Bare trees and the white snow piled here and there unevenly. Winter is coming to an end and the sun melts the ice. The paths to the Sardinian donkeys are impossible to walk on with city shoes. If the rolling Hudson Valley is naturally uneven on the outside, the art inside is deliberately uneven: Arte Povera, Italian art from the 1960s onward.
A visit to the Magazzino Italian Art in Cold Spring begins like this: moving past the white morning light and into the stark, bare, even brutalist construction of the museum. Roughly 20,000 square feet of light-filled exhibition space, designed by Miguel Quismondo, a Spanish architect, enriched at the moment by works by Pistoletto, Gorgoni, Boetti, Fabro, Marisa and Mario Merz, Kounellis, Anselmo, Penone, Zorio, Calzolari, and Paolini. Many are the visitors who braved the train trip from New York to arrive in Cold Spring, welcomed by the museum shuttle to get to the Magazzino — or who live nearby, and are happy that such a cultural center exists among the activities of the Hudson Valley.
“The community has welcomed us enthusiastically,” Vittorio Calabrese, executive director of Magazzino Italian Art, tells us, “We have invested first in the community, where many artists live and there are many centers, such as the Garrison Art Center and the Dia. All of our activities are made public, our videos are available online, we do cultural diplomacy because we present a modern Italy that people often don’t know about — a different country than the one they already know.”
The center was founded in 2017, Calabrese tells us, by Giorgio Spanu and Nancy Olnick. Spanu was supposed to be a veterinarian, but Sardinia felt too small for him, and from Iglesias he flew to Paris and from there to New York. Nancy, the daughter of New York construction magnate Robert Olnick, grew up in New York, but Manhattan was a tight fit for her, and she dreamed of Italy. The two met over a bottle of Italian wine and never left each other. They went to live in Garrison, on the advice of friends Massimo and Lella Vignelli, built an all-glass house there, with trees that are so much a part of the inner landscape, art that is part of the outer landscape, raised their children there, and eventually decided to give back to the community. She was a collector of American abstract expressionism, he of modern art, from Paul Klee to Jean Dubuffet, and together they fell in love with arte povera: they discovered it at the Rivoli Castle near Turin and started collecting it. Even large, imposing pieces that could no longer fit in the house, they filled a warehouse, then they decided to open the warehouse to the public.
They bought an old, disused warehouse ha first served as storage for agricultural products, then milk, then computers, and entrusted it to their Spanish architect friend. He was to make it an oasis, an Eden complete with dwarf donkeys to fascinate children. And the child-like spirit that lives within our souls. Admission is free, the café too, and a new space will open in September dedicated to modern art, where there will be an Italian café, a center for K-12 children’s classes, a bookstore, and a lecture hall, Calabrese explains. “The demand is there. In the beginning, this was a wager: to engage in cultural activity in Cold Spring, an hour from New York. We won it, people come, and do so even with the snow.” How do you fund yourselves; we ask. “Since 2018, we have been a foundation and have begun fundraising activities. We are working hard to increase financial support both in terms of membership and corporate partnerships.”
The Robert Olnick Pavilion, dedicated to Nancy’s father and designed by Spanish architects Alberto Campo Baeza and Miguel Quismondo, will open after 20 months of construction. Inaugurating the new 1,200-square-meter space will be two exhibitions. The first will be on Mario Schifano, curated by Alberto Salvadori and organized in collaboration with the Mario Schifano Archive, will present 70 works, including a core of works never before exhibited to the public. The second will be on Carlo Scarpa, curated by Marino Barovier, and will present an extraordinary selection of Murano glass designed by the artist and belonging to the Olnick Spanu Collection. Finally, the exhibition of works by Ettore Spalletti, curated by the Ettore Spalletti Foundation, Benedetta Spalletti and Alberto Salvadori.
In the original halls meanwhile, the fifth edition of spring lectures entitled “Arte Povera: Artistic Tradition and Transatlantic Dialogue” has begun. Curated by Roberta Minnucci, Magazzino’s Scholar-in-Residence for 2022-23, the meetings bring together some of Arte Povera‘s leading scholars. The first, “Material Dispersions: Sculpture and Photography in Postwar Italy,” featured a talk by Marin R. Sullivan who analyzed how there was a dependence of sculpture upon photography to document — and in many cases preserve — the memory of works that increasingly used unconventional, often perishable materials, exhibited in alternative exhibition spaces. Upcoming events will be with Roberta Minnucci, “Casting the Past: Arte Povera and Classical Sculpture” (April 1st), Laura Petican, “Arte Povera and the Baroque: The Evolution of National Identity” (April 15th), and Raffaele Bedarida, “Between Cultural Diplomacy and Counterculture: Eugenio Battisti, Alan Solomon, and the Exhibition Young Italians in 1968” (April 30th).
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