An exhibition in Milan celebrates women at the helm of cultural institutions

A Grand Tour in many important Italian cities from north to south.

Edith Gabrielli, Director of the Istituto Vittoriano and Palazzo Venezia. Gerald Bruneau

“To address gender inequality we need data, quantitative and qualitative analysis. Numbers are crucial, and we must not make the mistake we made in the past of approaching the issue of equality in a sloppy way. We need to understand where the obstacle and the prejudice lurk, which is not the same way in all fields of work,” said Celeste Costantino, Coordinator of the Observatory for Gender Equality of the Ministry of Culture, during the first public event of the Observatory in Rome on International Women’s Day. The initiative is the first and pioneering example of an observatory among ministries in Italy.

In 2021, the autonomous and non-partisan association of contemporary art workers AWI, in collaboration with Acta, the freelance workers association, presented a survey on the situation of contemporary art workers in Italy, which highlighted its precariousness and exploitation. More than 60% of the interviewees declared to be women, and the data shows that women with higher educational qualifications, such as PhDs and master’s degrees, are often underpaid and forced to accept more than one job, frequently subordinate ones, the study reveals.

Alfonsina Russo, Director of the Parco Archeologico del Colosseo, at work in the Colosseum, lensed by Gerald Bruneau.

A new exhibition at Palazzo Reale in Milan, titled “Ritratte,” tries to raise the issue, celebrating the women at the helm of Italy’s most prestigious cultural institutions. “Recognising skills, making them visible, is the first step towards nurturing similar paths, for girls and young women, in both art and science,” writes in a note to the press Diana Bracco, president of the Bracco Foundation, which promoted the initiative.

The art project, featuring portraits by photographer Gerald Bruneau, is part of the Foundation’s commitment to highlighting women’s skills in the various fields of knowledge and helping to overcome prejudices, to encourage an increasing number of women in leadership positions.

Director of Reggia di Caserta Tiziana Maffei lensed by Gerald Bruneau.

The exhibition highlights the lives and professional achievements of more than twenty women at the helm of Italy’s leading cultural institutions. It is a sort of Grand Tour in many important Italian cities from north to south: from Trieste to Palermo, from Naples to Venice.

“Today, important cultural institutions in Italy are lead by extraordinary professionals who have reached top positions thanks to their multidisciplinary skills, which combine a profound knowledge of art history with managerial and creative abilities,” Ms. Bracco added.

Anna Maria Montaldo, former Director of the Polo Museale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea of Milan. Photo by Gerald Bruneau.

“My intention was to highlight, along with the immeasurable vastness and beauty of Italy’s artistic heritage, the beauty of these women who are committed on a daily basis to putting museums back at the center of a cultural proposal elaborated in a network together with the most representative subjects of the environment in which they are immersed, inviting participation, stimulating confrontation and critical thought,” says photographer Gerald Bruneau. “Women who want to make museums new places for meeting and reflection, for knowledge and communication, enhancing historical masterpieces and welcoming new artistic experiences, and who are therefore experimenting with new and creative ways of offering culture. If we hope that beauty can save the world, it is up to us, together with them, to save beauty.”

Camillo Boschi is a contributing editor at Milano Art Guide, where he covers art, culture, and festivals.