VILLA PANZA : A HOUSE FOR ART — GIUSEPPE PANZA’S HOME

BIUMO-VARESE (ITALY)

Things have a need of us in order to exist, or to feel that they exist, and, without us, remain in a state of waiting. And hence man feels an anxious uneasiness: the pressure in us of all that has not yet been and wishes to be ― of all the unknown that asks for its little moment of thought, seems to entreat us for existence, because everything has to go that way — and as if there were some joy in telling oneself that one has been ― when one is no longer.
André Gide, Reflections

 

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      Villa Panza and Robert Wilson A House for Giuseppe Panza, 2016

 Photo: Tenderini Fotografia  for FAI, Fondo Ambiente Italiano

I gasp with surprise when young artists or people who are not completely uninterested in contemporary art ask me: “who is Giuseppe Panza?” And I feel pedantic to correct: “He was.” I would be wrong. For the first time in this blog I say with no hesitation he was the greatest art collector of the last century. But because he gave his spirit and love, almost an act of faith, to an unrepeatable, awkward collection he started when Robert Morris, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Robert Rauschenberg, Douglas Huebler, Antony Tàpies, Franz Kline -and others now august members of art history- were still struggling for survival, Giuseppe Panza is the living mind giving trust and home to minimal and conceptual art pieces. His name and feelings will be with them, forever. They needed him in order to exist. With them he waited, thirty years sometimes, before recognition arrived. He filled with art his house and family life. He also happened to be perplexed, not sure, not able to understand at first sight. He took his time. With Robert Ryman and Brice Marden, for instance. Suddenly, after a year he realized that Marden’s paintings were very beautiful.

Paintings made with wax, a semitransparent material. I sensed the light going into the matter and being absorbed. A matter that seemed to absorb the viewer’s gaze. It was the beginning of a journey toward the unknown, hidden by penumbra and obscurity. It was seeing the power of the matter, a power impossible to define. If one considers matter as something final, it’s impossible to go beyond. Marden opened an endless possibility.
The same is happening in the most advanced scientific researches.” (G.P.)

I visited the villa one more time at the beginning of November, the last day Bob Wilson’s video Tales were in final testing before the opening. Guided by the FAI* responsible for the exhibition, Giovanni Giorgetti, I was struck by the attention he paid to Giuseppe Panza’s desires, not to violate the sacredness of his place, as if Panza were in his small studio, on the second floor, waiting to see the finished installation. Not a museum, despite the rotation of public events, still and more than ever VILLA PANZA is Giuseppe Panza’s house, where he left more than paintings and sculptures. He helped the artists to install their work, sometimes forcing them to reveal the emotional secret of their art. Dan Flavin, for whom Panza changed some angles between floor and walls, making them curved, or worked on the windows in order to perfect the sunlight’s reflexions, avoided talking to him, only speaking with his wife. The result is the most convincing and intense experience of Flavin’s art one can stumble into.

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Artists today pay homage to Giuseppe Panza with a sort of awe: they know his spirit is there. Bob Wilson gave him a new house, American style: a tiny church Shaker-style, painted with the same exterior colors of the old house. A place of intimacy in the park, for reading and listening to the silence as John Cage would.  So many spirits among us! Out of their bodies, they grow gigantic. The trees around the little house sing their mysterious cantico which is one with the movement of the air and the sound of birds. A blue light shines inside, on a book with no words, for a man with no body. A House for Giuseppe Panza by Bob Wilson, 2016, is an act of thanks, giving back to him what he gave to so many artists.

When nights are clear, in Biumo, I see a myriad of stars. Tiny luminous points in the endless immensity of the universe. I don’t feel lost in the night, I rather feel as if someone was there calling for me, making me confident. Life comes from the infinite void. A powerful life that attracts and absorbs every thing in herself. Do not know why this call is so strong. There is no theorem to justify it, nor a theory to prove it. I can only be sure that this call is stronger than any other. I am also a blade of grass lasting one season, like the ones gathered by Löhr **. (G.P.)

