Gaiole in Chianti is a village perched on top of a hill in the Tuscan wine region of Chianti. Dotted around the area are villas, small castles and vineyards, punctuated by olive trees and the rough vegetation typical of this part of the Italian countryside. It is a backdrop to Renaissance paintings and famous worldwide for its wines.
Gaiole in Chianti is home to the Castello di Ama winery, owned by husband and wife team Marco Pallanti and Lorenza Sebasti. Their winemaking adventure started in 1982, when Pallanti started working as an oenologist at the winery and met Sebasti, whose family owned part of the estate. The couple later took over the whole operation, completing a series of works to restore the vineyards, and buying up new land. Pallanti, who trained in Bordeaux, also regrafted over 50,000 vines, bringing in non-local varieties as well as introducing a new form of growing, called 'open lyre'. Thanks to these developments the Castello di Ama estate now produces 300,000 bottles a year.
Although Castello di Ama wine has a reputation as some of the best of the area, the winery is also a fully-fledged art destination. Initially working with Galleria Continua, an art gallery in nearby San Gimignano, the couple have opened the doors of their property to contemporary artists, and over the last 16 years built a serious collection of 13 site-specific art installations by the likes of Michelangelo Pistoletto, Daniel Buren, Louise Bourgeois, Anish Kapoor and Hiroshi Sugimoto.
The pair dubbed the project Castello di Ama per l’Arte Contemporanea, inviting artists to spend time at the winery, explore its history and enjoy its wine, before working on something to leave behind. 'The number one ingredient is always the artists’ generosity,' says Sebasti. 'Then comes time. And the third I’d say is our passion. We don’t use the art, for us it’s something visceral, it’s like looking at ourselves in the mirror.'
Visitors to Ama are greeted by a composition of bright rocks by Cameroonian artist Pascale Marthine Tayou. Walking through the property they discover Carlos Garaicoa's Yo no quiero ver más a mis vecinos, a large-scale piece featuring reproductions of famous walls, from China’s Great Wall to the Berlin Wall. Daniel Buren has contributed a mirrored wall that frames the surrounding hills, creating an intimate but luminous room in one of the gardens. The two chapels on the property have been taken over by a light installation by Anish Kapoor and a sculptural installation by Hiroshi Sugimoto.
While all of the works are placed in conversation with the buildings and surrounding nature, some are fully integrated with the winery. Kendell Geers’ Revolution/Love neon installation and the late Chinese artist Chen Zhen’s La lumière intérieur du corps humain are placed in two cellars, amongst the wine barrels, in close conversation with the soul of the place.
Some of the art at Ama is tricky to get to. A statue by Louise Bourgeois, which the artist created for Ama in 2009, is located in an ancient water basin deep in the cellars. It is visible through a small hole in the floor and accessible only via a steep ladder.
The Bourgeois commission marked a pivotal moment for the couple. It introduced them to Philip Larratt-Smith, the Canadian art curator who was working with Bourgeois as literary archivist at the time. Larratt-Smith was later invited to write an essay on Ama’s art. The pair enlisted him as their curator at the end of 2015. Larratt-Smith now works closely with the couple to develop future art installations and introduce new artists to Ama.
'[Pallanti and Sebasti] see art in the way they see wine; something they are producing with a view to the long term, something that has to be handed down to the next generation,' says Larratt-Smith. 'There is a solidity and integrity to the process that to me has definitely informed the way they have approached and invited these artists to the project.'
'We are guardians, not owners,' says Sebasti. 'This is the way we approach things. This art is not personal or exclusive, it’s for the community, and for us it’s a great privilege, but we also feel the responsibility to share this privilege and transmit it so it can grow with time.'
Over the past few years, Pallanti and Sebasti have added other attractions, opening Il Ristoro di Ama, a 'winery with a kitchen' offering local wine paired with Tuscan dishes, and a series of suites in the Villa Ricucci, a 19th-century villa on the property. Furnishings by the Campana Brothers for Edra were introduced in the antique villa, part of an eclectic mix that reflects the spirit of the place.
Larratt-Smith suggests it’s important for visitors to experience the art at Ama at different times of the day; 'It’s quite changeable, it’s a living thing,' he says. It is crucial, he says, to look at art not in an institutional setting but in nature; 'where your brain is thinking in a different way and you look at art in a different way. I think that’s maybe rarer than it should be in contemporary life.'
Sebasti insists there is a definite logic to creating and keeping art in this environment. 'There is an analogy between this wine, as we intend it, and art as we intend it,' she says. 'Because, really, you can look for a masterpiece, but whether you achieve it or not, only time will tell.'
As originally featured in the July 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*208)