Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Galleria Campari ... Go! Go! Go!

Super, super, super!

Go! Go! Go!...More......

That's my short and sweet message to you about the Galleria Campari, the company museum that celebrates its own history, present and future through an engaging look at their approach to marketing, advertising and PR (so it's great, even if you're not interested in sipping this tasty bitter-sweet aperitif, but only in beautiful graphics, this one by Nicolai Diulgheroff that not only promotes the product, but also, like any self-respecting piece of Futurist art, also celebrates the motion and machinery involved).

The guided visit first touches on the creation and successful sales of Campari liquors, the company's roles in the urban development of Sesto San Giovanni, today's HQ and the site of the museum, and Milan, including its historic presence -- still felt, even if the cafè is no longer directly owned by them -- in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Already interesting, now the real fun begins, as the visit uses integrated multi-media and imaginative interactive displays together with more traditional presentations of then avant-garde sketches and posters to create a path whose meaning is hinted at even in the change of floor coverings. In fact, one of the more enchanting things about the visit is this carefully planned total experience that even encourages you to explore what red -- the color of Campari bitter -- smells like. (I sure hope that this part of the display isn't temporary, just for Expo!)

There is also a shop, where you can buy some great Campari-related stuff.

One more reason to go: to give moral support to a company so historically dedicated to the arts. Not only were their advertising choices part of the push toward modern art, but they also support young contemporary artists. One wall of glass gives a day and night view of a featured work by an up and coming young artist, while the exterior of the wall around the perimeter of the HQ park (partially open to the public!) is dedicated to young graffitti artists invited to reinterpret historic Campari adverising graphics.

Thinking about becoming an expert bartender? They also have an onsite serious academy for bartenders. Next to it, there is also a restaurant about which I found nothing on the web site. I do hope it also has a bar, where one can go to taste the aperitif as it was meant to be. Curious? The website has a page for finding what they call "red bars" located the world over.

Drawbacks for the visit? Only one, and that one only apparently. Personally, I hate being forced to do much of anything, and guided tours are no exception, though if it's possible to choose them, I'm happy to do so. Yes, to see the collection -- housed in the company's HQ -- you have to go on a guided tour, which also means that you can't explore all the bells and whistles so intriguingly provided. On the other hand, there is no didactic info available, except for the image labels, and so you'd miss out on the magic world that is Campari without the guide. If you don't like being forced to do guided tours, either, it's worth your effort to get over the resentment, and do it.

To access the website (only in Italian, another drawback, but the info about opening hours should be clear enough, armed with a dictionary for the names of the days of the week), you have to be of drinking age in your own country. This might be the case for the visits, too; contact them, and ask, if you had thought to go with the kidlets in tow.

Galleria Campari

Via Antonio Gramsci, 161 - Sesto San Giovanni

T +39.02.62251 -- e-mail: galleria@campari.com

Cost: free

Tours in English: available upon request (you have to call/write an e-mail to reserve the tour, anyway, so it's no extra bother)

Hours: vary according to company plans (for example, they were expanded during Expo, though closed in August), so check out the web site, but when I went there were only three afternoon tours during the week, though there were five on Saturdays from mid-morning to early evening

How to get there from Milan

Take the MM1/red (!) line to the end-of-the-line, the Sesto San Giovanni stop. When you exit the metro, position yourself so that you have your back to the train station. Turn left, and go about one city block down via Antonio Gramsci to their HQ on the other side of the street. A portion of the late 19th-early 20th century façade has been preserved and nested into the modern building of red brick, a lovely architectural touch to soften the clean stark modern style with this traditional building material and integrate it better into the surrounding area.

BEWARE: (1) you need to pay for a ticket with a supplement for Zone 1, because Sesto San Giovanni is outside Milan's city limits. Besides it being the honest thing to do (riding the public transport system without paying, or without paying the supplements, is stealing from the city, and that means from me, too), you risk a hefty fine, (2) until it is updated, do NOT trust the "how to get there" info on the ATM web site, which doesn't offer via Gramsci in Sesto San Giovanni as an option in "GiroMilano," but will send you -- ahem, sent me -- to the opposite site of the city...to a deserted area near the freeway...on a blistering hot day....


