Cold Spring, New York, could win a prize for Least Hampton-like Hamlet along the Hudson River. Mecca for kayakers, bikers, antique shop owners and transplanted New Yorkers who need a little distance from the city (an hour and a half by train), the picture-postcard town is poised to take on the Italian contemporary art scene. On June 28, Magazzino Italian Art, a 20,000 square foot former farmers’ warehouse—“magazzino” means warehouse—opened its doors.
The art center is the inspiration of Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu, who began collecting conceptual and contemporary Italian artists in the 1990s. When the couple lived in Rome, they became deeply interested in the 1960s uniquely Italian Arte Povera movement. Olnick and Spanu understood that this small—about a dozen or so—group of artists had greatly influenced the history of contemporary art. They began to collect exclusively Italian art from this period (along with another great passion, Murano glass.) In 2003, the couple founded an artist residency program in Garrison, NY where they have a home. The Olnick Spanu Art Program allows artists to create site-specific works, thereby continuously adding to the future of Italian contemporary art.
Broadening awareness of contemporary Italian art and the social setting under which this cultural movement developed is an important goal of Magazzino. “By fostering a discussion about Italian art,” commented Vittorio Calabrese, director of Magazzino, “we aim to undo its long neglect in the American institutional context.”
Right from the start, the art center is opening with a ground-breaking exhibit. Magazzino is paying homage to Margherita Stein, a leading advocate of the avant-garde Arte Povera movement that developed in the 1960s as a reaction against the technology and industrialization of postwar Italy. Their mission was to rescue Italians from the drab, mass-produced, consumerist world in which the country was beginning to drown. Life should be reconnected to art. Interaction with art is an original, personal experience.
The Arte Povera artists primarily worked with organic or recycled materials: wood, wool, old clothes, burlap bags—and large doses of irreverence, wit and satire. Piero Manzoni poked fun at the elite status of art by creating a series of red, white and blue balloons attached to a wooden base and inflated with his own breath (“Fiato d’Artista”). Alighiero Boetti, one of the most inventive members of the Arte Povera group, loved charts and classifications. He produced collages with letters mailed to himself, commissioned Afghan women to embroider his version of world maps and spent seven years researching the 1,000 longest rivers of the world, known to geographers as “the Boetti List”.
The term Arte Povera was coined in 1967 by Italian art historian, critic and independent art curator Germano Celant, still a highly visible member of the art world. (Celant was quoted recently as praising a German artist’s works at Art Basel in the Wall Street Journal.)