the Fondazione Carriero is gaining more and more attention thanks to an inspiring location, that was originally designed by architect Gae Aulenti in a XV century building, and to a brilliant series of exhibitions dedicated both to established and emerging artists. The current one esquires a leading and mysterious personality of the Art Povera movement, Pino Pascali, who died in a motorcycle accident at the age of thirty-two, but whose work is still as expressive as the tribal masks he was fond of – now you may like to know that some of these currently on exhibition here belong to the collection of contemporary Berlin based art dealer Javier Peres.

Third and main private force in town is, needless to say, the Fondazione Prada, which is clearly taking the idea of art institution to a new still unknown level where visual art merges with cinema, dance, architecture, fashion and politics. Their new main tower will be completed soon, while these days their rich menu of exhibitions is including a film festival titled “The New American Cinema Torino 1967” which recreates the “New American Cinema Group Exposition”, originally conceived by theorist Jonas Mekas and involving major cultural personalities such as Roland Barthes, Julian Beck, Carmelo Bene, Luciano Berio, Judith Malina and Edoardo Sanguinetti.

Along with the Fondazione Trussardi – which unfortunately still doesn’t have a permanent location, but soon, next May, will open its ambitious new exhibition at La Triennale -, and after years of poor contemporary art exhibitions and professionals, these four leading private art institutions finally are following up with the tradition established by distinguished private collectors such as Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli, the Bagatti Valsecchi brothers, or by a private institution such as Cariplo bank, whose collection is now hosted at the Gallerie d’Italia museum, near La Scala theater. The top Milanese contemporary art galleries – Massimo de Carlo, Francesca Kaufmann, Zero… , Gio Marconi, Lia Rumma just to mention the most influential ones– have the right to be proud of their work, and look forward to the future with optimism and hope. But their mission will not be completed until Milan will also be able to attract artists and galleries from other countries, as Berlin brilliantly did in the last decade. Only a well established international art community will finally free the local art community from its unconscious dependency on UK and USA based galleries and institutions. That would be the key to create a new stable and independent European hub for contemporary culture.