By  on February 20, 2008

REGGIO EMILIA, Italy — The Collezione Maramotti, comprising more than 600 works by contemporary artists assembled by MaxMara's Maramotti family, is priceless — literally.

"If you think one single painting rings up to the tune of $3 million, imagine the value of the collection," said Marina Dacci, co-curator of the gallery housing the collection, which opened here in the fall.

However, true to the understated Maramotti style, the family shies away from any hype about the collection. "We are interested in contemporary art as a dimension of exploration, just as our job in fashion is also to explore," said Luigi Maramotti, chairman of MaxMara, during a visit to the gallery, which is surrounded by well-tended gardens and a park.

More than 200 works are exhibited in 43 rooms in the former MaxMara manufacturing plant in Reggio Emilia, a 90- minute drive east of Milan, and another 400 are stacked away in its warehouse. The collection also has a sentimental value as it was initiated and built over the years by MaxMara founder Achille Maramotti, who died in 2005. Maramotti, who also collected art from the 16th and 17th centuries, passed his passion on to his children, Luigi, Ignazio and Maria Ludovica.

"I bought my first piece when I was 19," said Luigi Maramotti. "How can you not love art if you are always surrounded by beautiful works?" he mused.

When, in 2003, the company moved its headquarters to a state-of-the-art plant next to the highway outside Reggio, the Maramottis converted the original factory into a museum. "My father always believed in sharing his art pieces with his employees and routinely displayed a number of them at the plant," said Maramotti. "It was a pioneering, very democratic frame of mind," added Dacci.

With the help of British architect Andrew Hapgood, the Maramottis converted the industrial building, built in 1951, to a museum while maintaining its original floors and light, airy structure.

To walk through the collection is tantamount to taking a course in contemporary art history from 1945. Artists range from Jannis Kounellis, Francis Bacon and Julian Schnabel to Gerhard Richter, Tom Sachs and Jean-Michel Basquiat. The works by Italian artists — including Piero Manzoni, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Claudio Parmiggiani, Francesco Clemente, Giorgio Morandi and Alighiero Moretti — cover the country's most significant art movements, such as Italian Pop Art to Arte Povera and neo-Expressionism."These works are especially valuable because Achille Maramotti bought them from the artists early on in their careers, precisely at that moment when they were introducing elements of novelty and research," said Dacci.

This summer, the Maramottis plan to open the ground floor to temporary and photographic exhibitions. The first will likely be of photos by famed fashion photographer Roxanne Lowit. The gallery also is meant to display works by the winners of the MaxMara Art Prize, initiated in 2005 to nurture and promote emerging talent based in the United Kingdom through a residency in Italy. Margaret Salmon's film trilogy, which was awarded the first prize in 2006, is already lodged at the Collezione, and a work by Hannah Rickards, who won the second MaxMara Art Prize for women at the end of January, will also be given space.

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