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Commitment to Art

Expect the unexpected at Gallerie d’Italia – Milano

A new exhibition of works – all of them recent acquisitions by Intesa Sanpaolo – promises an illuminating journey through contemporary painting and sculpture


A visit to the Gallerie d’Italia – Milano looks rather different this summer, with the opening of a temporary display called Una collezione inattesa. Viaggio nel contemporaneo tra pittura e scultura (An unexpected collection. A journey through contemporary painting and sculpture).

The display features more than 70 works. All of them are recent acquisitions by Intesa Sanpaolo and none of them has been exhibited at the banking group’s museum in Milan before.

According to Luca Massimo Barbero, associate curator of Intesa Sanpaolo’s collections of modern and contemporary art, the idea is for these works to “start a dialogue” with the pieces in the venue’s permanent exhibition, Cantiere del ’900. (The latter offers a selection of art from the 20th and 21st centuries that the bank owns, and is now viewed by visitors after they’ve walked through Una collezione inattesa.)

The display begins in the museum’s grand entrance hall with Jean Arp’s Femme Paysage (1966): a white marble sculpture whose sensuous, biomorphic form is typical of the artist. This appears in the mid of eight similar pieces by Italian sculptor Bruno De Toffoli. The juxtaposition exemplifies Intesa Sanpaolo’s aim to build a contemporary art collection rich in work not just by homegrown artists but international ones too.

De Toffoli was associated with Spatialism – a movement spearheaded after the Second World War by Lucio Fontana, another artist who is well represented in the new display.

A room devoted to Fontana includes a fine example of his famous Tagli (Cuts) series, Concetto spaziale, Attese (1965). The Tagli consist of monochrome canvases that Fontana slashed with a Stanley knife. The example on view at Gallerie d’Italia – Milano is red and boasts 12 slashes.

The Fontana room features work from the late 1940s, 50s and 60s, and includes several lesser-known works by the artist such as a set of hand-painted clay plates called Antica Savona.

“The title [of the display] alludes to the fact that visitors will see a new side to Intesa Sanpaolo’s art collection,” Barbero says. “It is ‘unexpected’ in that sense, but also in the sense that people will hopefully deepen their knowledge of artists and art movements they think they know already.”

We’re now at the stage where we can rely solely on Intesa Sanpaolo’s own collection, so rich and in-depth has it become – Luca Massimo Barbero, associate curator of Intesa Sanpaolo’s collections of modern and contemporary art

Fontana’s long-time friend Fausto Melotti is another artist who gets a gallery to himself. It includes 19 works that have never been shown publicly before – notable among which are four glazed ceramics from a series known as his Korai. These consist of enigmatic, hieratic female figures that hark back to Ancient Greece.

Built over the course of several decades, Intesa Sanpaolo has an art collection which numbers 35,000 pieces, ranging chronologically across millennia from archaeological objects to contemporary art. Highlights are shown at its four Gallerie d’Italia museums: in Milan, Naples, Vicenza and Turin.

“New additions to the collection help it to stay fresh and evolve, and help expand the story it’s telling,” says Barbero.

“A prime example was the donation of the Luigi and Peppino Agrati collection, one of the strongest holdings of contemporary art in private hands.” Brothers Luigi and Peppino Agrati were Lombard industrialists, the majority of whose art collection – including Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, Attese and Melotti’s four Korai – was donated to Intesa Sanpaolo in 2018.

Minimalist art from both Italy and the United States is also well represented in Una collezione inattesa. Work by the likes of Enrico Castellani and Robert Ryman features, as does Complex Form, a recently acquired sculpture from 1986 by Sol LeWitt. Painted white on plywood, it counts among that artist’s much-admired experiments with the pyramid form.

One of the final works on view is Abstraktes Bild (1984) by the German master Gerhard Richter. In its scintillating colour, this abstract painting contrasts markedly with the minimalist works on show before it.

Barbero is precise when it comes to terminology and prefers that Una collezione inattesa be referred to as a display rather than an exhibition. Why? Because the latter implies external collaboration, whereas the offering in Milan is drawn purely from the bank’s own holdings. 

The display forms part of Intesa Sanpaolo’s Progetto Cultura, a long-term initiative aimed at improving society through cultural enrichment alongside economic enrichment. Manifested in countless ventures across Italy involving music, cinema, art, theatre and more, Progetto Cultura has no equivalent among financial institutions in Europe.

“Una collezione inattesa marks an important moment for the Gallerie d’Italia,” Barbero says. “Where in the past we usually would have felt the need to include loans from outside institutions or collectors in any new show, we’re now at the stage where we can rely solely on Intesa Sanpaolo’s own collection, so rich and in-depth has it become.”

Una collezione inattesa. Viaggio nel contemporaneo tra pittura e scultura runs at the Gallerie d’Italia – Milano until 22 October 2023



Sanfilippo Antonio, Superficie 45C63, acrilico su lino, Collezione Intesa Sanpaolo
Melotti Fausto, Coppia, 1970 ca, ottone, Collezione Intesa Sanpaolo
Richter - Abstraktes Bild 00517



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