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Villa Clerici - Gallery of Sacred Contemporary Art

Like contemporary Christian sacred art, let's say from the 1950s to now? Like early 18th century architecture and frescoes, or just nosey, and want to see how the rich and aristocratic lived in that day? You're in luck, but it will take a minimum of effort since it's a bit out of the way. Easy to get to, though, but more about the practicalities, later.

If you see this, you're not lost. The street doesn't look very promising, but it's the right one, and soon...


(Impatient type? skip to the bottom for the practicalities!)

... you'll be seeing this, Villa Clerici, built in the 1720s and 1730s for Giorgio Clerici having probably been designed by Francesco Croce, the architect responsible for the principal pinnacle (with the figure of the Madonnina) of Milan's Duomo. It was enlarged and decorated for Antonio Giorgio Clerici (1715-1768). From the 1920s, it served as a halfway house for ex-convicts to adjust to free life, and other adjacent buildings raised in the 1950s still help troubled kids. Creating a museum of sacred art by inserting modern and contemporary pieces into this historic context was the 1950s brainchild of Dandolo Bellini.

The grand salon, redone complete with mirrors in the 19th century, is still beautifully decorated in 17th century style, and has a large 1968 bronze sculpture of "a pope" by Floriano Bodini.

It looks like Paul VI, a personal friend of the founder, and is a bit disquieting and ominous with those boring eyes and, bursting out of the gap in his cope, those enormous rubbery hands and a dove. Catholics the world over please forgive me, but it looks like a threateningly enormous deranged cuckoo clock.

Some of the pieces are interesting in and of themselves for their references to famous sacred figures, to Biblical figures and narratives, for having been done by well-known artists, for the possibility to study them up close and personal, for their intriguing nature, or for the possibility of comparing them in your mind to more famous pieces (like this "Pietà" by Attilio Selva that screams out references to Michelangelo's "Rondanini Pietà," in Milan since the 1950s,...

...or the little "David" by Francesco Messina contrasted with the Renaissance ones by Donatello and Verrocchio).

There's even an installation, which I liked -- a lot -- the moment I set eyes on it: "Christus Patiens" (Suffering Christ) by Claudio Bonomi. The rich colors are not only pleasing, but they also evoke the purple vestments and hangings that are used for mourning in Catholic churches, while the reclining figure of Christ, coming, it seems to me, from a Deposition, seems to float on the mystical lap of Mary, and it's possible to observe the iconographical suffering caused by the wound in Christ's side together with the physical suffering of the sculpture, itself, damaged, exposing the inner structure of the broken hand.

Other objects are interesting because, as sketches, they give you a backstage glance at what the artist was trying to achieve. (Often, the painted or sculpted sketch, freer in execution, is much more lively and engaging than the final product.) There are quite a few large original colored drawings done by the artist Aldo Carpi, responsible also for some of the modern stained glass windows in the Duomo. It's interesting to see how the artist skillfully kept the technicalities of producing stained glass in mind as he designed where to put the struts and the canes (these latter being the "H"-shaped bars into which the glass pieces are fit).

Over the grand entryway is a lovely room with fictive sculptures of female figures, perhaps the muses or at least learning and the arts (I saw an artist and a writer, for example). Don't try going through the door on your left...it's fake. Symmetry is everything. Do note, though, that the shadows cast by the 'sculptures' were planned keeping the natural light entering from the windows on our right in mind. Very clever, but not new in the history of art.

Some of the ceilings are still quite pretty.

The front and back gardens were put in by Mr. Bellini to replace the lost original ones, but they, too, were most probably in the Italian style, that is, geometrically laid out, as opposed to the English style favoring a seemingly natural, though really carefully planned, environment. Behind the villa is a large theatrical setting that would make open air theater a joy...if one could stand the heat and mosquitoes.

