Pictured: "Il banchetto dell'arte (Literary Food)" by Peter Wüthrich. Cans, catalogue covers
Looking to leave the city on an art jaunt that requires minimal planning and travel?
Visit Magazzino Italian Art: an awe-inducing, monolithic 20,000 square-foot structure that delivers big on history, story, art, and setting.
The building was — in succession — a farmer’s warehouse, dairy distribution center, and computer factory in Putnam County before founders Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu tasked architect Miguel Quismondo with its conversion to a seamlessly modern, light-infused art destination. It just opened to the public this summer, and houses brilliantly-curated pieces from the Olnick Spanu collection of Italian art.
Think of Italian art and knee-jerk associations with the Renaissance, Michelangelo, and Florentine cathedral domes are sure to flow. But Magazzino Italian Art isn’t about any of that. It is exclusively postwar and contemporary Italian art that holds center stage at Magazzino, its masterfully-curated exhibitions generously reinforced by a 5,000 volume library of materials available to students, and exquisite special programming. Its inaugural — and current — show, “Margherita Stein: Rebel With a Cause," ushers visitors through “the story of the last Italian avant-garde,” explains Magazzino director Vittorio Calabrese. "It’s this group of artists that started exhibiting together exactly 50 years ago in Turin: the Arte Povera group."
Although late ‘60s Turin, Italy seems pretty far-flung to those of us slogging through our tristate, Trump-enmeshed 2017, eerie commonalities exist between Europe then and America now. Tension waged by “Us vs Other” and “Rich vs Poor” conceits ripple through both eras. Turin fifty years past “was the Detroit of Italy,” says Calabrese."Turin was an important industrial city at the time. In the late '60s, they were dealing with a lot of immigration from the south. The poor were migrating to the north to work in factories. So there was a lot of tension and problems with racism.”
Sounds like an art destination for eager audiences in lower Manhattan or Brooklyn. But Cold Spring?
Magazzino founders Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu "considered opening in Brooklyn; they considered Beacon as well," admits Calabrese. But Cold Spring made more sense, as it was close to their house in Garrison. "It is surrounded by nature. The idea was to have a place where nature and art could interact," says Calabrese.
Still on the fence about making an actual visit to Magazzino Italian Art? Here’s some bullet-point convincing:
Magazzino Italian Art is closer to NYC than either Storm King (Orange County) or DIA-Beacon (Dutchess County). It’s 60 driving miles north of the Bushwick Collective. According to Google Maps, that’s at least eight miles closer than DIA Beacon, and several miles closer than Storm King! Taking the train? Simply take Metro-North's Hudson Line north, exit at Cold Spring Station, and ride the shuttle — gratis — directly to Magazzino Italian Art.
Admission? FREE by appointment. “We’re a completely private organization; we are not technically a museum," explains Calabrese. "The collection and our budget are coming directly from the generosity of the founders, Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu. It's just a big gift to everyone that is interested."
Several installations are particularly noteworthy. See Peter Wüthrich’s “Il Banchetto dell’arte” — or “Literary Food” — (a portion of it is pictured in this article). The installation comprises two shelves holding cans of different sizes and arranged tidily like store-bought soups and sauces on a kitchen shelf. Each can is papered over with arresting, colorful images and/or one-of-a-kind graphic fonts. It’s an exquisite collection of art-as-supermarket-staples!
This second installation is not pictured: it is simply not possible to photograph dissociative phenomena. Head to Gallery H6 and look for a five-foot, concave, stainless-steel mounted disk. The piece is by Marco Bagnoli and entitled “Janua Coeli.” Its surface is highly polished and contains a reflection. Move close, and the reflection — at first glance, benign — becomes eerily disorienting. Continue to gaze at it, and you’ll quickly lose some kind of brain tether with your physical self. The phenomenon is wholly unsettling and unique!
Although Magazzino Italian Art has welcomed some 3,000 people since it opened in late June, each visitor experiences the exhibit and grounds in a blissfully crowd-free setting, thanks to Magazzino's system of booking by appointment. Head to magazzino.art and schedule a visit. Make it a next-day excursion, or lock in your jaunt months in advance. Your appointment slot also ensures free parking near the space’s entrance — no space-hunting required!
Above: "Amore e Psiche," Giulio Paolini. Photo emulsion on canvas, wood stretchers, rayon fabric