ROME — Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
“We’ve been told it was a crazy idea,” said Fendi chairman and chief executive officer Pietro Beccari about the company’s latest cultural project with the city of Rome, which challenges a sort of stationary attitude — and the city’s red tape and bureaucracy. However, the end result is leaving a mark on the city for today and the future, as well as on its contemporary art scene.
On Monday, after a little more than a year in the making, Fendi unveiled “Foglie di Pietra [Leaves of Stone],” an artwork commissioned to Italian contemporary artist Giuseppe Penone and donated to Rome. Placed in front of the Fendi flagship and the brand’s palazzo in Largo Goldoni, near celebrated shopping street Via Condotti and the Spanish Steps, it is a landmark that changes the perspective of the location. It comprises two bronze sculptures of trees, one almost 60 feet high and the other around 30 feet high. A block of marble weighing 11 tons is suspended on the branches, 16 feet above the pavement.
“It’s Cyclopean, and it may look natural but this is achieved with great effort,” remarked curator Massimiliano Gioni. “[Penone] is the most important living sculptor today in Italy, and I am not exaggerating. He is transgressive but rooted, to employ a botanical pun and connected to the local context and history. He reflects on Rome, its history and the weight of time,” added Gioni.
“Sometimes by not doing anything, you don’t risk,” observed Beccari. “With any action, there’s always a small dose of risk. It did take some courage to do this.” In terms of height, the tree is the most imposing structure after the ancient Flaminio Obelisk in Piazza del Popolo, he observed, adding that a specially formed joint committee evaluated the project and approved it after no less than seven meetings.
“It is our duty to help think of Rome as a modern, international city,” added Beccari. “It was necessary to inject a dose of modernity to the historical patrimony of the city.”
Luca Bergamo, deputy mayor of the city of Rome with responsibility for cultural growth, challenged the perception of the Italian capital, expecting Penone’s sculpture to contribute to a change. “If you Google Rome cultural life, you will get images from the past, while if you do the same for Berlin, Paris or London, the view is more articulated, although Rome has the same cultural vitality of the others,” contended Bergamo. Fendi’s donation will help bring Rome forward despite its “huge heritage from the past.”
The work is visible to anyone walking by the area, open to the public and ungated, and Penone said that this makes it more complex than in a museum context. “When you visit a museum, there is a predisposition to admire art, while in an open space, it’s in a dialog with everyone, there are external elements, there is a great traffic of people and it was important that it not occupy the space, which is not very extensive, so I proposed a work that would be erect in height,” explained Penone.
Supporting such a weight above the pavement, the sculpture provokes “a sense of surprise and astonishment, which is reflected on the work itself, driving interest on its content and also the reality that surrounds it.”
The artist said the architecture of the sculpture is “based on naturalism and the shape of the tree, and the block of marble represents the geological memory of history. There is a sculpture that represents a Corinthian capital [inserted in the branches], which is [a symbol] of the human memory. This also represents the strength of elevation versus gravity.”
The bronze and marble are reminiscent of the Baroque in Rome, while the fragments of ruins in the branches echo the city’s classic and medieval eras.
Claudio Parisi Presicce, superintendent of cultural heritage for Rome, said the “exceptional” work helps re-qualify the city, which is seeing its share of political and social turmoil. “Largo Goldoni is a strategic location, and also, the image of a sacred wood, the tree is an element of [its district] Campo Marzio, so there is a reference to the original sacredness of the area,” said Parisi Presicce. He emphasized the “unique engineering challenges” of the works, which began on April 19. Around 65 workers helped develop and then install the sculpture.
Fendi will be in charge of maintaining and preserving the monument for 30 years, which is a gift to the city. The donation comes on the heels of Penone’s solo exhibit called “Matrice [Matrix]” held at Fendi’s headquarters at Palazzo della Civiltà in Rome, unveiled on Jan. 27 and running until July 16.
This is only the latest step in Fendi’s support of the arts in Rome, after the restoration of five storied fountains, including the Trevi Fountain, and in Venice, of the Italian Pavilion during the Biennale, currently taking place. Beccari on Monday also told WWD about Fendi’s contribution to the city’s Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro (Institute for the Conservation and Restoration). At the end of May, “a technological room” will be inaugurated, after Fendi’s donation of appliances and machines used in science, aero-spatial research and medicine. In addition, while mum on details, Beccari said Fendi will hold “another event in the second half of the year connected to the beauty of Italy and the promotion of Italy in the world.”
More pressing time-wise, Fendi’s haute fourrure show is scheduled on July 5 in Paris.
Beccari was also upbeat about business, which he expects will be “in line with last year. The year has started as well as it has finished.” As reported, Fendi last year surpassed the 1-billion-euro, or $1.15 billion, threshold.
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