Admittedly, the museum is a bit old and dusty in its layout, but real museum and art fans won't let that bother them. It also was as hot as Hades the day I went, and the lack of summertime AC means that there are a lot of enormous jumps in temps and humidity levels that are dangerous for the building's decor and many of the more delicate art pieces. It was my first time there, so I can't say if it is heated in the winter, but I can say that -- as is typical of, I'd wager, most Italian public places, including museums -- it isn't handicapped accessible. No bar, not even a vending machine (though they might be considering such, given the items on the questionnaire), but the bathrooms are clean, and it's pretty easy to get to, though it does take a gouge out of your day.

So, is it worth it to go? Yes, if you are interested in 18th century villas and/or modern and contemporary art, sacred or not.

If you live in, or near, the area, they apparently have a lively music and conference program throughout the year, too.


Via Terrugia 8/14

02.647.0066 / 02.6611.8036

Hours: Monday - Saturday from 2:30 to 18:30 PM, no reservations required

Entry fee: E 2.50


Get yourself to the via Terruggia stop in "downtown Niguarda" (Niguarda being a peripheral area absorbed by the expansion of Milan, it still has quite a provincial small town feel to it, despite the large and famous "Novecento" style hospital.) From downtown, it might take about 45 minutes.

To do this, you can take the MM3 / yellow line to Macciachini, then the n.4 tram to NIGUARDA CENTRO (NOT Niguarda Ospedale), get off, and walk in the same direction you just came for about three streets, then turn left onto Terruggia.

You can also take the MM5 / lilac line to Ca'Granda (another name for the hospital, which substituted the Renaissance hospital of that same name, whose buildings now serve as the main seat for the State University of Milan), where you need to take the bus n. 42, and get off at the via Terruggia stop.

Alternatively, you can take the MM5 / lilac line to Bicocca, then take the 52 bus to the stop via Terruggia / via Val di Ledro.


Friday, August 7, 2015

Fondazione Prada...stimulating AND open in August

Used to be that Milan pretty much closed down during August, but now that more and more people are staying in town, for one reason or another (read: the economy still hasn't picked back up sufficiently for people to afford long vacations like they used to take), they need something to do. ...More......

The exhibit space Fondazione Prada, open all through the month of August except a couple of days here and there, is an interesting solution.

Set up in a turn-of-the-last-century ex-distillerie ("Cavallino bianco," an Italian whiskey, one of the guards told me), it features the permament modern and contemporary art collections of Prada, as well as temporary exhibits and sometimes even film cycles.

I'm not a big fan of modern and contemporary art, but, like yucky-tasting medicine, it has to be taken in, and sometimes it even turns out to be tastier than one thought. In any case, something is gained.

Like my re-realization that familiarity goes a long way to helping us/me accept something. Now, while I don't particularly LIKE this (blue) Yves Klein (1957) or this (white furry) Pietro Manzoni (1962), I am used to the latter's shennanigans, and the former, for all its "what-the-heck-is-that?-ness," is still painted by the hand of the artist, is painting-sized, resembles a bas-relief sculpture, and is hanging on the wall, as one expects well-behaved art to do in a museum. I realized that this is why, when I walked into the room, I didn't roll my eyes (well, at the blue one, at least).

For similar reasons, my eyes didn't roll (much) when I walked into this room. Whether I liked, or understood, the paintings and sculptures hanging on the walls, they were doing what I expected paintings and sculptures to do, and I even recognized the work of some of the artists, since I had seen things of theirs before. Familiarity.

All of which I certainly can't say for what are called "installations" (for the less artsy, these are manipulations of the viewers total experience that can take place through various means: space, objects traditional and non, whether crafted or found, smells, colored lights, light and dark, music, video, tactile experiences,...). This one called "Creek bed" (2014-2015) by Robert Gober did make me roll my eyes, I confess, but trying to find SOME meaning, significance, or at least a raison d’être (even if it was purposefully nonsensical), in the piece even for my skeptical brain, I did find something. What looks like an ordinary street drain in the center of the room has on its shallow bottom small rocks, running water and a red illuminated fake human heart. All that for expressing trashed feelings that still pulse. And you know what? The more I think about it, the more I like it. In another room that he blanketed with eery wallpaper verging on the disgusting, the same artist actually did an untitled piece that I liked, perhaps for the clean colors and lines: an old white crib with a child-sized (probably not coincidental) slab of beeswax flanked by fake Granny Smith apples. (Why Granny Smith, and not Pink Lady? Maybe he was making a reference to his granny, named Smith. Maybe he just liked the gorgeous green against the white. Maybe it had another meaning for him, but has different meanings for each of us. This, in fact, is one of the things to absorb about art in all its forms that has emerged with the less evident subject matter often characterizing modern and contemporary art.)

