A New Festival Celebrates Archives Outside Milan

The first edition of “Archivifuturi” connects a vast network of archives, museums and cultural centers just outside Milan.

Luca Missoni flips through one of the many books and catalogs that tell the story of the Missoni fashion maison as he tells about the new archive that has just moved to Albusciago in the province of Varese. Gianmaria Biancuzzi

For an understanding of the future, look to the past. Archives are precious collections of what has been and a valuable source of information to think with a fresh and unexpected perspective about what is to come.

The first edition of the “Archivifuturi” festival (4-12 June) – an eight-day event organized by the Archivi del Contemporaneo network, led by the MA*GA museum in Gallarate, 50 km north-west of Milan – revolves around archives and house museums devoted to some of the most visionary post-World War II Italian artists in the vast territory between the city of Varese and the area north of Milan. For the occasion, a selection of often-overlooked gems will open to the public for the very first time.

A rich calendar of exhibitions, events, and guided tours to artists’ studios will “highlight the peculiarity of a wide and cohesive geographical area chosen by important contemporary artists, painters, sculptors, and designers as a privileged place for research, and artistic production,” said Emma Zanella, director of the MA*GA. “It will be a unique opportunity to get to the heart of each author’s artistic research.”

Since the Second World War, in fact, the entire area between the provinces of Varese and Milan has seen a dense concentration of some of the leading Italian artists of the time, including Enrico Baj in Vergiate, Lucio Fontana in Comabbio, Luigi Russolo in Laveno Mombello, Dadamaino in Somma Lombardo, Ottavio Missoni in Gallarate, and Marinella Pirelli in Varese, to name a few.

The MA*GA (Museo Arte Gallarate)

The festival is inaugurating on Saturday 4 June with the opening of the exhibition “Screens. Screen Cultures and Moving Images” hosted by the MA*GA Museum.

Promoted by the National Visual Arts Award City of Gallarate, the exhibit focuses on screen cultures, seen as the most advanced expression of visual research and “the proliferation and democratization of screens that characterize our age,” says Alessandro Castiglioni, the museum’s curator.

The works of Rossella Biscotti, Chiara Fumai, Adelita Husni-Bey, Invernomuto, Mario Rizzi, Silvia Rosi, Vashish Soobah, Natalia Trejbalova, and Vega, are “core samples of the different languages that characterize video art,” says Mr. Castiglioni. 

Selected by the scientific commission led by curators Simone Frangi and Cristiana Perrella, the artists in the exhibition have all been exploring, through very different approaches and very different results, notions of what Mr. Castiglioni calls “a shift from visual culture to screen-culture.” According to him, “in the past we observed everything thanks to prints, now we see the world through screens.”

The lifetime achievement award this year went to Mario Gorni and Zefferina Castoldi, the founders of Careof, a Milan-based archive and one of the most noteworthy time-based media art collections in Italy, also featured in the exhibition.

Furthermore, the Gallarate museum hosts the exhibition “Un altro mondo si dischiude,” curated by Emma Zanella and Mr. Castiglioni (until 25 November). The show brings together works by a selection of artists as Enrico Baj, Marinella Pirelli, Lucio Fontana, Maud Ceriotti, and Renato Guttuso from the museum’s collection. All the artists on display have a unique connection to this area. Here they worked, found inspiration, and spent several years of their lives far from the noise of the metropolis. By showing the work of these visionary artists, the exhibition also tells the story of this area and the cultural vibrancy that characterizes it.

The Missoni fashion house’s archive contains more than 25,000 garments, as well as accessories, books, newspaper clippings, and fabrics from the company founded in Gallarate. Photo by Gianmaria Biancuzzi for Milano Art Guide.
Missoni Archive

Ottavio Missoni met Rosita Jelmini in London while competing in the 1948 Summer Olympics. Ms. Jelmini was born in Golasecca, in the province of Varese, to a family of textile entrepreneurs in the production of embroidered dressing gowns and shawls, said Luca Misson, her son, as he showed the new Missoni Archive in an industrial shed scattered across the countryside of Albusciago.

In 1953 Rosita married Ottavio Missoni, and together they developed a knitwear business in a small workshop in Gallarate, which, through the years, became one of the most prominent brands in Italian fashion celebrated worldwide.

When Diana Vreeland, the famous fashion editor of Vogue America, had her first meeting with the Missonis in 1968, she judged their fashion concept to be ‘ingenious’.

The archive, which has just moved into this building, contains over 25,000 items of clothing, as well as accessories, shop props and artefacts created for special projects. Over the years, the archive has evolved into a research hub that preserves the brand’s heritage and its artistic values, fostering cultural relations with museums, fashion and design schools, professional institutes and universities.

The history of Italian fashion for six decades and counting is collected here, from the famous patchwork fabrics to the world-famous zigzag jersey, from the sports uniforms of the late 1940s to the present day. Through fabric samples, newspapers, books, photographs, videos and original designs, one can relive the history of the Missoni maison, which was born in this province and then conquered catwalks around the world during the second half of the 20th century.

