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Italy Unveils Treasure of Art

MILAN — An old car factory in Turin might seem like an unlikely place for an art gallery, but that’s just where some Canova sculptures and paintings by Matisse, Picasso, Canaletto and Renoir now rest at the new Agnelli Art...

MILAN — An old car factory in Turin might seem like an unlikely place for an art gallery, but that’s just where some Canova sculptures and paintings by Matisse, Picasso, Canaletto and Renoir now rest at the new Agnelli Art Gallery.

The space is named for Fiat’s chairman, Gianni Agnelli who, along with his wife, Marella, donated much of the work to the newly formed foundation and commissioned the space to architect Renzo Piano. Agnelli and his grandson John Elkann, a member of the board of Fiat and considered to be Agnelli’s heir, were on hand for the inauguration.

“My grandfather’s passion for art stems from pure aesthetic pleasure,” said Elkann. “With this gallery, he wanted to do something for his own city, a donation that will last through time and strengthen Turin’s prestige internationally. The purpose of this foundation is to promote awareness and love of art, especially among young people.”

The gallery is located on the rooftop of Lingotto, Fiat’s former car manufacturing plant, built in 1915. Over the past 15 years, Piano renovated Lingotto into a modern, multifunctional building, while maintaining its original structure. Lingotto now features an auditorium, conference and shopping centers, a hotel, an area for automobile engineering classes, and movie theaters. Besides the gallery, the rooftop area has a heliport and a car test-track, plus a glass, bubble-shaped meeting room, where the 1996 European summit took place.

The gallery is shaped like a jewelry box — 400 tons of steel suspended on four supporting pillars. The construction is surmounted by a steel structure with frosted glass wings that reduce the light showering down. From an aerial view, the roof looks like a flying carpet.

Piano noted how the light flows in from the top of the structure, but not from the sides. “We can’t have direct light on the paintings, so the glass roof is a sort of sunshade,” said the architect. The permanent collection gallery measures about 4,860 square feet. Total gallery and office space is 30,240 square feet.

The art, personally chosen and displayed by Gianni and Marella Agnelli, ranges from the 18th to the 20th centuries: scenes of Venice by Canaletto and of Dresden by Bernardo Bellotto; seven masterpieces by Henri Matisse from the Twenties and Forties; a canvas by Giambattista Tiepolo; portraits by Edouard Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Amedeo Modigliani; futuristic and abstract canvases by Gino Severini and Giacomo Balla and two Picassos — a portrait from the Blue Period and a Cubist painting. The building also has separate space for temporary exhibitions.

This story first appeared in the September 27, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.