10 giugno 2022
by Maria Rita Nocchi

Welcome to the Beautiful South... in Milan

Miart 2022 - A Pietro Consagra's sculpture
Miart 2022 - A Pietro Consagra's sculpture

Welcome to the South! For the launch of Mag, we have chosen to talk about the treasures of Southern Italy. My colleagues have come forward with relevant ideas and proposals. I am naturally a bit dreamy and a bit contradictory. I therefore suggested writing about an event that takes place in the North.
Every spring, I visit miart, the international modern and contemporary art fair in Milan. This year it was held from 1 to 3 April, organized by Fiera Milano, and was the first art fair of 2022 in Italy. After the two years of the pandemic (in 2020 it was only online and in 2021 in reduced format, in September) I wanted to see if this event, symbolically entitled ‘Primo movimento’ (First movement) could mark a revival of culture in the city. And, why not, bring back that splash of glamor that never hurts. I was not disappointed. The first thing that struck me was the success with the public and the return of international collectors.

“We had buyers from Mexico, Argentina, Turkey and the United States,” confirms with satisfaction Nicola Ricciardi, curator of the fair for the second consecutive year. Obviously, the majority were Europeans, especially Belgians, Swiss, French, and even Spanish, who usually never come to miart. This year, we had to reassert ourselves as a credible fair and get back to doing business. All the gallery owners talked about excellent sales; they confirmed that they had repaid the cost of the stand and also travel and transport of the paintings. We must leverage this in order to convince an increasing number of foreign galleries to participate in miart. This is our goal: to bring an elite of important galleries back to Milan”

We wonder how much it sold. The question is precise; the answer is somewhat vague: “I can't give an order of magnitude of sales,” explains Ricciardi. “I really don't know, because negotiations start at the Fair and go on for weeks, even months. But certainly, the sentiment of the gallery owners was extremely positive.”  This is also confirmed by a curious fact that occurred during the Fair. “Last year, gallery owners were calling me on the phone every ten minutes. Everyone had a problem to report: for one it was the lights, for another the bar, another because a collector was unable to get in to the exhibition. I felt like I had become a rubber band. This year, when the Fair began, my mobile phone suddenly stopped ringing,” Ricciardi smiles, “and this makes me think that the gallery owners had better things to do, that is, they were working and selling.”

Small-format paintings were very popular, with prices from EUR 20,000 to 50,000. Two major foreign galleries participating for the first time in miart – Klemm's from Berlin and Misako & Rosen from Tokyo – sold everything. The iconic works of the twentieth century that cost hundreds of thousands didn’t do so well – Fontana, Manzoni, Burri, De Chirico.

“There were no sales with a bang,” admits Ricciardi “and overall, the number of significant investments was lower than in 2019. But there was the desire to buy a greater number of works, and above all collectors bought from galleries that were not among their usual contacts. This is fundamental, because the Fair is supposed to be a place where new contacts are made.” New contacts were facilitated by the layout of the stands. It was very easy to get lost, given the labyrinth structure; and thus encounter new people and see unusual images. 

Emerging artists, somewhat neglected by collectors in 2021, have been valued this year.

Their section, called precisely 'Emergent', and curated by Attilia Fattori Franchini, was exceptionally placed at the entrance to the exhibition, forcing visitors to pass through it to get to 'Established', the main section. This strategic choice paid off. “This year we told the young artists ‘We’ll put you at the entrance, but you have to dress well,” jokes Ricciardi, “in fact, they brought books full of very colorful and fresh works and they sold well. The feedback was positive, for both the thirteen Italian galleries – including Martina Simeti, Una Galley, Ada, Gilda Lavia – and the seven foreign ones.”

Attilia Fattori Franchetti confirms that “there was a particular desire on the part of the Fair and of the entire team of curators to help those who are at the start of their professional career.” Among the most innovative emerging Italian artists, the curator cited Diego Volandris, with his paintings that “in an imaginative way break with the concept of reality by looking at the various figurative possibilities,” Clarissa Baldassarri and “her ceramics conceived as a fragmented installation,” Pamela Diamante, “who finds prehistoric stones that have figurative images inside them and then does photographic research to recreate the same landscape of the stones,” Jacopo Mazzetti, “who has created wearable sculptures” and then Davide Stucchi, Costanza Candeloro.  

Compared to their European colleagues, emerging Italian artists find it harder to make themselves known and appreciated abroad “because there is a lack of institutions,” observes Fattori Franchetti, who lives in London.

“The strength lies in the galleries that bring them to the fair, and there is always a lot of interest, because the young Italians are very talented and the academies are also excellent. But it is hard to make them known, even if things are changing a bit now. For example, we have the Italian Council, a call by the Ministry of Culture, which strongly supports young artists. It's really great. Macro and Castello di Rivoli also focus on young people. But more is needed”.  

Chisel and Rifle

Missileer. Paratrooper. Sniper. At this point, from the audience, we would usually hear “Hey, Rambo!”. But not this time. This time, we are talking about a graceful, elegant, delicate 37-year-old creature called Pamela Diamante. Distinguishing traits: sculptor.

