The Imaginary Anthropological Museum between radical architecture and contemporary art

The exhibition at Villa Romana, in Florence, curated by Valeria D’Ambrosio is called MAI. It stands for “Museo Antropologico Immaginario” and no, it is not a museum. On the contrary, it is a contemporary art exhibition that gained a lot of success, also thanks to its deceiving name.

In the email in which Gian Piero Frassinelli lists all the Superstudio exhibitions scheduled for the year 2020-2021, he mentions one that has an irresistible name – MAI, and this is how he describes the work done by its curator: “what I find surprising is the absolutely coherent way in which Valeria D’Ambrosio managed to combine such different realities”. Anyone who visits the exhibition organized will share the architect’s intriguing description, because MAI is a non-place where so many different tensions but above all knowledge, backgrounds and generations coexist and intersect in perfect harmony.

MAI is an Imaginary Anthropological Museum that aims at creating an intercultural collaboration strategy in order to rethink the concept of anthropological museum through the development of new participatory methodologies. As Valeria D’Ambrosio explains, “Drawing inspiration from the first Argentine trip of Paolo Mantegazza, who in 1869 founded the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology in Florence, MAI focuses on the many peoples and cultures of Chilean and Argentine Patagonia. It is a multidisciplinary space where contemporary art, architecture and anthropology dialogue – all being fields of study that are considered intrinsically opposite or essentially inextricable in their being forms of representation that see human experience as their starting point”.

Museo Antropologico Immaginario, Villa Romana, Florence, Italy, 2020. Photo Giulia Lenzi

In fact, in addition to Frassinelli, the curator has chosen to involve two young artists from South America: Gabriela Acha, an Argentinean who focuses on the theme of cultural re-appropriation of her native country in a feminist key, and Marcela Moraga, a Chilean who makes narrations audio-visual works that oscillate between reality, legend and fiction. The exhibition is divided into three temporal phases, and starts with the thesis work of Gian Piero Frassinelli, the proposal for a new anthropology museum in Florence entitled “Centre for the study of applied anthropology on the problems of acculturation”, conceived between 1966 and 1968 and shown to the public for the first time. His deep interest in the dialogue between architecture and anthropology gave rise to one of his recent research works, the Museum of Humanity (2015), on display at MAI and conceived as a single museum capable of collecting the entire history of human cultures, recounted here in the form of an audio-visual documentary, of a recently produced model and a science fiction story.

On the day of the inauguration, the artist Gabriela Acha presented the performance Spazio Espositivo Mobile, in which seven female students of the Art History and Anthropology course in Florence transformed the concept of a museum of colonialist, white and patriarchal origin into a dynamic, dialogic and itinerant entity. Thanks to the use of display cases created by the artist, the students have become the spokeswomen of the stories contained in some of the items from the ethnographic collection of Frassinelli and his sister Oretta, with whom he has shared a passion for anthropology since his university years.

MAI is a project in which the interconnections between disciplines turn it into a place that questions the traditional parameters of museum space. As its curator says, “MAI will transform the concept of the museum from a space of representation to a social process, a reminder that it is first of all a place of production capable not only of preserving and describing the existing, but also of generating new contexts in which to think, act, interact”.

Exhibition title:
MAI. Museo Antropologico Immaginario
Curated by:
Valeria D’Ambrosio
Gabriela Acha, Gian Piero Frassinelli, Marcela Moraga
Villa Romana, Via Senese 68, Firenze, 50124, Italia
Opening dates:
from 23 October to 18 December 2020

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