The Milan telephone directory is one of the objects that transports us back in time to Fontana’s studio, which has remained intact since the famous Italian artist passed away in 1968. Photo by Gianmaria Biancuzzi for Milano Art Guide.
Lucio Fontana’s Home & Studio

In Comabbio, the late artist Lucio Fontana spent some days during the holidays and specifically the last months before his death. He loved here so much that he is buried in this small village, and his studio, now home to “Il borgo di Lucio Fontana,” is still preserved here.

The studio still retains traces of his work, his easels, the tools he usually used to create his works, bottles of pigments, paint marks on the floor, and his beloved books.

Lucio Fontana loved to spend his summer and winter holidays and, when free, his weekends in Comabbio. In 1967, on doctor’s orders, he settled permanently and abandoned his Milan studio on Corso Monforte. The family home in Comabbio became Fontana’s permanent home-atelier and the meeting place for gallery owners and artists such as Enrico Baj and Renato Guttuso. In this tiny and unpretentious house, Fontana continued to work assiduously until his death in September 1968. The artist’s bond with the village is such that Fontana used to quote it even on the back of his canvases in apparently unusual aphorisms that he used to write to avoid the counterfeiting of his works.

Walking across the rooms, one can still see the signs of his presence: the paint marks on the walls and floor, the work clothes soiled with colour and the tools used by the artist to create his works, including the perforated cardboards that show the traces of the famous holes he made in his canvases. The charm and uniqueness of the house are also due to the furnishings, wooden pieces of furniture designed by the artist and made in Comabbio by a carpenter who still preserves the autograph drawings.

On the ground floor, the association that preserves the memory of this place has set up an exhibition where you can see photos from the time, portraits of the famous Italian artist with his family or as he rests in the garden adorned with sculptures.

On the walls of Giovanni Testori’s study, in what is now Casa Testori, a foundation celebrating the work of the queer Italian artist, is a permamnte intervention by artist Andrea Mastrovito. Figures emerge from the layers of wall the artist has carved. Photo by Gianmaria Biancuzzi for Milano Art Guide.
Casa Testori

The archive of the work of Giovanni Testori, a queer Italian writer, journalist, poet, art critic, dramatist, and painter, is preserved in Novate Milanese in an early 20th-century house. Created in 1998 by the Testori family, it has been greatly enriched over the years thanks to donations and acquisitions of documentary material and works of art. It is an artist’s archive, but the wealth of material preserved follows his activity also as a writer, playwright, poet and art critic. A true artistic galaxy, in which all the elements that compose it tell of his sophisticated multidisciplinary facets.

His work is often exhibited with that of other artists, both of his generation and younger. Until 25 June, the archive is hosting the exhibition “Signs Of Me. The Body as Stage” curated by Rischa Paterlini with Giuseppe Frangi. The ground floor rooms display works by female artists who direct their attention to the body as a means of investigating contemporaneity in dialogue with Testori’s work. Carol Rama, Margaux Bricler, Binta Diaw, Zehra Doğan, Iva Lulashi, Giorgia Ohanesian Nardin and Iman Salem clearly show how women are the driving force behind the artistic avant-garde of our times. At the centre of their work is the relationship with the body, which becomes the terrain of artistic expression. Powerful and sometimes provocative works enter the rooms of the ground floor of Casa Testori, insisting on subjective experiences, criticising the painful legacy of sexism, violence and other power structures of contemporary culture.

Many Gems to Discover

The Marcello Morandini Foundation in Varese is hosting the exhibition “Marinella Pirelli. Two Meteors” (until 8 September). The works on show were created at the end of the 1960s when Marinella Pirelli began in-depth research into light, moving images and formal decomposition, challenging the fixity of traditional images by creating new perceptive relationships with the viewer and the surrounding environment.

The Museo Civico Floriano Bodini in Gemonio exhibits the works of Silvio Zanella, a lifelong friend of the sculptor Bodini. The exhibition “Ogni giorno una parola dipinta. Silvio Zanella, works 1948-1966” (until 31 July), takes us fully into his creative universe characterized by constant research into the constructive capacities of pictorial colour.

In addition to the exhibitions, many archives in the area exceptionally open their premises, showing the important and unique cultural heritage they hold and preserve, including the Franco Fossa Archive in Rho, the Vittorio Tavernari Archive in Arcumeggia, and the Innocente Salvini Museum in Cocquio Trevisago.

“This is a far-sighted and intelligent initiative that aims at the widespread and diffuse valorization of the immense artistic heritage scattered in the territories of the provinces of Varese and Milan,” said Prof. Stefano Bruno Galli, Councillor for Autonomy and Culture of the Lombardy Region. “A site of pictorial, sculptural and design art, representing the legacy of the life and work of an extraordinary number of artists rooted in these areas.”

To experience live the various exhibition venues, the MA*GA Museum offers free of charge minitours by coach, departing from Gallarate. (Bookings at museomaga.it).

Gianmaria Biancuzzi is executive editor of Milano Art Guide.