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Gallery owner Cannaviello plans a broad-ranging Modern art museum in Milan

It would be the first to be run as a plc, with works of art as its capital base and private collectors as its shareholders

Milan

“Modern art museums in Italy only seem to exhibit ‘arte povera’ and its spin-offs. I’m more interested in figurative art, paintings on canvas done with a brush. In my opinion, this is the only skill worth anything, whatever the critics predicting the death of art may think”. Cannaviello, a Milanese gallery owner, is the architect of an innovative plan for a museum of modern art which would be run as a limited company, the first of its kind in Europe.

“It’s an idea I have been developing for several years, as a result of Italy’s lack of modern art museums when compared to the rest of Europe. It would be almost impossible now for a future government to pull together a modern art collection of museum quality. This is because the requisite works of art are not available any more and those that are, are too expensive for the state to buy. Look at the Galleria Nazionale dell’Arte Moderna. It has been forced to rotate its rather inadequate permanent collections or put on exhibitions of Minimalist art or arte povera, like the museums at Prato and Rivoli. As Italy’s only city of European stature, Milan is long overdue to get an important centre for the arts”. Cannaviello’s preference for the more traditional artistic expression of painting predates what he regards as the current “false revival” of this artistic medium. He has made a name for himself over the last twenty years by introducing German Neo-Expressionists to Italy. We asked him whether he was worried about being accused of bias in view of the structure of the new museum.

“Artists promoted by my gallery would represent only about two percent of the collection. My concept for the museum is much more comprehensive, covering a period from the 1970s to the 1990s. I intend to group artists according to artistic similarities even though there may be chronological discrepancies. I have already planned the whole collection although it will continually evolve as modern artistic trends develop. In the first room, I would put Sutherland with Matta, juxtapose the French informality of Fautrier and Dubuffet with the Italian experiences of Morlotti and Vedova, but without excluding Tobey, Lam and Matthieu. The second room would house the artistic trends developed in America after World War II: Frank Stella, Morris Louis, Sam Francis, Barnett Newman and Motherwell. This would lead on to the third room which would be dominated by Pop artists Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Warhol and maybe Segal.

In the fourth room, the overriding theme of placing similar artistic trends together would be best demonstrated with Appel, Alechinsky and Corneile put next to paintings by the Viennese Bius and Nitsch, Armando and Arnolf Rainer, all of whom obviously belong to a completely different generation. In the same way, in the fifth room, I would put Balthus, Bacon and Freud next to Immendorf, Fischl, Garouste and Steve Campbell. The sixth room would concentrate on Italian artists, from Capogrossi to Dorazio, from Accardi to Chighine, up to Afro, Santomaso and Cy Twombly, who has adopted Italian citizenship. The Neo-Expressionists would be in the seventh room with Baselitz, Lüpertz, Penck, Fetting, Middendorff, Salome, Castelli and Kiefer but would also extend to the Swiss, Sutter and Disle, and the Dane, Kirkeby. In the last room I would house the whole Transavanguardia movement with paintings by Chia, Cucchi, Paladino, Clemente and De Maria, the Neo-Mannerist Mariani, Dahn, Dokoupil, De Dominicis, Kunc, Polke, Domenico Gnoli, Gerhard Richter, Schifano, Luthi and Pascali”. But how close is Cannaviello to making his dream reality? “We have the support of five or six important collectors who have already offered their collections to the city and the government, to no avail. These collectors will buy into the museum by putting up 80% of their shares as works of art and the remaining 20% as cash. The collector who contributes the most will be the president of the company by default. The managing director will be elected by the directors (the founding partners) and we will consider getting other sponsors. We’ll need about Lit 500 million (£227,000, $431,300) a year, excluding money to finance acquisitions, and we plan to generate this by charging admission and running a variety of services, like a bookshop. We are working on several contracts for founder members at the moment. Carlo Monzino, one of the most important collectors of modern art in Italy, has already agreed to join our venture. The site of the museum is one of our biggest problems as we will need at least three or four thousand square metres. We’ve approached Milan Town Council to see if they will let us use space in an industrial area, already used to house exhibitions, and which we would redevelop ourselves. If this does not work out, we will probably look for a warehouse or factory in the commercial property market. If everything goes according to plan, I can see us opening the museum within three years.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Private lives: public art'