Silvio Berlusconi has threatened to withdraw planning permission for a new contemporary art museum and commercial development in Milan designed by Daniel Libeskind after the US-based architect described the Italian Prime Minister as a “xenophobe” and called his policies “repulsive”.
The dispute began before the general election in April which swept Berlusconi back to power. The unfailingly candid politician made an off-the-cuff remark about Libeskind’s design for an office tower which is part of the development of the Fiera Milano site, where the city’s trade fairs take place. Libeskind’s skyscraper, which will rise between buildings by UK-based architect Zaha Hadid, and Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, curves dramatically. According to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Berlusconi objects to this design because it is not manly enough and communicates “a sense of impotence”. The sexual allusion sparked a lively debate in Milan on the merits of Libeskind’s wilting structure. Even philosopher and novelist Umberto Eco weighed in. When asked for his opinions on the tower, he said: “Milan is full of people with crooked members, there will simply be one more in need of Viagra.”
In an interview with the same newspaper, Libeskind hit back: “In Fascist Italy, everything that was not ‘straight’ was considered ‘perverse art’…my tower is inspired by the work of Leonardo da Vinci and great Italian culture. [Berlusconi] does not have the time or intellect to study these.”
“As an American and Jew brought up in Poland, I find Berlusconi abominable. His concept of nationalism, of closing borders and denying what’s different, is repugnant. He hates foreigners.”
Berlusconi was apparently so offended by these remarks that he has let it be known he will block the development unless Libeskind apologises.
Speaking to our sister paper, Il Giornale dell’Arte, Vittorio Sgarbi, former culture advisor to the City of Milan, said: “I don’t think the Prime Minister will let him proceed with his skyscraper or his museum unless he apologises.” Libeskind and Berlusconi declined to comment but a spokeswoman for the Fiera Milano developers said that the project was still “on track”.