・・・

New York, April 1999.  I was in New York in the spring of 1999, when the trees start growing leaves and are full of flowers. I was staying with my wife on the 37th floor of the Essex House Hotel, Central Park South.
I was higher, much higher than the Madonnina of the Dome in Milan, the highest point of the city. Only a medium hight in New York… I came for the first time in 1954. … About half of my collection has been thought of, experienced and created in this city, the southern part, poor, in a range of a few miles. Ideally, my mind, emotions and thoughts were sharing the same life as the artists living there. I have been one of the first who discovered and loved them, among thousand who disappeared without traces left behind. Maybe I am the first who loved so much what they thought and felt, the first who wanted to have many of their art works. …
Although Rothko, Klein, Lichtenstein, Flavin, Judd, Huebler, Segal disappeared, their works live and re-live in us, still alive. Buying their art I gave my self into the soul of this city. (G.P.)

・・・

In my artistic choices I always had the future in mind, never the present and not even tomorrow; something distant in time not foreseeable, completely uncertain, that I could only hope. My wife and myself were sure we made good choices, meditated, heartfelt, intensely loved. When one loves and doesn’t ask for anything in exchange, to be wrong is more difficult. (G.P.)

・・・

Beauty is a powerful force and yet not intrusive, and generous if one looks for her without ulterior motives; otherwise she doesn’t reveal herself. It is the direct expression of a superior good, she doesn’t die, and is immortal because she is not made of matter, although she uses matter to manifest herself. No instrument can measure her. She is inside every thing, from the stones to the stars, from the flowers to our mind. Impossible to measure, she escapes from scientists who only believe in measurable things. She is the invisible motor of the universe and the sparkle for life. (G.P.)

All the quotes, translated by RA, are from Giuseppe Panza, Ricordi di un collezionista, Milano, Jaca Book, 2006

There is no conclusion. I’m walking on the grass of the park, smelling the fall of leaves still green in November but tired of such a long summer. I look from afar, around the terrace which is one of the most pleasant gardens I’ve met in my life. In Italian we have a word with no equivalent in English: le lontananze. Something absent and distant, says the dictionary. In lontananza, a distance of time more than geographical, I see my village and the house where I was born, half an hour by car from Villa Panza. Hard to tell, feelings are tangled. Panza, the house, the grass, the view on the valley, they talk to me of a Lombard soul which is proud and modest at the same time; daring and quite, never loud. The stronger the passions, the more secret.
Bob Wilson made Panza invisible, as if he was present in his mind; I would like, instead, to have a portrait of him and his wife painted by Lorenzo Lotto, like The Young Man in His Study, 1527, leafing through the book of life.

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To presume that we definitely know brings us to the death of knowledge, especially about contemporary art.  The quality of art is always an emotional phenomenon, an act of love, the happiness of looking at and possessing art is nothing but this love relationship. (G.P.)

 

*FAI – Fondo Ambiente Italiano. It’s a non-profit foundation supported by private citizens, companies and institutions in order to protect, preserve and develop the artistic and natural heritage of Italian landscape. Founded in 1975, it was built under the inspiration of the British National Trust and is affiliated with INTO – International National Trust Organization. Villa Panza is one of the 56 sites under FAI’s wings.

** Christiane Löhr, German artist who works with dry, and fragile vegetable elements preserved in glass boxes.

VILLA PANZA was bought by Giuseppe’s father in 1935 when Giuseppe Panza was 12 years old. The building was first conceived and realized in the mid 1700s by Paolo Antonio Menafoglio, “a merchant of money.” At his death in 1768 the property was sold and resold to various owners until it ended into the hands of Pompeo Litta in 1823. The Litta family was one of the richest in Milan. Some rooms were added to the Villa, and the park was modified. Pompeo Litta received the title of duke from Napoleon for his political views, he was “a liberal and democratic spirit.” When Panza’s father found and bought the Villa, the property needed to be restored. The project was directed by Portaluppi, in the thirties one of the most prominent architects in Milan.

A CONCEPTUAL CHURCH

ROBERT BARRY’S Installation at the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mid Compton, Los Angeles.
A Thomas Solomon exhibition

ART CONCEPT OF NOW

by Rosanna Albertini

EVERYTHING IS PURGED FROM THIS PAINTING
BUT ART, NO IDEAS HAVE ENTERED THIS WORK

Acrylic words on canvas by John Baldessari, 1966-68. I would love to replicated them today, but I can’t. They would become:

NOTHING IS PURGED FROM THIS TEXT ABOUT ART
IDEAS HAVE ENTERED THIS WORK WEARING THE LIQUID DRESS OF THE PRESENT

 

Conceptual art and minimalism have been the thread sewing my philosophical training in contemporary art, still they light in my mind either the joy of understanding or the certainty that understanding as an abstraction has exploded, and more and more words have become images. Ideas themselves might be hung in Plato’s cave, obscured by a big rock blocking the entrance. We want to live first, think sometimes, maybe, and replace explanations with sensations. The artworks, enhancing our conflict between reasonable goals and inner demons, reveal the immense variety of possible worlds, and signal at the same time the power to regenerate, to expand the very idea of language.

