Workers install Sol LeWitt’s “Whirls and Twirls.”

MILAN — The city of Reggio Emilia is about to experience a Renaissance-like artistic renovation, thanks partly to Max Mara.<BR><BR>The Maramotti family, which controls Max Mara and is among the biggest collectors of contemporary art in Italy, is...

MILAN — The city of Reggio Emilia is about to experience a Renaissance-like artistic renovation, thanks partly to Max Mara.

The Maramotti family, which controls Max Mara and is among the biggest collectors of contemporary art in Italy, is working with artist Claudio Parmiggiani to orchestrate a series of permanent works by top artists that will be installed in pivotal social areas of the city where the company is headquartered, an hour’s drive east of Milan.

Sol LeWitt is painting the ceiling of the city’s public library, evoking the Sistine Chapel, and Robert Morris is creating a bronze statue to be set in the cloisters of the church of San Domenico. Other projects are in the works with Luciano Fabro, Richard Serra and Eliseo Mattiacci.

“The city is buzzing today, and the administration is recovering abandoned areas, investing in art and culture,” said Giorgio Guidotti, president of communications at Max Mara.

LeWitt, the American minimalist and conceptual artist, will unveil the first piece early in September, called “Whirls and Twirls,” a wall drawing on the ceiling of an 18th century building that houses the town library. The work will be surrounded by antique bookshelves, creating a stunning contrast in the two-story room.

Because the antique building is protected by state regulations, the ceiling first had to be covered with a cork layer and then painted before LeWitt could create his own drawing. This means that if his art piece were to be removed, the original vault would be intact under the cork.

The idea behind “Whirls and Twirls” is to “open up to the world, through reading and culture,” Guidotti said. “The movement of the primary colors in the drawing almost breaks through the ceiling, to reach a cosmic, universal vision.”

Antonella Spaggiari, mayor of Reggio Emilia, said she wants to give a stronger identity to the city, and this project, she said, is intended to convey “new emotions through art works in locations that stand for the soul, roots and memory of people. There is a need for beauty that can live in time.”

The second artist to leave his mark will be Morris. The inauguration for his bronze statue is scheduled for the end of January, after which Fabro will begin work on a project in the spring.

This story first appeared in the July 23, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Guidotti declined to identify the size of Max Mara’s financial investment, but he said these artists, “who are so well respected and famous that they can command any paycheck, realized the uniqueness of this project and did not approach it in a commercial way. This is public art.”

Max Mara knows about public art. Last year, when the company took over the space formerly occupied by a historical bookstore in Florence to open a brand boutique, it uncovered Medicean frescoes and for months sold clothes while restorers patiently recovered the original paintings in the background.

“We had to sacrifice some selling space, and sometimes people still come in only to look at the paintings, but it’s all worth it — the beauty and value of these frescoes are priceless,” said Guidotti.

Over the next few years, the Maramottis will also open to the public their personal collection of works, ranging from Giorgio Morandi to Giorgio De Chirico, and from Julian Schnabel to Gherard Richter, as part of a new foundation also headquartered in Reggio Emilia.

— Luisa Zargani