|Palazzo Ducale - Sala dello Scrutinio|
In addition to our own Gabriella Belli, the Director of the Fondazione Musei Civici here in Venice, present were Michail Piotrovskij, Director of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia; Martin Roth, Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, UK; Gabriele Finaldi, Associate Director of the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, Spain, and Paolo Baratta, the President of Fondazione La Biennale in Venice. It was fascinating to learn how museums are organized in different parts of the world, and how tangled the bureaucracy can become.
Up from Rome was Dario Franceschini, the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage himself, who recently changed a bunch of laws about how State museums in Italy are run -- for example, they are now free the first Sunday of each month; the major museums are open until 10:00PM on Friday nights; you can now take photos; people over 65 now must pay; there are new tax credits, and more.
|State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg|
Back in the days when I wrote for the International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement, Italy Daily, about 15 years ago, I had to navigate between the different museums and cultural centers here in Venice, and sometimes it was baffling. Back then, each museum had its own bureaucracy, and just finding the person who had the power to streamline my mission was a labyrinth. However, in 2008, a foundation was created called Fondazione Musei Civici with just one founding member, the Comune of Venice, which has made an unbelievable difference in the ability of the immense artistic wealth of Venice to become more accessible.
|Gabriella Belli, Director Museo Civici in Venice|
I think Gabriella Belli, the Director of the Musei Civici, is terrific. She seems to be everywhere all the time, with an energy that is indefatigable. Venice has a whopping 11 civic museums, each with their own unique treasures and personalities: the Palazzo Ducale, the Correr, Ca' Pesaro, Palazzo Mocenigo, Palazzo Fortuny, Ca' Rezzonico, the Clock Tower, Carlo Goldoni's House, the Natural History Museum, the Glass Museum on Murano, and the Lace Museum on Burano. Overseeing all those institutions takes an enormous effort, and Belli does it with grace and efficiency. In addition, Venice has private foundations and museums with its own collections, as well as museums run by the State and the Church, and after a period of adjustment, most of the cultural institutions in the city now have a genuine spirit of cooperation and comradeship.
The conference opened with greetings from Walter Hartsarich, the President of the Fondazione Musei Civici. He spoke about how it was a crucial time for cultural heritage in Italy, and how courage was necessary to meet the new pace, and new needs. Next up was Vittorio Zappalorto, who was appointed Special Commissioner to Venice after our mayor was arrested for corruption. Zappalorto said that now that the division of labor between the comune, province, region and state is clear, there are no more excuses to perform badly, and that Venice wants to provide an example to the world for sustainable tourism.
|Doge's Palace - Venice|
|The Winter Palace - State Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia|
We should remember that St. Petersburg was the imperial capital from 1713-1728 and again from 1732-1918, created by Peter the Great beginning in 1703 on barren marshland (much like Venice) to integrate Russia into Western Europe and seize a Baltic port, his "Window on the West." So, for more than 200 years St. Petersburg was the capital of Russia, until the communist revolution. Then, the Bolsheviks, lead by Vladimir Lenin, stormed the Winter Palace -- which is now part of the State Hermitage Museum -- during the October Revolution of 1917, moved the capital to Moscow, and changed the name of the city to Leningrad after Lenin's death in 1924. It was not until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 that Leningrad changed back to St. Petersburg, which is still recognized as the cultural capital of Russia.
Piotrovskij said he was concerned that there was a new Iron Curtain being erected between Russia and other countries. He said that museums need to be defended from conflicts, and they were building bridges even if all other bridges are destroyed. They have a good relationship with Venice, and he wished that the UK and France would follow suit -- that we needed to maintain bridges of friendship. He said, "The government tells me, 'You can't live in a museum.'" Piotrovskij replied, "Better to live in a museum than a shipyard." He said he loved living in a museum. "Living in a museum is beautiful."
|Museo Nacional del Prado - Madrid, Spain|
|Victoria & Albert Museum - London, UK|
|La Biennale - Venice, Italy|
The Venice Biennale was the first Biennale in the world, created by a group of farsighted thinkers in 1893. There are now 157 Biennales worldwide. The focus is on research and discovery, and the relationship with the past -- to read the present with historical depth. Baratta calls La Biennale a "Wind Machine," a machine of desire whose primary urge is to give form to the curtain that has been thrown over us. The focus is not on the monetary value of the work, but on cultural research.
|Dario Franceschini at Palazzo Ducale, Venice|
Franceschini said there needs to be a central role for culture, which, at the present, does not exist. He said there must be a common European identity that can only take place through culture. He said we must build a union, an institute for dialogue, when politics can't talk and borders are difficult. He said we must convince the decision makers that investment in creative institutions can overcome the crisis. Art collections are closely linked to territory, and investments need to be made in their unique nature.
He said we should adopt sustainable tourism, and that we are temporary owners of a heritage that belongs to humanity. He said that before businesses had no incentives to invest in art and museums -- now they do.
The conference continued all afternoon with speakers on the local level. Pierpaolo Forte, the President of the Museum of Contemporary Art Donnaregina in Madre, Naples summed it up: "We are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants. There is a danger to worship our history more than our future."
As it has throughout the centuries, Europe needs to stand firmly and courageously on its rich cultural heritage as the foundation in moving toward the future. The future is now.
Beni Culturali: le eccellenze internazionali e la scommessa italiana
Venice, Palazzo Ducale
Sala dello Scrutinio
Monday, October 13, 2014
Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog