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Forget about antiques, Italy’s latest trend is contemporary art

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If you were to choose to spend your holidays anywhere in the sun-drenched Italian peninsula, you would almost surely not pick Turin.

Why would you choose this industrialised city near the Alps, over the everlasting beauties of Rome and Florence or a paradisiacal beach in Sardinia?

But pay attention for a little while yet: according to The New York Times, Turin is the only Italian city worthy of a visit in 2016.

In this year’s selection of 52 Places to Go, released on January 7th 2016, Turin competes against “ancient temples and crystalline waters” such as Cambodia’s Phnom Penh and the Caribbean's Guadeloupe.

According to the chart, even though Rome or Florence “are always exciting”, Turin was the only Italian city that made “compelling changes” in 2016.

In fact, the renovated Egyptian Museum and Palace of Venaria are not its only draws. The city has become the crucible of a rising contemporary art scene that develops across “fresh exhibition spaces”.

Since being nominated Italy’s first capital city in 1861, Turin has somehow changed the world. What would have iTunes been without the mp3 format? Ask the three natives of Turin who invented it.

It does not matter if Milan and Rome are now considered birthplaces of Italy’s fashion, cinema and TV. The country’s first fashion industries were born in Turin, as well as the RAI, the Italian public Broadcasting Company.

Finally, forget about Rome’s Cinecittà, symbol of Italian cinema’s golden age. Actually, this golden age was born in Turin by the end of the 19th century.

Following its historical tradition, this year Turin “made the cut” again. On April 8th the EU Commission named the city as second “European Capital of Innovation 2016” – just after Amsterdam – for its “open innovation models creating new market opportunities for urban innovations”.

In addition, also The Number 6, a luxury apartment building in the city centre, and the new Intesa SanPaolo’s skyscraper, designed by Renzo Piano, have won the prize “Building of the Year”, set by the magazine ArchDaily, both in 2015 and 2016.

Besides hosting both the Kappa Futur Festival and the Movement, two music festivals, Turin has become the Italian bulwark of contemporary art. Recalled by The New York Times, both Artissima and CAMERA, respectively the leading fair and market of contemporary art in Italy and the new Italian Centre of Photography are worthy of a tour.

Similarly, Turin boasts also a surprising museum: the MEF (Museo Ettore Fico).

Inspired by Ettore Fico, a niche Italian artist, this museum has made art accessible to Turin’s periphery too, without using any state funds. It stands in the heart of Turin’s regeneration area, ‘Spina 4’, next to the Docks Dora, a collection of former warehouses, now home to some of Turin’s most avant-garde artists. Rising out of the wreck of a former industrial wasteland, the museum was built with private donations, following the 40-year-old architect Alex Cepernich’s project.

In contrast with the museum’s total whiteness, the MEF welcomes the public with a black façade, “imagined just like a metaphorical monolith upon which visitors are free to imagine whatever they want”, explains Cepernich.

The MEF does not want to be just an artworks’ container, as the designer explains: “Light-cuts, massive spaces with view lines, perspectives and huge glass windows are essential to the visitors, who need to quickly understand where they are, having the opportunity of choosing the paths that better suit them.”

In Italy, Turin firstly detached from a single-industry model in favour of a global approach to our increasingly connecting world. Its most famous industrialists, such as Gianni Agnelli, FIAT’s patron, in fact, mostly succeeded in breathing new life into areas of Turin that were long ago abandoned. Lingotto’s metamorphosis from former headquarter of mechanical industries to glamorous venue of fairs such as the Turin International Book Fair, may describe best Turin’s progressive transformation.

This concept of “urban requalification” truly captures the essence of the MEF itself, which – according to the director Andrea Busto – is “a place where the visitor may experiment new possibilities, a melting pot in which classical, modern and performing art can co-exist together and even be enriched by photography and design.”

Walking around the museum, light effects are predominant: electric lights and sunlight are juxtaposed, stressing the colour effects of the artworks. As Cepernich confesses: “I was inspired by the 60s. The location is absolutely silent: thus, minimalism was the guideline for the material’s selection.” 

   

Lights are not the only elements studied in detail. Steel and cement, for example, in line with Spina 4’s underground style, are predominant, intentionally evoking the building’s past. Therefore, the MEF is a good example of the Italian architect Renzo Piano’s concept of “suburbs’ patching”, which aims to reassess the peripheries, both “future of the city” and “city of the future”.

Turin has already started an urban renewal that is leading to an “environmental benefit of city life”, according to a definition of Vince Kate, Life Sciences teacher at City of Medicine Academy. Last year, for example, the Green Building Council recently awarded the Intesa SanPaolo’s skyscraper as “Europe’s greenest skyscraper”.

Under this perspective, the MEF constantly attempts to involve local people to enhance the whole neighbourhood. As the journalist Brian Semple explains, in fact, community involvement plays a huge role in the “resurgence of metropolitan living”.

The museum has hugely impacted on Spina’s inhabitants. Federica Giardino, young student, was the first among her friends to see the museum as a new potential meeting point. “Somehow, the MEF seems to set the community’s dynamics,” she says.

Andrea Busto confirms: “Since the opening day, the area has recognized the presence of our institution. That makes me think that we are going in the right direction.” Therefore, the museum’s managing board has recently launched “Land”, a programme that promotes many local associations in Spina 4.

Beatrice Ramasco, member of the museum’s administrative committee, says: “I am proud of being part of a non-profit institution that aims to safeguard, enhance, and promote aspiring artists’ works. We hope to transmit both knowledge and lightness through our paintings and exhibitions.”

Besides the apparently limitless series of Fico’s paintings, always exhibited, over the span of two thousand square meters the MEF displays hundreds of pieces. From the 1900s avant-garde to the most recent trends, the museum explores the history of art’s most recent decades.

Over the years, the museum has appealed to a broad audience. According to the latest statistics, last year over 250,000 people and 3,500 children visited the MEF. Due to a mix of both efficiency and tight planning, the museum has no boundaries of sex, age or social background.

Suzanne Turner, former English teacher and self-defined “Londoner forever”, moved to Turin over 30 years ago. However, this is the first time she has visited the museum: “I don’t usually appreciate contemporary art, but photography, painting, sculpture and design are perfectly blended together here. Overall it’s like travelling across humans’ artistic expertise,” she says.

 

Another visitor, Elisabetta Gaschino, a 19-year-old student of Food Technology at the University of Turin, strongly agrees: “It’s astonishing to think that we are in Turin and not in any other European metropolis such as Berlin or London. I learnt much more about contemporary art here than at school,” she says, as she curiously admires the temporary exhibition of the French artist Florence Henri.

Just like this exhibition, realised through collaboration with the French National Gallery Jeu de Paume, most of the artworks displayed at the MEF come from partnerships between the MEF and many museums across the globe.

It is through places like the MEF that Turin has increasingly gained prominence abroad. Thus, it may be worth forgetting about Rome, Venice or Florence for a while. If you are thinking about it, keep in mind that even Friedrich Nietzsche thought so: “Turin, my friend, is a capital discovery. And the air: dry, energizing, cheerful … the first place where I can be!”




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