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'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.


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