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New Venues: Villa Manin, Passariano - Codroipo (Udine, North-Eastern Italy)

Views of the villa after restoration,
Courtesy Villa Manin Contemporanea

Tired of the Milan-Rome-Turin triangle, art seems to be finally turning away from the big Italian cities and moving to the provinces. It is unfortunately not a decentralisation attempt by the government, as was the case in France - with the Frac funds - or in Germany. It is rather the result of the professional involvement of gallerists who decided to invest their energy in bringing the finest contemporary art to the provinces and took up the challenge of educating a much wider audience. Among such private galleries, the best examples are Continua in San Gimignano (Tuscany) and LipanjePuntin in Trieste (Friuli Venezia Giulia, North-Eastern Italy). In this context, Villa Manin Contemporanea - a centre for contemporary art of the highest calibre, which opened at the end of May- should not be seen as an eccentricity- even if it is located in Passariano-Codroipo, a tiny little village apparently in the middle of nowhere (actually, just an hour from Venice).
The centre takes the name of the building that hosts it, a breathtaking Venetian villa owned by the powerful Manin family (who gave many Doges to the Venetian Republic) in the 16th century. Today, the villa is part of the cultural heritage of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region which has - in turn - offered the villa's space to this new cultural project.
The director of Villa Manin Contemporanea is the widely-known Italian curator Francesco Bonami, the (much-criticised) director of the Venice Biennale 2003. Bonami and his staff have set themselves two goals for the centre: to collaborate with the world's most prestigious museums and to turn the focus of attention towards the East (a task geographically more than understandable for a centre an hour away from the Balkans).
The centre opened with two exhibitions and a sculpture project (all running until November). The main exhibition is called Love Hate: from René Magritte to Maurizio Cattelan; it features masterpieces from the collections of the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, embracing the art of the last sixty years. It is a pity that the title inevitably reminds us of the all-Italian scandal about the last (avoidable) installation of Cattelan in Milan. The second exhibition is 'Vernice', a survey on how young Italian painting is being positively contaminated by other artistic disciplines. Last but not least, there is a sculpture project by the Danish artist Jeppe Hein, who conceived two outdoor water sculptures in the shape of a maze, a modern interpretation of historical fountains, which is definitely suited to the beautiful garden of Villa Manin.

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