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
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.
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.
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.