Nearby is Louise Bourgeois' 1996 "Cell" that seems to invite viewers to enter, but the guard says "no," and must be obeyed. One could spend time contemplating, of course, and find something (there was, in fact, a touching quote about anxiety that can be seen through one of the windows on the other side), but I didn't see anything new, here, in this collection of "found objects" (a practice dating already from the beginning of the 20th century), nor in Gober's nearby gigantic cream-of-wheat Warlhol-esque box.

And here's the conundrum: placing so much emphasis on the new, the unique, or the startling, backfires. After the first one, it's already vacuous doldrums repetition (which, OK, was part of Warhol's point, but once he did it, it had been done, and was no longer startling). "Well," I hear the modern and contemporary art fans fuss, "what about all those 'Madonna and Child' paintings done throughout the centuries?!" Yeah, so what about them?! They weren't trying to be altogether new and different.

I fear that a lot of modern and contemporary art is between a rock and a hard place: no longer interested in repeating tradition (and who says they should?!), but making boringly repetitive attempts at being non-repetitive.

Cosmos at least bless those who put places to sit in museums.

There were some pieces that caused me to roll my eyes. I don't remember seeing a label for this one, though, so maybe it's not an artwork, after all, but a hidden support for video equipment. Seriously. On the long side toward the windows, it looked like there was a kind of flap that could be let down. Maybe the artist intended it to generate sounds when someone entered the room. Who knows?

In the area that the Fondazione calls "The Podium," there was an interesting (temporary) look at, guess what, copies and repetition in antique art. The absent originals, about which we know thanks only to then-contemporary citations, are nicely evoked in very blurry life-sized black and white prints laid flat on very low podiums near to the various copies gathered from important museums all over the world, such as the Vatican, in Naples and the Getty, just to name the three that come first to mind. For those who haven't studied this aspect of ancient art, nor the fact that it often was quite colorful, this temporary exhibit will be an eye-opener. For those of use who have, the beauty of the antique pieces restores the soul.

So, I dutifully waded through the modern and contemporary art bits (missed one of the temporary exhibits because I already had reclaimed my bag, and, with heat strong enough to, as the Italians say, break paving stones in two, I was not going to trudge back to the cloakroom to re-consign my voluminous bag), salved my soul with the ancient bits, and then rested and restored the body in the cute little cafè that, they tell me, is open until 10 P.M.

So, should you go? Yes, of course. Is it far away and hard to get to? Not particularly. Is it costly? No, it's within the norm. Challenge yourself, even if your eyes get lots of exercise rolling. It's my experience that sometimes the things that made you roll your eyes the most burrow the deepest into your soul, and toss up interesting thoughts, like a mole digging a burrow.

And the mere familiarity will help you, too.

Fondazione Prada
Largo Isarco 2 (just on the south side of the rail tracks at Piazza Lodi TIBB), Milano
tel. 02.5666.2612

Hours: every day from 10 AM to 9 PM (ticket counter closes at 8 PM); cafè closes at 10 PM; call ahead for special closing days (like the 15th of August, for example)

Cost: regular ticket E. 10 (some discounts available)

How to get there:

(1) MM3/yellow line, get off at Piazza Lodi and walk, or take the 79 (for the bus, go to the stop at the beginning of the overpass in the southerly direction, and take the 79 in the direction of Gratasoglio for about 7 stops to Largo Isarco; for the return, the stop is practically in front of the Fondazione's entrance in via Brembo, take the 79 in the direction of the MM3 Lodi/TIBB)

(2) Instead, you could take the 24 tram heading south, and get off at Via Lorenzini, which Brembo becomes in the other direction

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