Cold Spring is a picturesque village of 1,948 souls located in southeastern New York, on the Hudson River. A gazebo in the small square overlooking the waterfront where boats, once in a while, dock. Main Street as the main street. Tiny shops and cozy restaurants, porches and rocking-chairs. The quite life of a provincial village in autumn, with foliage in full bloom, crispy air combined to a sunny sky. No pollution. No noises. Gotham City far off.
On Saturday November 4, 2017, this idyllic village, which looks like tumbled out of a movie setting, or a glossy travel guide, spoke Italian. And welcomed Italians. To be precise, a sound portion of the Italian-American community in love with art. They have joyfully mixed with the Cold Spring citizens to attend a one-of-a-kind event that will be long remembered.
Michelangelo Pistoletto, one of the most iconic living artists of Arte Povera movement, was there for a special re-enactment of his performance Walking Sculpture (Scultura da Passeggio): a newspaper-covered sphere that the artist had rolled out on the streets of Turin in 1967, after arriving on a shiny red Fiat. The performance has been repeated many times and in many places over the last 50 years, from the Tate Modern to the Louvre, from Philadelphia to Cuba.
This year Pistoletto has chosen Cold Spring as location to roll one of his news-wrapped spheres, as Cold Spring is home to Magazzino Italian Art, a private warehouse art space, which Maecenas Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu have first envisioned and then given shape to just a few minutes away from Cold Spring center. An oasis where Italian contemporary art thrives and is also made available to the general public, Magazzino aims at widening public appreciation and education of Post-war and Contemporary Italian Art in the United States. “Arte Povera especially,” as Giorgio Spanu specifies before the performance took place, on Saturday.
Blossomed in Italy in the 1960s and 70s, the movement of Arte Povera — literally,
“Poor Art” — advocated going-back to very simple, humble, organic materials like everyday objects, rocks, rags, stones, wood, metal, etc. Among the artists who joined the artistic trend, Giovanni Anselmo, Alighiero Boetti, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Luciano Fabro, Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, Marisa Merz, Giuseppe Penone, Gilberto Zorio and of course Michelangelo Pistoletto — a list of names Magazzino Italian Art is very familiar with as it showcases an extraordinary assembly of artworks belonging to them all.
In the line of CIMA‘s mission to promote public appreciation and advance the study of modern and contemporary Italian art in the US and internationally, Olnick-Spanu’s goal to widespread Arte Povera in America is a legitimate, commendable and necessary initiative. Arte Povera is not only worth exploring as part of the Italian artistic heritage of the 20th Century. Arte Povera is extremely intriguing too — emotionally and intellectually. It lends itself well to playfulness. It ignites fantasy, stirs unpredicted associations and opens doors of imagination you’d never even thought could exist.
The re-enactment of Maestro Pistoletto’s performance in the center of the village has attracted a variety of attendants. People with some knowledge of Pistoletto’s work and interested in the Arte Povera movement in general — mostly Italians and Italian-Americans based in New York City. Americans who are learning that “Italian art” is not only Renaissance and Baroque, Michelangelo and Caravaggio, but also the 20th Century, with such masters as Mario Merz, Gilberto Zorio or Pistoletto himself. And locals of the Valley, attracted to Cold Spring by this unique, unconventional performance, and eager to know more about Magazzino.
After a brief speech from the Mayor of Cold Spring, who was visibly thrilled by such a colorful crowd of people gathered together in his town, Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu summarized the main steps of their adventure with Magazzino Italian Art and their relationship with Cold Spring.
“We first set foot in Cold Spring in 1995, and it was love at first sight”, said Spanu — and you can’t really say the opposite, considering the quiet beauty of the place, the utmost serenity it evokes.
Olnick and Spanu are actually at home in the Valley, and far from being new to fine arts. They have been collecting pieces for many years, and their country residence in Garrison, a few miles away from Cold Spring, is another space filled with artworks: each year since 2005, the couple have commissioned a contemporary Italian artist to stay there, get inspired by the amazing landscape and create a site-specific artwork for their property.
When it’s Pistoletto turn on the stage, he is welcomed by an ovation, to be repeated,
even louder and warmer, after he spoke. “We want to bring art out of the museums into the streets, to people. And to act. The sphere is a point of attraction. It’s a way to bring people together, and to act together”, says the 84-year-old artist.
