Reasons to Be Optimistic: How Italy’s Art institutions Arose from the Pandemic

Barbara Casavecchia, Frieze, February 12, 2021

One year on from Italy’s first wave of COVID-19 infections, frieze contributing editor Barbara Casavecchia spoke with museum curators and directors in northern Italy to discuss how the country’s cultural institutions responded to the crisis.


‘We are now where you will be in a few days,’ wrote novelist Francesca Melandri in a piece for the Guardian newspaper in late March 2020. Her moving ‘letter from your future’ coincided with the beginning of the first pandemic wave in Italy. One year on, her words can be repeated – only this time with a more optimistic resonance.


As of last week, Italian museums, foundations, and galleries were finally permitted to start reopening their doors post-lockdown. So, what lessons can be learned from their responses to the crisis? Driven to drastically rethink how to engage with their audiences, some cultural institutions resorted to acts of care. In the spring of 2020, for instance, Officine Grandi Riparazioni (OGR) in Turin offered its monumental industrial spaces to the city to build a COVID hospital, which was set up in record time and operated on-site for 100 days. When the venue was reopened as an exhibition space in autumn 2020, OGR changed its ticketing policy to grant free access to all visitors and expand safe public space. Artist Jessica Stockholder, who curated the current exhibition Cut a rug a round square’, stated: ‘I hope that this space now provides an opportunity for those who pass through to take pleasure in flights of fancy, and to value their own agency as they take in the extraordinary range of world-building encompassed by the artworks.’ On a similar note, Castello di Rivoli announced in January that it had volunteered a venue for the vaccination campaign, while its director, Carolyn-Christov Bakargiev, launched ‘Digital PTSD’, an online program of talks and artworks that, over the coming months, will explore ‘the traumatic consequences of the sudden increase in virtual activities.

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