Just forty-five minutes by train from Milan, Brescia is the ideal spot for a weekend getaway for art lovers. The city has a long and rich history, with origins dating back over 3200 years, and an impressive artistic and architectural heritage.
After being an important regional centre since pre-Roman times, from 568 AD it became a duchy of the Lombard kingdom. Proclaimed an autonomous municipality as early as the 12th century, it was annexed by the Visconti’s domain and then became part of the Republic of Venice, to which it remained linked until the end of 1797.
Traces are visible in every corner of the city. The monuments from the Roman and Longobard periods have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO and between a 16th-century palace and a medieval church, today, you can find works by contemporary artists such as Francesco Vezzoli, Pascale Marthine Tayou, and Rasheed Araeen.
An encounter between the ancient and the contemporary orchestrated by a network of institutions and galleries that work together to make this town a truly special place. The goal is to enhance unusual places in the city with a series of contemporary art initiatives coordinated by the BelleArti association, which brings together some of the main cultural institutions in the city and was born in 2019 out of a passion for the territory and its community.
Our stay begins with a visit to the new mural work by Peter Halley, an American artist, born in 1953, who uses geometric abstraction to reflect on the effects of the psychological pressure to which our lives are subjected. This is as topical as ever after the long months of the pandemic we all have experienced. He was invited to create the latest commission in the garage of the Generali Insurance Company, a new and exciting drive-in art gallery experimenting with an alternative way of seeing – and exhibiting – art. The walls and pillars of the garage space of the Generali agency Brescia Castello have been decorated with fluorescent colours. Yellow, pink, blue, green, orange, never in the same order and placed side by side with scientific rigour.
The work, created following the artist’s instructions by students from the Santa Giulia Academy of Fine Arts, joins works by Giovanni Gastel, Mimmo Paladino, Linda Carrara, and designer Antonio Marras, collected in a small underground museum that can be visited on foot or by car.
After a quick dinner of meat casoncelli ravioli with butter and sage – typical of this area – in a trattoria in the town’s alleyways, it’s time to rest. We stay at the Vittoria hotel, which is generously marked as a five-star resort. There are several interesting establishments in town, to suit all budgets.
The next morning, the weather graces us with a beautiful sunny autumn day. Edoardo Monti, the founder of Palazzo Monti, a residency program, exhibition space, and private collection that was established in 2017, is waiting for us for breakfast with a hot Moka espresso coffee. Here, up-and-coming artists, carefully selected by the scientific committee, are invited to live and work for several weeks in the 13th-century palazzo overlooking Piazza Tebaldo Brusato. The permanent collection consists of works by former alumni, and friends of the founder, including a drawing by American artist Chloe Wise, hanging above the fireplace. The common room, on the ground floor, has a large selection of books open to the public for consultation.
On the first floor, Mr. Monti gives us a special preview of the new exhibition, an extensive collection of invitations to contemporary art shows. They are all there: Marina Abramovic, Giuseppe Penone, Gordon Matta-Clark, Luciano Fabro. From the 1980s onwards, the invitations became increasingly creative, as well as being valuable documents for recent art history, they are genuine works of art.
There is no shortage of contemporary art galleries to visit in Brescia. Kanalidarte recently inaugurated an exhibition by Tino Stefanoni that presents a selection of works documenting the Italian artist’s first twenty years of activity in the 1960s and 1970s. A+B gallery hosts in its premises an exhibition of unpublished works by Marco Neri, entitled “Di Scooter De Pictura”, a rigorous investigation into the linguistic, technical, and formal properties of painting that explores the full adherence between expression and experience.
Crossing the city we encounter Francesco Vezzoli’s intervention in the Brescia Romana Archaeological Park. The artist, who was born here, returns as curator and scatters eight new sculptures among the Roman ruins. The path of the works has been studied to put in dialogue sculptures recently produced by Mr. Vezzoli with the main Roman and Longobard remains of the city, intending to reinterpret the historical heritage in the light of contemporaneity.
Massimo Minini, a legendary figure in the art world, and perhaps the only Italian gallery owner who has actively contributed to our history of art, is waiting for us in his gallery. He shows us the new exhibition of the artist Alberto Garutti, which revolves around five works created specifically for this space and for the city of Brescia. Mr. Minini is one of a kind, he accompanies us through all the rooms of the gallery and with apparent nonchalance opens archives, cupboards, drawers, and boxes, revealing works by Luigi Ghirri, Anish Kapoor, Enzo Mari, to name a few. We glimpse a large canvas dedicated to the trolleys of Milan by the painter Titina Maselli and a photo of curator Germano Celant laughing with his friend, photographer Giovanni Gastel, who both died prematurely in 2020. We get a preview of the drafts of his new book, which will be published by Silvana Editoriale in November, and tells us about his collection of banknotes decorated by artists such as Jonathan Monk, Gilbert & George, and Hans Peter Feldman.
The trip back is so short with the high-speed train that it feels like taking the underground, and we are already thinking about when to return. Time seems to stand still in Brescia, even though we have been there just over 24 hours, we come back definitely refreshed. The air seems cleaner, the proximity of the mountains helps, and life seems to flow more calmly. Between nature, good food, and a high-level cultural offer you can’t help but return satisfied.