The Carta Bianca exhibition is the brainchild of Sylvain Bellenger, Director of the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, and Andrea Villiani, Director of the Madre Museum in Naples. The Exhibition is organized with the Electa Publishing House. Carta Bianca is a unique exhibition in Italy, as well as the history of museums, because it has given full freedom, or “carte blanche” to ten international personalities involved in different fields of knowledge to reinterpret in key, personal ways, the wonderful collection of Capodimonte. These personalities have chosen around ten works from the Capodimonte’s collection of nearly 47,000 artworks. They each then curated their works in their own room within the exhibition. Each “curator” thus gives a subjective but public reading of the museum and its collections, with the only constraint being that they must explain their choices. Video interviews and other multimedia content is available via the App designed by the company Arm23 (see the Carta Bianca App). The themes and cultural motivations of the curators open a reflection on how the museum can be a 21st century institution: A museum of imagination, freedom, participation, and creativity. The ethical, aesthetic and methodological prologue of this exhibition begins with the initial room dedicated to Jospeh Beuys, where one of his works from 1981 is presented (Alcune richieste e domande sul Palazzo nella testa umana). Documentation of the artist’s solo exhibition entitled Palazzo Regale (including the original artwork) is also present in this gallery, made in pencil on newspaper, that was held at Capodimonte from 23 December 1985 – 30 March 1986. This prologue strikes to reaffirm the legitimacy of free individual choice, including the right to expression, judgment, curiosity, fantastic invention the foundations of subjective tastes and inclinations. These aspects are placed in a dialogue within civilization, with respect to others. So if this is a Palazzo Regale, in reference to the title of Beuys’ exhibition, then it belongs to the moral conscience and cultural awareness of every woman and man…the only queens and kings of today of this Palace and Museum.
The first room curated by Vittorio Sgarbi expresses how his art historical biography intertwines with the Capodimonte collection. He describes his approach as neither historical nor rhapsodic. It is interested, presumptuous, vain, among the great masterpieces of the Museum (Lotto, Parmigianino, Guido Reni…). These works have all in their own way informed his training and personal collection.
Marc Fumaroli focuses on a selection of 17th century Neapolitan works, and reflects upon the dualism of misery and poverty, of the artistocratic and popular. The comparison is between the paintings of Bernardo Cavallino and Massimo Stanzione – whose works are elegant, refined, and aristocratic – and Jusepe Ribera, whose works are ‘popular’ and expressed a modern interpretation of realism in a Caravaggesque mode.
Paolo Pejrone focuses his gaze on landscapes and views, starting from the theme of shadow and woods. For his room, the architect asked to open a ‘gap’ in a wall that hides a window. The carved frame and the size of the canvas represents a natural outlet to see one of the Museum’s greatest masterpieces from the room: the Real Bosco or Royal Wood.
The choices of Gianfranco D’Amato, perhaps among the most intimate, are inspired by the emotional sphere: pleasure and love, hatred and violence, and the importance of culture and knowledge. The collector cites these values by combining anicent and contemporary art (Carlo Alfano, Louise Bourgeois, Mimmo Jodice), thus confirming its universality.
The Monkey and Humankind is the theme of Laura Bossi Régnier’s room, which returns to the “question that philosophers have pondered for centuries: what makes us human? How do we define man in respect to animals? Close, yet at the same time infinitely distant, the monkey offers us the mirror of our animality.” The Capodimonte’s collections offer numerous iconographic opportunities, from different eras and styles, to explore the relationship between man and animal. This includes some 18th century representations of primates, disguised and content amidst their own human activities. Examples include paintings by Agostino Carracci and Paolo de Matteis, Giovanni Stradano’s engraving entitled Caccia alla scimmia, and numerous examples of decorative art.
With the occassion of this exibition, Giulio Paolini creates an ad hoc work that ideally encloses all the works of the Capodimonte’s collection. “I therefore voluntarily abstained from choosing those works, numerous and excellent, which could suggest many unpredictable ‘dialogues’ between them.” That is, I have observed a painful renunciation of the staging of that ‘personal museum’ that I was allowed to create, instead favoring a theoretical point of view: to formulate an absolute, even if it is an unfounded and unsustainable synthesis of the idea of art.