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church, Los Angeles Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory Photo: Peter Kirby

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church Los Angeles
Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory Photo: Peter Kirby

If the page is no longer the privileged garden, other sensory experiences expand the conceptual struggle in different mental spaces. The term conceptual sounds odd because it’s mostly an aura, a breeze around the translation from vague intuitions to physical signs, from calculations to a possible visibility: the new planet, ten times bigger than the earth, has not yet been seen: conceptual astronomy? Why not?

Capital letters grouped into words appear like phantoms on the walls of Los Angeles Bethlehem Baptist Church. I don’t know whether those white words on white walls are a text or not. They climb the walls and seem to be there to be seen, not read. Reading is possible, not mandatory: the art piece has been conceived and realized by artist Robert Barry. The displacement it creates in the visitors, quietly, indirectly, is of the best conceptual texture. Come, recreate yourself in the piece.

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church Los Angeles Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory Photo: Peter Kirby

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church Los Angeles
Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory Photo: Peter Kirby

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church Los Angeles Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory Photo: Peter Kirby

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church Los Angeles
Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory Photo: Peter Kirby

The small church was built by Rudolph Schindler in 1944, abandoned and recently restored by Thomas Solomon to become, temporarily, an art temple. The original building was painted red, blue and black; now it’s white. Words turn around the corners, walk up or down in diagonals, or enjoy being upside down. They become luminous limbs of light, while the church functions as a buffer space between the age of books and the time of a phoenix which is still difficult to describe. A virgin landscape in which the idea herself of a church is condemned.

This church is a house, an open place bringing in from the windows the other houses around, flying birds and airplanes, trees, street noise and voices: the opposite of the isolating, hiding place of the past. The human signs on the walls aren’t very different from frescoes, or from the little white hands painted on the walls of a cave by the vanished Anasazi. (See in The Kite https://albertini2014.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/little-white-hands/) Nevertheless, these almost flying words so light, so out of grammatical or syntactic order, are a pulsing image of our beautiful thoughts in a day of freedom, having lunch on an urban soil. Scattered, luminous shadows of the mind’s children, they show the absurdity of our days: vulnerable and obstinate, broken up but shining like the tail of a comet. After all, as the food plates of Allen Ruppersberg’s Cafe made with dirt, leaves and pebbles were uneatable for the mouth, although devoured by the eyes, Robert Barry’s words slip into the eyes to be chewed by the brain, maybe reinvented.

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church Los Angeles Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory Photo: Peter Kirby

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church Los Angeles
Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory Photo: Peter Kirby

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church Los Angeles Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory Photo: Peter Kirby

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church Los Angeles
Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory                   Photo: Joshua White / JW Pictures

 

Stories are an extended series of meanings

ALEXIS SMITH: Autobiography, Almost Involuntary (abstract)  — IN HER OWN WORDS

LOS ANGELES

I think you could justifiably make a case for me as some kind of eccentric, like Joseph Cornell — somebody really driven by a particular cosmology and the attempt to articulate it. But you could make an equally good case for me as one of a contingent of humorous L.A. conceptual artists who are tongue-in-cheek and irreverent, yet still serious and intellectual, like Ed Ruscha or Mike Kelley, John Baldessari or Al Ruppersberg. I’m just as tied to that group of people as I am to the world of the inanimate.

ALEXIS SMITH, Kerouac Haiku 1994 Mixed media collage, 27" x 32" x 2" Courtesy of Honor Frazer Gallery, Los Angeles

ALEXIS SMITH, Kerouac Haiku 1994  Mixed media collage  27″ x 32″ x 2″
Courtesy of Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles

[Click on the image to make it bigger and see details]

     As a child — and to some extent, even to this day — I felt more comfortable in the world of the inanimate, just a some people feel more comfortable with animals and plants. I have a feel for everyday objects of the physical universe. As soon as I fell into the art world, I ceased to exist in a vacuum. I realized that mine was a natural, innate impulse, but I also had to assess all the formal issues of composition, color, and materials. I began to learn and became more sophisticated about both the history of art and its materials.