At the age of 17, she joined the army to rebel against her parents who wouldn’t allow her to study art. She joined the paratrooper corps, became a missileer and even sharpshooter in the Capo Teulada special corps in Sardinia; she took part in missions to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. But she never gave up on her dream: in the evening, when she returned to the dormitory, she read art books. Fourteen years ago, she put down her guns. She enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bari, and in 2016 she obtained a diploma as a private student in sculpture. 

Today, Pamela, from Puglia, is considered by curators and critics to be one of the most talented emerging artists in Italy

At miart, the Milan modern and contemporary art fair, where I met her, (representing the Gilda Lavia gallery in Rome) she won the prize founded by the Covivio real estate group. She has been commissioned with a site-specific work, which will be installed in September in a prestigious building that is part of the ‘Symbiosis’ urban redevelopment project, in the southern area of Porta Romana in Milan.

In addition, her personal exhibition – 'Stato di flusso' – has been at the Arnaldo Pomodoro foundation in Milan since 18 March. And the European Investment Bank, the EIB, which is based in Luxembourg, three years ago bought and included in the collection the first five pieces of 'Fenomenologia del sublime', original works created by Pamela, inspired by the discovery of prehistoric stones in the Florentine hills, mentioned for the first time in documents dating back to the Medici family, great collectors of rare stones.

Pamela tells her unique story to Mag. “My parents wanted me to study to find a real job; they didn't believe that art could give me a livelihood. A friend, knowing my spirit of adventure, suggested that I enlist. I followed his advice. I joined the army at 17, and stayed there for six years. They were the first applications open to women; needless to say, there was still a strong patriarchal spirit. My colleagues tried to make things difficult for me, but they never succeeded. Having a salary allowed me to go off on weekends to visit museums and art exhibitions. I remember some beautiful ones, including Picasso and Dalì. Slowly, I began to build my own education, while in the morning I trained at the shooting range with wire-guided missiles and fired long-range rifles.

The most formative experience was going on a mission to Bosnia, a few years after the end of the conflict. There, I understood what the war in the Balkans was like. And I must say that that sense of drama has become part of my artistic works.”

When Pamela left the army and enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bari, she was ten years older than the other students. “This weighed on me a little, but I was more mature and I started working as curator’s assistant. This enabled be to learn how great artists work 'in the field'. The moment I felt ready, I started creating my own works and my professional career moved very fast. My mother now regrets having refused to allow me to study art, but who knows which is better…”

Pamela currently uses all artistic techniques, but she doesn't like painting. “It seems to me a limited form of expression. I prefer to deal with spaces and work on large installations that combine sculpture, video, sound. The exhibition currently underway at the Pomodoro Foundation (until 24 June) is one of the examples of how I began to work by 'hybridizing' everything. I created a work that reflects on the difficult time we are experiencing, suspended between the pandemic and the war, and I inserted an image of the Dancing maenad by Skopas, one of the most beautiful sculptures of antiquity. The result was of great emotional impact. I noticed that some of the people who visited had tears in their eyes”.

One of her convictions is that artists today must seriously reflect on environmental sustainability. The installation project she has in mind for the work commissioned by the Covivio group foresees something that is integrated into the environment, a sort of symbiosis between man, nature and architecture. “I think it is more beautiful than a monolithic work. I don't like the concept of public art that takes the shape of large iron or bronze sculptures. For me, doing the work for 'Symbiosis' will be an important step. I hope other commissions will arrive in the future.”

Pamela's most successful productions at miart include the works featuring pietre paesine (‘scenic’ or ‘picture’ stones).

These stones, formed in the Miocene era, are found only on the Florentine hills and have a peculiar feature: the cross-section inside reveals images that resemble caves, waves of the sea, rocks.  This rarity is a source of inspiration for the artist, who decided to reproduce them in paintings that look like photographs, but are not. “Using algorithms, I searched for the 'twin' image. I didn’t create new forms; I limited myself to interpreting what already existed in nature. It is amazing that stones contain such poetic images. Something similar to the dream stone that exists in China.” And to think that it all started from a chance encounter. “I was in Florence for a visit to the Opificio delle Pietre Dure and I met a retired professor of technical education, a passionate geologist, who has dedicated his life to researching these stones,” recalls Pamela. “The first manuscripts in which they are mentioned date back to the time of the Medici family who ruled Florence from 1500. It was him who introduced me to them.”

If there is one thing that Pamela Diamante cannot do without, it is travel. She has toured many countries, looking for new stimuli and ideas. But she always comes back home, to Bari, and has never thought of leaving her homeland. “Many people ask me if it was difficult to get established, coming from the South. Living in Rome or Milan certainly allows you to enjoy a wider cultural offer than elsewhere. But I make up for it by traveling. My staying in the South is a form of resistance. It is important to be there, otherwise the abandonment dynamics will never change.”

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