Conceptual artist’s designs for public square in Italy blocked
Leading the opposition, the art critic Vittorio Sgarbi has convinced the culture ministry to backtrack on its approval for a project by Daniel Buren
By Ermanno Rivetti. Web only
Published online: 31 July 2013
A heated row has erupted in the coastal town of La Spezia, southeast of Genoa, over the planned redesign of one of the main squares, Piazza Giuseppe Verdi, by the French conceptual artist Daniel Buren.
On one side are the organisers of the Palma award, a competition to commission EU-funded public works and installations that blur the boundaries between art and architecture. On the other side is a vocal environmental group, lead by the notorious art critic and polemicist Vittorio Sgarbi, whose campaign has been so effective it caused the ministry of culture to backtrack on a project it had already approved.
At the moment, construction is on hold. Those supporting the redesign say the delay is costing the city €2,000 a day and that the project, which is estimated to cost around €2.8m, could lose all EU funding if it is not completed by the end of 2014.
The competition to redevelop the square was launched in July 2009 and, the following February, Buren’s design, conceived in collaboration with a team of architects, was picked as the winner out of 89 entries. In 2012, well before work was due to begin, Genoa’s Superintendency (the regional arm of the ministry of culture) was asked to approve the plans, which it did.
However, in June this year, during a visit to the town, Sgarbi was approached by citizens who were unhappy over the impending removal of ten pine trees in order to make way for 75 orange trees that would be planted around the square as part of the redesign. Sgarbi quickly became the leader of the opposition, calling on the new minister of culture, Massimo Bray, to investigate. The latter responded by blocking further construction and calling for a reassessment of the project.
The architect Alessandro Mendini, who led the jury that awarded Buren with the redesign, has circulated a petition against the ministry’s u-turn. It has been signed by many well-known figures in the art world, such as Jack Lang, the president of l’Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, the artist Jannis Kounellis and the Pritzker-winning architect Jean Nouvel. Mendini could not be reached for further comment before this article was published.
Daniel Buren has created many public art interventions around the world, including an installation of striped columns of varying heights, Les Deux Plateaux, 1985-86, in the inner courtyard of the Palais Royal, Paris and The Red Arches, 2007, on the La Salve Bridge, commissioned for the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
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