A New Contemporary Art Museum Aims to Heal a City’s Wounds

L’AQUILA, Italy — On a current sunny morning, issues have been kicking into excessive gear within the Piazza Santa Maria Paganica, a sq. within the central Italian metropolis of L’Aquila. Assorted officers, their entourages, journalists, passers-by and museum workers mingled excitedly in entrance of a Baroque palazzo, which was about to be opened as Italy’s latest bastion of up to date artwork.

Yet throughout the piazza from the museum constructing’s cream-colored facade, which was gleaming after a decade-long restoration, the church that gave the sq. its identify introduced a sharp distinction. Though the outer partitions are nonetheless standing, Santa Maria Paganica is in ruins, with no roof and scaffolding offering scant safety from the weather to the nave and facet chapels.

“The Missing Poem Is the Poem,” by Maurizio Nannucci, on show at MAXXI L’Aquila.Credit…Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times“Colonna nel Vuoto, L’Aquila,” (Italian for “Column in the Void, L’Aquila”), a 2019 work by Ettore Spalletti, commissioned by the museum.Credit…Ettore Spalletti/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

Santa Maria Paganica, a church that’s nonetheless in ruins, is throughout the piazza from MAXXI L’Aquila.Credit…Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

These are the 2 faces of L’Aquila, 12 years after a highly effective earthquake shook the mountainous Abruzzo area, killing greater than 300 folks and leaving an estimated 65,000 homeless. Much of the harm was centered on this metropolis, the regional capital, and so many buildings had been destroyed, together with beloved historic monuments, that in the first place it appeared that town may by no means recuperate

The restoration and rebirth of the Palazzo Ardinghelli, which is able to home the modern artwork museum, known as MAXXI L’Aquila, tells the story of town’s resurgence. But it’s additionally a sign that tradition should play a basic function on the trail to full restoration, mentioned Giovanna Melandri, president of the MAXXI Foundation, which oversees the museum and its bigger sibling, MAXXI Rome. (MAXXI is an acronym from the Italian for National Museum for the Arts of the 21st Century.)

“We are not a showcase, alien to the city and its social, cultural and civil forces, but a meeting place, a place for exchanges and collaboration,” Melandri mentioned in a speech on the inauguration on May 28.

Earlier, on a tour of the constructing, Melandri mentioned that MAXXI L’Aquila would “become a laboratory of sorts,” as she strolled via the primary flooring of the palazzo, the place the museum’s first exhibition, “Point of Equilibrium,” was put in.

During the restoration of the 18th-century palazzo, which had additionally been rebuilt after one other devastating earthquake in 1703, museum officers determined to depart visible traces of the catastrophe, together with fragmented frescoes that have been broken when its ceilings collapsed.

One of the Palazzo Ardinghelli’s frescoes that was broken within the quake. MAXXI officers determined to depart visible traces of the catastrophe within the new museum.Credit…Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

Eight new works have been commissioned for the present, which additionally contains an assortment of “jewels,” as Melandri known as them, from MAXXI’s assortment in Rome, together with works by the Italians Maurizio Cattelan and Michelangelo Pistoletto, fashions by the Japanese architect Toyo Ito, and enormous mohair and silk tapestries by the South African artist William Kentridge.

These have been plucked from the museum’s everlasting collections, which include greater than 500 items from the 1960s to now. It showcases a who’s who of up to date Italian artwork, alongside overseas artists together with the Indian-born British sculptor Anish Kapoor, the German painter Gerhard Richter and the Argentine set up maker with a penchant for spiders, Tomás Saraceno.

The site-specific works commissioned for MAXXI L’Aquila have been all impressed, in their very own approach, by town and its historical past, and it was solely pure that a number of mirrored on the 2009 earthquake.

Elisabetta Benassi’s salt sculpture “La Città Sale” performs on the Italian phrase for salt and is a homage to the painter Umberto Boccioni’s 1910 work “The City Rises,” which channeled the vitality of Italy’s quickly increasing metropolises after the Industrial Revolution.

Benassi’s work — two blocky kinds resembling metropolis skylines, jacked up on supporting platforms — displays on the fragility of city environments, “which aspire to be something permanent, but then, in reality, they aren’t — because they can be swept away and destroyed,” she mentioned.

A mannequin by the Japanese architect Toyo Ito, from MAXXI’s everlasting assortment.Credit…Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times“La Città Sale,” a sculpture in salt by Elisabetta Benassi.Credit…Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times“L’Aquila,” a montage of 140 photographs of town by the photographer Paolo Pellegrin.Credit…Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

In 2018, to coincide with a retrospective of his work at MAXXI Rome, the Italian photographer Paolo Pellegrin was commissioned to take photos of L’Aquila. Two haunting coloration images and an association of 140 smaller photographs — black-and-white snaps of a nonetheless wounded metropolis, with its scaffolded facades, empty cobblestones and deserted flats — are put in in a single room on the palazzo.

“One of the ideas of this play between light and shadow was to create a sense of fracture and fragility,” Pellegrin mentioned by cellphone from his house in Geneva. The images additionally play on the “relationship between the city’s scars and the beauty that continues to exist in L’Aquila, even if it has been devastated,” he added.

Wearing a T-shirt that mentioned “Ask Me” in English and in Italian, Riccardo Rufini was one in all a number of college students from the Fine Arts Academy in L’Aquila who was serving to guests navigate the works. He had been assigned to clarify a piece by the Moscow-born artist Anastasia Potemkina: centered on a hydroponic tank with native wildflowers rising in it. The work “is about the city’s resilience,” he defined.

Rufini has change into particularly connected to the piece, he mentioned. Because the inauguration had been postponed twice when coronavirus instances spiked in Italy, Rufini took the plant house and taken care of it there.

“My name is on the project,” he mentioned proudly, pointing to the label on the wall.

 “Untitled” by Anastasia Potemkina options native wildflowers rising in a hydroponic tank.Credit…Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

The restoration of the palazzo was attainable, largely, thanks to the Russian authorities, which responded to a 2009 attraction by Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister on the time. He known as on nations to assist pay for the reconstruction of L’Aquila’s monuments and church buildings, and Russia coughed up seven million euros, about $eight.5 million; it was one in all solely a few nations that heeded the attraction.

After the earthquake, the dimensions of the devastation was daunting. Since then, stone by stone, and with funding and funding from a number of sources, town has slowly been re-emerging from the rubble.

But Dario Franceschini, the Italian tradition minister, mentioned that the state of the church of Santa Maria Paganica was a “sign that something isn’t working.”

The mayor of L’Aquila, Pierluigi Biondi, known as for a global competitors amongst architects and engineers to provide you with a plan for the restoration of the church. “There are still many things to do,” he mentioned.

Franceschini, the tradition minister, agreed. “Let’s unite the two sides of the piazza, and we will do something great for L’Aquila,” he mentioned.

Museum patrons looking on the church of Santa Maria Paganica on Sunday.Credit…Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times