Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Art around us

Last Friday we had SIX ten year olds at our house, they played, they went on a walk (they told me that they saw the Italian version of BIG FOOT!), they ate, they ate, and they played some more. Finally, after much popcorn, chocolate, pizza, and a movie, they fell asleep. Just to wake up next day and do it all over again. Nicolas had a blast, and I think his friends had fun too. Parents started to show up to pick up the boys at about 11, and by 12, they were all gone!!!
What is a family to do, on a Saturday afternoon, after much play and not much sleep? Well, in my book, you can't just stay home! So I told my two men, about this beautiful villa in Varese. A villa like no other -I said- where there is art, and history, and architecture... The two of them were not convinced that this was a good idea, but I was able to change their minds... If only by using a little bit of pressure.
Well, I have heard that Villa Panza had a temporary exhibition by the fabulous Joseph Kosuth and I just had to see it. I have studied his work in college: conceptual art at its finest. Kosuth uses language as THE element of art, making you recontextualize your own notions of things. The word as a thing, or the word as a representation of a thing? His installations in this show (thirteen of them) are some of his finest. I have to confess that I did not know much more about the Villa, just the feeling that it had to be a wonderful place if they were showing the work of Joseph Kosuth. See, we live in the outskirts of Milan-we are a little blindsighted by it- and even though Varese is a city with history and culture, we did not know about this beautiful jewel amidst the old regular houses in town. We were looking elsewhere to find art, and all this time the Villa was just siting in the middle of its beautiful Italian garden, waiting for us.
Our first impresion of the place was one of awe. Here we were, in this beautiful historic house, where all the rooms remain furnished with antiques, and where the walls are covered with powerful works of minimalist art, collected over the years by Giuseppe Panza di Biumo. Today the villa belongs to the FAI (Fondo per l'ambiente Italiano) -proud members here- and it is a must see if you ever come this way!
The Panza collection is not limited to what you see in the Villa, most of it has been donated to major museums around the world, including our very own MOCA in Los Angeles, the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and others. What you see on the Villa includes works by Hubert Kiecol, Ruth Fredenthal, Robert Therrien, Phil Sims, David Simpson, Max Cole, Ettore Spalletti, Stuart Arends, Winston Roeth, Ford Beckman, and Julia Mangold. All of these minimalist artists work mainly with color (monochromatic), and the contrast between the rich architectural setting, the beautifuly crafted furniture and the works is stunning.
But the best part of our tour was yet to come, after visiting the villa, we headed towards the old stables and the carriage house where all the site specific works have been installed. Here we saw light art works by James Turrel, Maria Nordman and Robert Irwin as well as the largest collection of Dan Flavin's works outside the US. It is dificult to explain with words such a visual experience! We walked along a corridor leading to a series of rooms, each room a different exhibition, and the merging of them all into the corridor becoming another installation. I am talking about light, light flowing from fluorescent tubes installed inside the rooms, light in different colors, all merging and changing. I guess you have to be there to appreciate it! Nicolas loved the different installations, but his favorites were Turrel's skyspace -the very first skyspace that Turrell ever built for any collector or museum- and Maria nordman' room. The skyspace is a cubic room with a square opening on the ceiling, where you can see a patch of sky. The light coming into the room from above is enhanced by a fluorescent light inbeded at the base of the wall. When daylight is replaced by the night sky, the room changes and our perception of space is challenged. Nordman's room is a dark room cut by two slivers of vertical light filtering from two narrow and deep openings on the wall. When you walk inside this space, the light becomes an object in space, and your perception of it is very surprising.
Well, you can tell by now that I had fun. I know for a fact that Fernando and Nicolas enjoyed the visit too. We will be back soon.

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