     When I started working, I put together pieces of other people’s writing with objects and images. I was using all of it as found material, taking things that other people had said more eloquently than I could say them myself. I figured that if other people thought these things, and I thought them too, they must somehow be universal. I sought to show people the connection between the physical things they make and the stories they tell: the same impulses that generate the language and the stories generate the objects. For me everything is related, and I think it always has been. Stories are an extended series of meanings. I think I can look at things and see relatedness, that is, see instinctually how something could be a metaphor for something else, how images and objects fit together and how people generate stories, words, and objects. All these things are extensions of how people experience the world. I like the idea that these elements of meaning are not static, that they shift according to the context.

     A lot of the source material that I ultimately used in my work came from my father. He was born in 1906, so he was two generations older than I. He sort of grew up with the century. He was born in Ogden, Utah, and he used to ride around in my grandfather’s buggy under a buffalo robe while Grandpa Driver, the only doctor around in those times, made house calls in rural Utah. My father lived through World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, and he told me the whole story of the century through his own experiences, because he was a big talker.

     As a result, I was able to project elements of my own life into a sort of prototypical American experience. I put my father’s accounts together with the things I had read for myself, and I did a sort of humanized history using some creative anthropology to reveal the texture of the way things looked and felt. I found that there is a kind of mythology that’s peculiarly American and is outside standard history and traditional European academic culture … I have a perverse sort of antagonism to the European academic tradition and the tyranny it has exercised over the art schools and non archival forms and materials … The artists to whom I really relate are not visual artists; rather, they are quirky American geniuses like Isadora Duncan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Thomas Edison, George Gershwin, and Walt Whitman, who naively reinvented their forms through a mixture of imagination and chutzpah because they refused to accept the traditional definitions of what they wanted to do. (From a 1991 interview with Richard Armstrong, edited by R.A. in 1999 for Technological Rituals)

ALEXIS SMITH, Exporting Western Culture, Exporting Western Values, 2014 Mixed media collages, Two panels: 21" x 17" and 29" x 19" Courtesy of Honor Frazer Gallery, Los Angeles

ALEXIS SMITH, Exporting Western Culture, Exporting Western Values   2014
Mixed media collages  Two panels: 21″ x 17″ and  29″ x 19″
Courtesy of Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles

Alexis Smith’s collages in “Saying yes to everything” at Honor Fraser Gallery

POST SCRIPTUM                   by Rosanna Albertini

 Because I happen to be a European scholar, I must step into Alexis’ antagonism to a tradition which is far from monolithic. Like her Lady Jane (1985) I could sit on a chair with panther legs in the middle of flying bullets and say: “I must remember about chandeliers and dancing and swans and roses and snow.” Not by nostalgia, only to enjoy with Alexis the irrelevant things that add savor to life. The oldest, faded from their first meaning, objects and words become often impertinent, they freely move from the rational order to an imaginary, unfamiliar landscape, a sort of intellectual wilderness. They are totally dependent on us.

They become stereotypes. Alexis picked them from the 20th century garden: “Imagination is more important than knowledge” comes from Albert Einstein and lands in an American Boy’s Life (1989). The same idea had older legs in the time of a boy called Emile, tutored by Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “We believe intelligence is our helper, but imagination is all we have. Through this imaginary world everyone traces a route he/she believes to be the good one.” The conceptual closeness between Alexis and Emile’s father is surprising: the texture of life alters and disfigures people and objects. Through this constant alteration we perceive ourselves and that which is produced by us.

Alexis: “I can look at things and see their relatedness.” Jean Jacques: “And we care for everything, we cling to everything: times, places, people, objects, everything which is and will be important to each of us; our individual nature is only the least part of ourselves. Everyone stretches herself out, so to speak, over the whole earth and becomes receptive over the entire large surface.” Alexis answers stretching the earthly geographical history on the terrazzo floor of the Los Angeles Convention center. “Whither Goest Thou, America?” (Pair o’ Dice, 1990). America the continent has been devoured by a car, the car bumper as large as a whale’s mouth. But the car — icon of a country of movers — looks like the head of a comet dragging the continent along. Embodying mountains and deserts, it’s a mere part dragging the whole and is dragged at the same time. This is a meaning Jean-Jacques could not have conceived. It is the twentieth century landscape.