MILAN — Fendi’s support of the arts and culture and the emphasis on its Roman roots continues with two major projects — and one is bound to leave a permanent mark on the Italian capital.
The Italian luxury house has commissioned contemporary artist Giuseppe Penone to create a site-specific work that will stand outside Palazzo Fendi in Rome’s Largo Goldoni and that is expected to be completed in the spring. Ahead of this, for the first time, Fendi is organizing an exhibition of contemporary art at its Rome headquarters at the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, beginning Jan. 26 and running through July 16. Titled “Matrice,” the exhibit will display historical and new works created by Penone specifically for this installation.
“Penone is passionate about materials and Fendi is a master at working with materials,” explained the company’s chairman and chief executive officer Pietro Beccari. “He loves materials that are natural and have that natural aspect but that are actually very elaborate, much like Fendi. The authenticity of the offer is similar. Both his and our production is not artificial, there is an element of transparency. His aesthetic is very pure, naked and it reminds us of our Selleria or our furs. There are common aspects that connect us. Also, he respects the location and creates something around it.”
Fendi will donate the new site-specific work titled “Foglie di Pietra [Leaves of Stone]” to the city of Rome. “This major donation marks the first time a significant contemporary artwork will be installed permanently in the public spaces of Rome,” contended Beccari. And it’s in the center of the city, a few steps away from storied landmarks such as the Spanish Steps. This initiative was examined and then approved by a jury composed of the Italian Ministry of Culture, the city of Rome, Fendi and art curator Massimiliano Gioni.
Beccari expressed his pride, describing Penone’s work as “wonderful and incredible.” The sculpture will be one of the artist’s most complex, he added. Two bronze trees, 18 by nine meters high, or 59 by 29.5 feet, will interlace their branches, lifting-up at 5 meters, or 16.4 feet, from the ground a sculpted marble block weighing 11 tons.
Beccari would not disclose the financial investment, but said it was “important. It’s a unique work of art for that venue and for us, it has no price.”
Penone has created installations of several sculptures in public spaces of different cities, including Frankfurt, New York and Paris. He is a key exponent of the Arte Povera, the Italian avant-garde movement from the Sixties and is a leading international contemporary artist. To wit, he was the first and only Italian artist to have a solo exhibition in Versailles in 2013. Penone’s sculptures combine a selection of materials such as wood, wax, leather, marble and bronze, drawn by the transformative forces of nature. Beccari pointed out that his link to sustainability and environmental conservation are very much of the moment. Penone is also known for his rigid and geometric profiles of wooden blocks carved to reveal what appear to be the original forms of tree trunks and branches. He also uses precious materials such as bronze and marble. Cases in point: tree barks and trunks melted in bronze or covered in gold leaf. Prestigious museums around the world, from the Tate in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris or the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles display Penone’s works.
“Works change according to the place in which they are set, the dialog with the space transforms [the] perception,” said Penone. “Setting my works, [which] are born from a need of personal intimate cohesion with the reality of matter, in a place that, on the other hand, is born from a rhetoric vision of materials and culture, highlights the contrast between necessity and demagogy.”
Penone’s works at Fendi’s headquarters will be open to the public and on display on the first floor of the building. Most recently, Fendi held the exhibits “ Una Nuova Roma. L’Eur e il Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana” and “Fendi Roma — The Artisans of Dreams,” which marked the company’s 90th anniversary last year.
Penone’s exhibit “is consistent with the Palazzo della Civiltà’s project, which is a great symbol for us,” said Beccari. “We’ve always said that we wanted to open [the ground floor] to public exhibitions.” The executive said with pride that “The Artisans of Dreams,” attracted 52,000 people between July and the end of December, “with long lines reaching outside the gate. We are very proud to have given back to Rome and contributed to the tourist flow in the city. With our exhibitions, we want to celebrate the Italian excellence, and this is the first on contemporary art.”
This latest step further strengthens Fendi’s relation with Rome and commitment to the promotion of culture, after the restoration of the Trevi Fountain, where the company held its Haute Fourrure show by Karl Lagerfeld in July, as well as the restoration and preservation of the Four Fountains of Gianicolo, Mosè, Ninfeo del Pincio and Peschiera.
Beccari said the exhibition, which is curated by Gioni, artistic director of the New Museum, New York, and director of the Venice Biennale in 2013, is a prelude to the project in Largo Goldoni.
He said the city was rich in historical monuments, but felt it was time to add a contemporary artwork. “It’s a symbol of our love for the city,” he said.
Rome’s Gagosian Gallery will present Penone’s exhibition “Equivalenze,” to coincide with the show at Fendi’s headquarters, running Jan. 27-April 15.
Rome’s image has recently been tarnished by political corruption and issues with basic city services such as transportation, but Beccari struck an optimistic note. “We are asked about Rome a lot, but I think that if each one of us does something to improve things, there is an incredible potential, even with small gestures. It’s more about doing — not talking — and setting an example.”