Giuliana Bruno’s room reproduces the personal experience of a curator in creating a narrative from the artworks in storage at the museum, inaccessible to the public. She rediscovers, like an archaeologist of the emotional knowledge, works related to Naples, to the ‘baroque’ taste, as well as everyday objects including food and pottery (intact and in fragments of majolica). These works and objects have been selected with particular attention to the materials of construction, the compositions of their surfaces and the state of conservation.
Mariella Pandolfi reflects on the dimension of temporality as dissonance, and the indefinite time of an event as defined by Gilles Deleuze. The anthropologist chooses four works – scenes of of struggle or amorous tension, which tell other stories besides that of the linear time of history or myth – stories that belong to an indefinite time of the event that even escapes the event itself. Objects presented inlclude the enormous tapestry of the Battle of Pavia, the Massacre of the Innocents by Matteo Di Giovanni, the Persues and Medusa by Luca Giordano, and the Rinaldo and Armida by Annibale Carracci. At the center of the room is a collection of weapons, armor, swords, knives and arquebuses, creating a disorderly composition evoking dissonance and discontinuity.
Riccardo Muti chooses only one work for his gallery, Masaccio’s Crucifixion, set up in a dark room with a chair inviting contemplation. For a long time, the small painting, among the marvelous works of the museum, struck Muti to the extent that he had to seek out the reasons for his ‘attraction’ to the tormented history of the painting, with non-expert eyes nurturing a profound passion for all forms of art. Here, Riccardo Muti gives us an impassioned interpretation of the Magdalene: “The figure that is most dismayed is the irruption of the Magdalene. It really seems that in the static nature of the Madonna, St. John, and the collapsed body of Christ, that the Magdalene enters furiously, or even imperiously, into the painting. She seems to belong to a world completely different from the world of love and passion, even in a certain way physical passion, because first of all the colors that Masaccio invested the Magdalene with are in strong contrast with the other two figures, and with Christ himself. The Magdalene has a fiery red mantle and is unusually blond with unfettered hair. She seems to come from the world of passion, towards Christ, towards God, towards man. And she does so with arms completely open as if to embrace the dying Christ.”
Finally, Francesco Vezzoli traces a path in line with his recent works on sculpture. Ten couples of busts (from different periods and materials) face each other in a corridor establishing dialogues based on the intersections of their glances, in a game of impossible encounters. A plaster by Canova of Napoleon’s mother opens the room, with an Apollo and Marsyas by Luca Giordano. A self-portrait of Vezzoli closes the arrangement, like Apollo who killed the satyr Marsyas. This sculptural group was inspired by the ancient myth but ironically subverts the philology, in its use of materials, like in a scenic composition.
The themes of the 10 rooms – their oscillation and determination for the passion of collecting – shapes this “lliberated” experience of the museum, revaling its interpretive potential and evoking the possibility of multiple narratives. Bringing out many points of view, Carta Bianca recognizes and showcases what happens with viewers in the galleries everday in the museum: a personal appropriation of heritage, objects, values, and common stories. Through various perspectives and multiple gazes projected onto the collection, the project took the form of a polyphonic exhibition that questions the theme of museum organization and classification. At the same time it calls into question the exclusive confinement of the work within the territory of art criticism. Opening ‘hierarchies’ and breaking down museum barriers, giving voice to other disciplines and skills, all have ‘imposed’ a reconsideration of the relationships between the works of the collection – international masterpieces presented in unpublished dialogues – and in the future, of the logic of exposition within the 126 galleries at Capodimonte. The Baroque galleries, on occasion of Carta Bianca, have been reimagined and reinstalled. Carta Bianca reports on the museum and its meaning today, as well as its history, with a particular focus on its evolution in new directions. In this sense, as Sylvain Bellenger and Andrea Villiani write, the project is in a line of continuity with other 20th century reflections by curators, artis, and writers. André Malraux’s Museum Without Walls, Marcel Duchamp’s Miniature Museum with his Boîte-en-valise, the Musée d’Art Modern, Département des Aigles of Marcel Broodthare,s the Museum Garden of Daniel Spoerri with his collection of eternal becoming, the Museum of Obsessions by Harald Szeeman, of the Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk, are all examples. Imaginary museums, museums in suitcases, sentimental museums, obsession museums, and finally, subjective museums.