Originally published in Domus 458 / January 1968
The Panza di Biumo collection: a private diary of famous paintings
There are more of Bob Morris's grey structures, and these now occupy a prominent piace. Dan Flavin 's fluorescent compositions also figure to an extent which puts their importance beyond dispute. In the Panza di Biumo collection, works are always displayed in groups, every artist being represented by a constellation of his paintings, and the work of each one carefully differentiated from the rest. Morris and Flavin, the latest acquisitions, now belong to the history of this collection, which constitutes a particular angle on, as well as an active instrument in the history of contemporary art.
The works of these two artists stand as an indication of the best that the last two years have had to offer. As such it is a daring choice, but solid and eye-catching. Certain critics have never dared to pronounce themselves so openly, although their medium is words which can be changed at will. On this level, a collection plays a part in the growth of art as a social institution comparable to that of criticism.
The existence of private collections, such as this one assembled in a villa at Varese, is quite consistent with the mediocrity of what is on public show, at least in this country. The man who bought a score of Rauschenbergs, on the slender evidence of a few photos, when no one in Europe had yet understood them – this is how people described count Panza di Biumo to me, before the American artist rose to triumph at Venice in '64.
Others in Italy had seen these combine-paintings in '61-'62, but had let them slip through their fingers. No one could foresee that shortly afterwards they were to be revealed as the link between two eras. Such assemblages, which were being continually re-defined as garbage art, neo-dadaism or proto-pop, meanwhile filled a room of the di Biumo villa.
The work of Robert Rauschenberg is without doubt one of the pillars of the collection. With all due respect to the rest, represented by numerous Klines
and Rothkos, a superb collection of works which left their mark on most of the last decade, the Rauschenberg section nevertheless bears the imprint of timely intuition and appears as a selection of all that was best in a period of crisis.
The works are dated from '54 to '59. In actual fact they cover all the most significant stages which preceded the period of silk-screen printing. Previously count Panza had hinged his collection (begun in the middle 1950s) on two big names: Franz Kline and Mark Rothko. These artists were only just being discovered in Europe when in '56 count Panza bought his first Kline paintings, dated round about that time, and later the big Rothko canvasses, covering '54 to '58.
Meanwhile, the collection acquired a few of Fautrier's Otages as well as a small but excellent selection of Tapies'Sands, 1957.
A diviner's instinct governed his taste for discovery and his urge ascend to the founts of great creative experience wherever they might be found. This worked punctually in the case of pop-art. A journey to the United States in '62 enabled count Panza to make the acquaintance of Leo Castelli and the artists of his gallery and to size up a new movement which had already fathered a tew masterpieces unknown in Italy. Panza picked these out from among the objects in plaster which Oldenburgfired and sold in his "store" ('60-'61) and from Rosenquist's great epics of the new technological humanism, choosing also a few Lichtensteinpaintings of the pre-comic strip period With the beautiful Oldenburg Bride, a mordant satire, and the epic vitality of Rosenquist's visions, pop-art is here represented al its most romantic and its most European. The strongly humanist statement of such works is preferred to the irony of Lichtenstein and the indifference of Warhol.
Here then is a collection which has brought under one roof, over a period of ten years, the art which is closest to reality and that which gives expression to the spirit in the most individual way. But one must not generalize or seek to impose a false unity on such variety.
The one constant factor is the search for works of originality and merit wherever they may be found. This co/lection, known in Europe and the States for its pop-art section, does not in any way identify itself with this movement. Nor can one say that it is associated with any one particular outlook or with the tendencies of any given time or place. Count Panza's enterprise partakes of the nature of all contemporary art: in both, achievement is continually superseded. This collection is private only in that it represents the unflagging passion and enthusiasm of one man. A profound artistic culture and a painstaking examination of what is happening day by day in the maelstrom of the international art world are not enough for him, and furthermore works of recognized and established merit do not interest him.
He has a receptive mind ever on the alert, a sense of foresight, a determination to foresee fashions and market trends, together with the desire to promote the ideas upon which his own choice is founded. Count Panza shares these qualities with those few critics, collectors, art dealers and art museum curators who are to-day creating the basis for the history of avant-garde art. He has been known to listen to suggestions, from Restany or John Cage, and he has also made a few mistakes. Each of his famous paintings belongs to a private diary of emotions and perceptions continually renewed. There is also the question of public interest in a wider sense when it happens, as now in the case of Morris's primary structures, that these are the only examples which can be seen in Italy. Our country abound in family collections, for the most part as mediocre as those of our art museums.
The Panza collection is one of the few providing us with really timely information on selected aspects of international activity.