At Lake Como, Art Is Center Stage

A new exhibition explores the link between theatre and visual arts while building a collaboration between the two shores of the lake.

Visiting the two exhibitions will allow you to embark on a sunset cruise surrounded by a fairytale landscape. Maarten Brakkee

Thanks to an art initiative, the two shores of Lake Como come together with a shared cultural project that represents a good start for a long-lasting collaboration.

“La Scena dell’Arte,” an exhibition across two venues curated by Velasco Vitali, is the first contemporary art exhibition on Lake Como that connects two shores with very different histories. The province of Como has always been an international tourist destination, while the Lecco area was the centre of the local manufacturing industry.

The two exhibition venues also reflect these contrasting natures: one is an old villa with a glorious history set in one of Europe’s most beautiful botanical gardens while the other is a historic workers’ club recently transformed into an exhibition space.

The result is a journey where theatre and the visual arts meet and exchange ideas: each lends the other necessary tools and languages to transform itself into an ambitious poetic production. The result is a fantastical tale containing the inventions of an ensemble of production designers, artists, and creatives.

“The title is borrowed from Ugo Mulas’ extraordinary book of photographic research into 20th-century artists. Here it has been arbitrarily used to describe how contemporary figurative art feeds off the theatre scene while, at the same time, feeding into it,” said Mr. Vitali.

The former owner of Villa Carlotta was an art enthusiast who had a special love for the performing arts. Photo by Carlo Borlenghi.

The magnificent Villa Carlotta is the setting for “The Secret Theatre.” In this section of the project, the designer Antonio Marras and the actor Ferdinando Bruni have explored the spaces of the villa to create a play of associations between their personal artistic philosophies and the history of this monumental building formerly owned by Princess Charlotte who was given the villa as a gift by her mother, Princess Marianne of the Netherlands, on the occasion of her wedding to Georg II, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen.

The Duke was an art enthusiast who had a special love for the performing arts. He dedicated his life to the theatre, not only as a patron but also by getting personally involved in initiatives to radically innovate directing, staging, and acting, ultimately emerging as a significant figure in the history of the European theatre. 

In fact, it is because of Georg II that Meiningen is now referred to as Germany’s “Theaterstadt” (the city of theatres). These memories are preserved in Villa Carlotta’s rooms, in the furniture of his study, and in the magnificent Sala delle Vedute (Room of Views), which the Duke himself designed with decorations by Lodovico Pogliaghi.

Above all, the dramatic garden, with its breathtaking views and unique plant species, is the part of the villa which was expertly created to combine art and nature in a luxuriant spectacle.

On the other shore of the Lake, in Bellano, the exhibition continues, or begins, with “Straniamenti,” an exhibition orchestrated as a stage where several voices meet, each with different points of view and each with its own history.

On the other shore of the Lake, in Bellano, the exhibition continues, or begins, with “Straniamenti,” an exhibition orchestrated as a stage where several voices meet. Photo by Carlo Borlenghi.

In Bellano, as at Villa Carlotta, Ferdinando Bruni raises the curtains, with a video project made together with Francesco Frongia and a musical performance by Alexander Romanovsky, an intense piece created for the 2017 Stresa Festival.

This section of the exhibition features models for sets, installations, costumes, posters, and set drawings by a group of giants of the 20th century including Mimmo Paladino, Carla Accardi, and Giosetta Fioroni. Immersed in “a true theatre landscape,” the works displayed are strikingly intense objects and evocations of real works of cinema and theatre at the same time.

The cheapest way to get from Bellano to Villa Carlotta, or the other way round, is by ferry, which costs €4 – €6 and takes 32 min. Interrupting the visit to the exhibition with a sunset cruise on the lake immersed in the fairytale landscape of the Italian lake region is an unforgettable experience.

Gianmaria Biancuzzi is executive editor of Milano Art Guide.