Milan is known for its treasures being tucked away behind iron-clad doors. That's why a new exhibition sponsored by Acqua di Parma comes as a particularly refreshing satisfaction. Entitled 'I'll be There Forever: The Sense of Classic' and curated by art critic Cloe Piccoli, the show features seven site-specific installations by seven Italian artists on the piano nobile of Palazzo Cusani.
Currently occupied and managed by Italy's national army, the 17th-century former residence is just one of Milan's many iconic buildings, with their stuccoed ceiling and magnificent marquetry, of which the public rarely catches sight. Piccoli, who was tapped by Acqua di Parma, chose the building for its very specific baroque mood.
'When I thought about locations for this exhibit I immediately knew I didn't want a white box,' says Piccoli. 'I love the contrast between the artworks that are super contemporary and the context that is very antique.'
Piccoli cherry picked her seven favourite Italian artists - Rosa Barba, Massimo Bartolini, Simone Berti, Alberto Garutti, Armin Linke, Diego Perrone and Paola Pivi - and asked them to reconsider classicism.
'In Italy, wherever you go, there are classic references,' Piccoli observes. 'As an artist, you really can't get away from it. So I asked each artist "What do you think about classicism today?" Diego Perone replied, "Please, let's not have a column show."' And in fact, it's not.
Indeed, large-scale film screens, new paintings, slick photographs and conceptual installations all mingle with the palazzo's pastel frescoes, its ornate trimming and gilded mirrors, creating a new playground of grandeur. Architectural studio Kuhen Malvezzi conceived the exhibition's design, covering walls with fabrics produced by the Venetian company Rubelli.
As expected, much of the artworks' classicism is little more than a mere allusion. Diego Perrone employed the antique technique of sculpture but applied it to massive hunks of colored and stamped transparent glass. 'The pieces have the weight and volume of sculpture but at the same time they're very ambiguous,' Piccoli remarks.
Alberto Garutti's lamp, which hangs from a richly stuccuoed ceiling, has its electrical current linked to a meteorological centre miles from Milan. Whenever a thunderstorm occurs anywhere in the country, the lamp illuminates itself. 'We're the first spectators of a cosmic event,' Piccoli enthuses. 'I love this!'