As earthquakes wreck Italy's cultural heritage and ordinary people lose their lives when bridges collapse over highways, The End of the World exhibition at the newly reopened Centro Pecci contemporary art centre hit home on November 1, a day so disturbingly warm that it felt like early June.
This was not my first visit to the iconic spaceship-esque edifice whose antenna reaches up into the cerulean Pratese skies, in search of inspiration from the gods or signals from a distant universe. Pecci had opened its revolving doors a few months back, putting out feelers, enticing architecture enthusiasts into its striking interior. At that time, devoid of content, it was the container that engaged me. The steps up to the first floor, a climb of anticipation, the corrugated metal ceiling dotted with portholes of light, the low oblong windows looking out at the world, the candid whiteness of it all: a canvas of nothing seeking something to say, crying out, “Use me!”
That cry has been answered. A startling exhibition of installation after installation, impactful and interactive, eclectic and enlightening, La Fine del Mondo (The End of the World) entertains everyone: couples, families, young kids, art lovers, folks at a loss of what to do on Ognissanti or on a rainy day in Prato.
First up is a gush of crap – foam and package tape – spewing from Pecci’s timeless ceiling, as in his Break-Through Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn sets the exasperated tone to the exhibition expertly curated by Pecci director Fabio Cavallucci. Our nerves are calmed by Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Seascapes, a series of photos that gaze out to the sea’s horizon, a sense of security amidst the mystery of our oceans. (For that same feeling of soothing enigma, venture to Castello di Ama to be mesmerized by Sugimoto’s Confession of Zero installation in the fine wine estate’s deconsecrated chapel.)
Twelve surprisingly muted sunset silk prints by Andy Warhol lead visitors unbeknownst into Henrique Oliveira's time tunnel, a step into a brick prefab turns into wooden hut, into stone dwellings, twisting and lowering, roughening and coarsening, until we are cast out into the light, the end of a tree trunk. (Or is it the beginning? Either way, kids love it.)
Disorientated, we wander to the end of the corridor. Behind a black curtain a familiar voice calls to us. “That’s Björk,” I say to my husband, a smile twitching at the corner of his mouth, an indication that he is beginning to be amused by the entertainment afforded by contemporary art on a religious holiday. The Icelandic singer-songwriter entrances onlookers in a haunting interpretation of “Black Lake”, barefoot yet clad in her now-predictable spacey plastic outfit, voice, soul, expression and gesture screaming out for a reaction (any reaction at all!) from an isolated volcanic landscape in Scandinavia. The video was commissioned by New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and it transports your psyche to some level of introspection, awakening your own inner scream to do something more.
Out of the dark and into the light again, a vast, high-ceilinged room of crystals and marble wall prints, into another of Brazilian video art accompanied on three walls by scientific scribblings by Rutherford and Rohr, the giants of atomic structure and quantum theory.
The End of the World (or rather the end of the exhibition) is nigh, but first you’ll have to pass by Lucio Fontana’s soul-searching slash on yellow, Pussy Riot’s hard-hitting video “I can’t breathe” and 99 wolves by Cai Guo-Qiang leaping into the air and smashing head-on into a glass wall.
One last leap of faith before the end: total whiteout – chairs, tennis racquet, sinks, books and picture frames – by Polish artist Robert Kusmirowski. Look into the mirror, examine your conscience, and – if you dare – strike a key on the piano before heading down the staircase thinking what the hell just happened.
La fine del mondo
Centro per l'arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci
Viale della Repubblica, 277, Prato
Until March 19, 2017
Open daily 11am-11pm, closed Mondays
Tickets cost 10 euro (concessions for Coop card holders, FAI members)