Out of the blue

Thunderous applause concluded Daniel Libeskind’s excited presentation at the Milan Triennale. His museum of Contempory Art is envisaged as the magnet of the new residential quarter, the “motor of an economic growth” that will replace the historic trade fair district of Italy’s “moral capital”.

The audience liked the project, and also among the collectors present was Count Panza di Biumo. Except that unfortunately he has already placed his own collection elsewhere. The contemporary art museum is taking over the place that had been earmarked for what the Mayor is calling “the world’s most innovative design museum”, which has in the meantime been ousted to the Triennale and opened in record speed. With a similar legerdemain, the new museum of contemporary art is likewise destined to start without a proper permanent collection. It will be able to count on the Boschi collection, plus other private ones “spread across the region”. However, for the moment it has no curator (“But it will get one,” the Mayor assures us) and only limited funds (“Funding is in effect a problem,” admits Davide Rampello, conference host and Triennale president).

The first image exploited by Libeskind was Leonardo’s Vitruvian man. But it somehow smacked of cowboy boots, or of the stars and stripes badge sported by Libeskind on Oprah Winfrey’s TV talk show to play the card of patriotism, during the hectic race to win the commission for the new World Trade Center. On top of millefeuille which the museum rendering resembles, Libeskind has thus laid out a stately Italian garden, with neatly pruned box hedge mazes; and below, acres of Candoglia marble (“just like that of the “Duomo”). Even ancient Rome gets a mention, for the ground floor will be a vast calidarium. And so an impressive array of stereotypes enshrines the vision that inspired the museum project: the first for a city that, as the Mayor assures us, is also the world’s third most important contemporary art market, after London and New York. To date, Milan has never had a contemporary art museum, and now, with Renzo Piano’s project for the disused Falck areas in Sesto San Giovanni, on the city’s outskirts, it suddenly risks ending up with two of them.

The Vitruvian man is the inspiration behind the drawing that generates the new building’s spiral thrust: a mountain of stone that seems to have been shaped by a whimsical wind, perhaps the same that produced the twists on the very tall towers by Hadid and Isozaki, the architects who signed a blank form on the pantagruelian CityLife speculation. That of the Triennale was therefore a perfect knew about the new museum. The press conference was announced at the last minute and reserved to a narrow circle of insiders. Where was the city? Where and when was any debate held on such a major appointment, with its capacity to set in motion and spark the transformation of Milan? And why was the city not requested to participate, albeit shouldering the burden of urbanisation, and even though its Council had granted a cubic volume more than twice that permitted under its urban planning regulations? An architectural and planning policy based on a fait accompli is no longer acceptable. In any case it is hard to believe that a stocky chunk of a building like this can act as a “pole of attraction” to thousands of visitors, when its only appeal is the result of a torsion which, rising from a square base, generates a vast round terrace. Dumped like a gloomy mausoleum in the middle of a citadel, it is shut off by a great wall of 100-metre-high condos, over which loom Isozaki’s and Hadid’s hunched towers. One is reminded of Herbert Muschamp, gratuitousness of a certain contemporary architecture. It was he who dismissed Libeskind’s obelisk rammed into Ground Zero as “surprisingly tasteless, emotively manipulatory, bordering on nostalgia and kitsch”. DOMUS

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