Art worth the effort

On the trail of modern and contemporary art in Pistoia

Sarah Humphreys
June 7, 2012

Pistoia and the surrounding area are brimming with examples of modern and contemporary art. However, finding them requires a certain amount of effort and patience. Here, long-time English expatriate in Pistoia, Sarah Humphreys, offers an itinerary. 


To find Pistoia’s treasure-trove of contemporary art, the most obvious starting point is the Marino Marini Museum, a five-minute walk from the train station. Born in Pistoia in 1901, Marino Marini is certainly Pistoia’s best-known artist. Examples of Marini’s sculptures, paintings, drawings and portraits are housed in this three-story museum, including many female nudes inspired by the idea of Pomona, the Etruscan goddess of fertility. The metamorphosis of Marini’s equestrian figures, the emblem of his poetic expression, are also here.


Nearby are two contemporary art galleries. Galleria Vannucci has just celebrated its 50-year anniversary with an exhibition exclusively of Pistoia artists. This tasteful gallery holds myriad events such as poetry readings, conferences and concerts, especially during the Pistoia Blues Festival every July. Spazio A hosts one-artist exhibitions. 


Two of Pistoia’s contemporary artists are represented in the city’s historic centre. Roberto Barni’s Giro del Sole, situated in piazza dell’Ortaggio, consists of three life-size blindfolded figures carrying oil lamps. Gianni Ruffi’s Luna nel Pozzo, in piazza Giovanni XXIII, tends to cause extreme reactions: Is it a work of genius or a monument to rust?


The Dialysis Centre at the hospital holds a unique collection of contemporary works. Those in the garden include Gianni Ruffi’s bench formed by two overlapping crescent moons, a bronze arch by Robert Morris and a pavilion by Dani Karavan. From the garden, you can also catch a glimpse of the abstract mural by celebrated U.S. artist Sol Lewitt. The interior pieces include a Zen garden by Hidetoshi Nagasawa, which is open to the public on Sundays by reservation.


Pistoia’s contemporary art museum, in Palazzo Fabbroni, holds temporary exhibitions. The permanent collection, open to the public until June 3, is now closed, with no date  for reopening  yet announced. Housing various national and international artists, the museum dedicates most of its space to artists native to Pistoia, including Barni and Ruffi, abstract painters Mario Nigro and Gualtiero Nativi, and Agenore Fabbri, an avant-garde sculptor and painter born in Quarrata. 


Two works by Fernando Melani are also on display. Considered one of the most original local artists, he was initially a figurative artist, later heavily influenced by minimalism and arte povera. Portraits by local photographer Aurelio Amendola focus on several Tuscan artists plus Giorgio de Chirico and Andy Warhol. One drawback to this museum is that information is unavailable in English.


Unfortunately, most locals seem unaware of Casa Melani, Fernando Melani’s studio, which provides fascinating insight into the artist’s life, work and personality. A must-see for the curious art lover, this extraordinary house has been preserved exactly as Melani left it, with newspapers stacked along the stairs and piles of paintings on the sofa and leaning against the walls. Over 40 years of intense creativity are illustrated in more than 3,000 works, many of which are made from recycled materials like wire, nails, pencil shavings and bicycle parts. Visits are by appointment only and tours are available in English with advance notice.


Villa La Magia, in Quarrata, is well worth a visit. Informative guided tours, lasting approximately two hours, only take place every third Sunday of the month; prior reservation is necessary. Tours in English can be pre-booked for a minimum of 15 participants. Contemporary installations in the gardens include a walled mini-garden, Giardino Rovesciato, by Hidetoshi Nagasawa. Anne and Patrick Poirer’s contributions consist of two giant terracotta perfume burners (originally placed at the gates to welcome visitors with the scent of flowers from the gardens) and La Fabbrica della Memoria, a structure where one can contemplate hope, love, loneliness and other emotions inscribed on the walls. The collection also includes works by Fabrizio Corneli, Marco Bagnoli and Maurizio Nanucci. Inside the villa are several of Agenore Fabbri’s disturbing sculptures and a selection of his paintings. Also exhibited are paintings and drawings by Alfredo Fabbri, who lived in Barba, Quarrata. He used strong and aggressive colours to depict scenes of Pistoia, Florence, Montalbano and Maremma.


The park surrounding the Villa La Magia contains a fountain by the French artist Daniel Buren. This controversial installation has angered some locals, who believe it spoils the natural landscape. The fountain consists of six large marble panels, each one emitting water, placed in a hexagonal form surrounding a central fountain. Buren wanted the panels to ‘frame’ views of the countryside, woods and the villa itself. Accessible during park opening hours, the fountain is illuminated at night to exploit its colours.


The privately owned Fattoria di Celle (see TF 57 and 101) lies just outside Pistoia. Its extensive grounds accommodate a unique collection of more than 60 site-specific installations by such famous artists as Sol LeWitt, Alice Aycock and Richard Serra. The rather unwelcoming instructions on the website request that bookings be made three to four weeks in advance. The guided tour is described as strenuous, lasting four to five hours without breaks, and recommended only for serious art enthusiasts. However, to celebrate its 30th anniversary, the gates will be open to the public on June 16, 2012. It is certainly an occasion not to be missed!


Why is it so difficult to see so many of these works? Curators and guides seem to agree that the lack of marketing of these venues plays a major part, causing a small flow of visitors, which in turn leads to restricted opening hours. Economic factors certainly contribute to this equation. Another, almost romantic theory is that the Pistoiese are quite possessive of their treasures and not so willing to share them. Nevertheless, if you are prepared to make endless phone calls and wait weeks for e-mails to be answered, you will certainly enjoy several thought-provoking days in town and in Pistoia's enchanting countryside.



Museo Marino Marini

Corso Silvano Fedi 30, Pistoia


Galleria Vannucci

Via della Providenza 6, Pistoia



Spazio A 

Via Amati 13, Pistoia



Dialysis Centre

Piazza del Carmine, Pistoia



Palazzo Fabbroni

Via S. Andrea 18, Pistoia



Casa Melani

Corso Gramsci 159, Pistoia

By appointment only; tel. 0573/20190



Villa La Magia

Via Vecchia Fiorentina 1 Tronco, 63, Quarrata

By appointment only; bookings 0573/771213



Parco La Magia

Open every day 7am to 9pm


Fattoria di Celle

Via Montalese, Pistoia



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