Wednesday 19 August 2015

#DolnaArtUpdates : Italy's one step forward becomes the big leap for art

The Uffizi gallery in Florence. The new director will have to develop innovative cultural programmes and bring some creative flair to financing as government budgets are cut. Photograph: John Kellerman/Alamy

Italy's culture minister looks abroad for overhaul of art galleries and museums
Dario Franceschini ruffles local feathers by appointing seven foreigners to head Italy’s most prestigious galleries, including Florence’s Uffizi and Accademia

Italy’s culture ministry has appointed 20 new directors to manage some of its top museums, including Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, with a number of foreigners brought in to revamp the way the country’s vast heritage is presented to the public.

Fourteen art historians, four archaeologists, one cultural manager and a museum specialist make up the new directors, who will be at the forefront of cultural reform in Italy. The majority have international backgrounds and half are women, although the culture minister, Dario Franceschini, said nationality and gender had no influence on Tuesday’s appointments.

Beyond daily museum management, each director will be tasked with coming up with innovative cultural programmes and impressing both local and international visitors. The new bosses will also need to bring a creative flair to financing, making way for alternative funding models such as philanthropic donations in the face of tight government budgets.

Their appointment comes eight months after hopeful candidates responded to an advert in the Economist magazine, issuing an international call for directors at Italy’s world-class museums. Despite the stringent requirements, including at least five years’ managerial experience and a cultural or scientific specialism, the ministry’s plea attracted 1,222 applicants.

Eighty foreigners applied for the positions, and seven of the chosen directors hail from elsewhere in Europe, with three Germans, two Austrians, one British-Canadian and a French director taking up posts. A further four are Italians returning from positions abroad.

Florence’s Uffizi Gallery is to fall under the management of Eike Schmidt, a German expert in Renaissance and Baroque sculpture, who has previously worked at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and Sotheby’s auction house in London.

The city’s Accademia Gallery, home to Michelangelo’s David statue, will also fall under German directorship. Cecilie Hollberg is a historian and cultural manager who has since 2010 been director of Germany’s Municipal Museum in Brunswick(Braunschweig).

The presence of foreigners at the top of the country’s most famous art galleries has raised eyebrows, although Franceschini said a focus on nationality was unjustified.

“They were chosen on the basis of their experience; naturally they need to understand Italian art and speak Italian,” he told the Guardian. “This discussion in the museum world doesn’t make sense, because it’s about the quality of their CV.”

The new directors will take up their posts between September and November and should be ready for a “great challenge”, the minister said. The directors will need to improve a wide range of museum services, such as bookshops and cafes, as well as handling some of the world’s most prized artworks.

“Some of these museums don’t have great numbers [of visitors] but they have remarkable collections and great potential,” Franceschini said.

Less well-known sites to get foreign directors are the National Gallery of Marche, where Peter Aufreiter, formerly of Vienna’s Belvedere museum, has been appointed, andMantua’s Ducal Palace, which will be run by his fellow Austrian Peter Assmann. Meanwhile, a third German director, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, takes over at the Paestum archaeology park in southern Italy, while the nearbyCapodimonte Museum in Naples will be managed by Sylvain Bellenger, a French art historian.

Pinacoteca di Brera, a leading art gallery in Milan, will be taken over by James Bradburne, a British-Canadian architect and museum specialist, who arrives after nine years successfully managing Florence’s Strozzi Palace. He said the high proportion of foreign directors reflected the experience needed as the Italian government moves to make its museums more autonomous.

“Why foreigners? We have a lot more experience running museums that are structured like that,” he told the Guardian. “The [current] generation of Italian managers has risen through the ranks in the normal way; if you change the structure the local experience is going to be less relevant.”

But after a decade Bradburne said he believed a new generation of museum directors would be ready to take over Italy’s transformed cultural spaces. “We’re standing at the threshold of a moment of change and optimism. Italy has been a leader in the interpretation of art many times; it’s time for them to reclaim that leadership.”

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