Given contemporary art is not always so easily accessible to people, Pistoletto’s words resonate with meaning, and are also reminiscent of Olnick-Spanu’s very ambition: to build a bridge between art and people. To bring, and give, back to people.
Once the introductory remarks are over, and the sphere duly downloaded from the shiny red vintage Fiat parked before the gazebo, it is time to rock and roll — literally. Pistoletto pushes the giant ball down the street, and with him, everyone arrived at Cold Spring. Children and grown-ups alike. The sphere flounders from Main Street to West Street down to Market Street, with the participants cheering and laughing and trotting gaily. The sphere is then raised high like a collective trophy, whose value lies not so much in the object itself — actually built with perishable paper, ephemeral news — as to the moment shared. And it is indeed a special moment that is being conjured up. An hour or so stolen from the everyday and dedicated to the ludic, to playfulness. Wonder.
Pistoletto proves himself a generous, friendly and amiable character you would not expect from someone at his level — we often think, erroneously enough, that high-level people are unreachable and formal. He has a kind word for anyone approaching him, he signs autographs, poses for selfies, jokes and plays with children.
“Maestro, are you having fun?”, we ask him. “Ah well, I am always having fun”, he replies brightly. And we believe him. His eyes sparkle like a young boy’s. So does his smile.
And wonder goes on later at Magazzino Italian Art, which has opened its doors to the many visitors. Restyled and expanded by Spanish architect Miguel Quismondo, the 20,000-square-foot warehouse boasts a minimalist spirit: it enables the artworks to breathe and communicate with the landscape outdoors, which results also embedded indoor thanks to the big windowpanes alternating the white walls.
At the entrance, you are met by Italian Rags (Stracci Italiani), a reinterpretation of the tricolor Italian flag made of fabric shreds — could a welcome be more fitting?
Roaming around the halls you can enjoy other works by the Maestro, including his Quadri specchianti, mirrored paintings in which the visitor “steps into” the artistic space, and place their own body among the subjects of the work of art, like Adam and Eve (Adamo ed Eva). Then Luciano Fabro, with his Italy at Auction (Italia all’asta) featuring two maps of Italy, one straight up and the other upside down, both attached to a metal pole: the artist playing on the dual meaning of the word “asta” — i.e. the metal pole and the word for “auction” — winking at Italy as a commodified object.
Jan Kounellis is there too with his iconic worn-out shoes — a remainder that speaks to the condition of humanity on the stage of the world — and with his pieces in-between canvasses and sculptures.
One of Mario Merz’s renowned igloos pops up in the middle of another hall, and one of his Fibonacci sequences looks down from a wall of another one. Giulio Paolini is hosted with his Cupid and Psyche (Amore e Psiche), the artist’s interpretation of the legend as told by Apuleius in his Metamorphoses: underneath the image of an ancient Roman/Greek female figure, seven ribbons of colored fabric unfold, invade the physical space and reach the visitor, trespassing boundaries of time and space. Paolini is also there with his famous Mimesis — two plaster casts of the classical sculpture Hermes by Praxiteles, reproduced from the knees up, and placed one in front of the other — and with L’exil du cygnet, a poietic installation evoking the power of silence and creation.
Gilberto Zorio is on display with his famous Star (Stella), a large five-pointed metal star pierced by a javelin on the left side, and a lamp emanating light all around — in Zorio’s words “the star is a fantastic image, extremely energetic; it floats through space, like incandescent resistance and like a javelin.”
And more. Marco Bagnoli, with his massive Stars Revolving Around the Pole (Stelle ruotate al Polo), an extraordinary art-piece, a visual narration of the revolution of the stars over the course of a day. Remo Salvadori, Liquid Lens (Lente Liquida), a large glass-made vase filled to the brim with water: the object, synthesizing container and contained, resonates with the vibrations from the visitor’s steps as well as with light changes.
Magazzino does not overlook the outdoors either. In the courtyard the educated visitor won’t miss Giuseppe Penone’s Fingernail and Marble (Unghia e marmo) a glass fingernail connected to a block of white marble, a link between the internal and external world.
Accessing Magazzino Italian Art collection is like stepping into a book of Italian contemporary art — a book with living images, no captions. If one is familiar with the featured artists, they will feel at home. If they are not, they will be doubly lucky: the experience they are about to go through will be an unforgettable journey through the realm of imagination they will want to replicate over and over.