Milan. Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence at Bagatti Valsecchi

On view in Milan, 29 of the 82 display cases at the Museum of Innocence by the Nobel-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk give life to a “museum within a museum” and establish a dialogue with the extraordinary collections of Fausto and Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi.

It’s rather rare to see a museum within another museum, even more so if the hosting museum is, in reality, a novel and both are, in effect, homes-museums that narrate the lives of their respective owners. But this is exactly what is taking place in the heart of Milan, where until 24 June the Museo Bagatti Valsecchi will exhibit 29 of the 83 display cases containing the objects, or rather, the hardware, of the Museum of Innocence in Istanbul.

In order to understand how exceptional this event truly is we need to take a step back and return to the beginning of the century, when the Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk got the idea of writing a book that would also be a museum, or a museum that is also a book. So Pamuk began collecting objects of all kinds, acquiring them just about everywhere and using them as if they were dots the story slowly connects.

“The more objects I gathered, the more I’d write,” states the author, insisting on the fact that the novel and the “physical” museum were born and raised together. A creative entanglement. The book was published in 2008 and describes a Nabokov-like love that is, above all, the story through which the protagonist, Kemal, collects and then sublimes the objects that will narrate to the visitors of the Museum of Innocence his love affair with the beautiful and sensual Füsun.

View of the exhibition “Amore, musei, ispirazione. Il Museo dell’innocenza di Orhan Pamuk a Milano”, Museo Bagatti Valsecchi, Milan. Photo Paola Meloni
View of the exhibition “Amore, musei, ispirazione. Il Museo dell’innocenza di Orhan Pamuk a Milano”, Museo Bagatti Valsecchi, Milan. Photo Paola Meloni

The tone is quasi-melodramatic, but anyone who is familiar with Turkey knows that this distance from Western ways is a very important element in the romance’s economy, and perhaps its most instructive critical issue. The museum opened to the public in 2012, in the home that had been a place of encounter for the lovers (this may call to mind images from the flat in Last Tango in Paris or the one Carlo Mollino used to photograph his nudes). But the delay with respect to the publication, Pamuk explains, is due to trivial complications of a practical nature.

In the final crucial chapters, Kemal analyses, rather than narrates, both the reason he created a museum – here the theme of memory becomes eschatological and the lover reveals himself for what he truly is, a collector – and the models that, while searching far and wide, he found most suited to his supreme goal: to represent the eternal love that moves the sun and the other stars. Luckily, by magic, or out of shrewdness, the first of these models is the Bagatti Valsecchi in Milan. “I realised that the true home of a genuine collector must be his museum,” Kemal states at a certain point (in Chapter 81). What better place, therefore, than the home-museum of two extraordinary collectors like the brothers Fausto and Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi?

Orham Pamuk at Museo Bagatti Valsecchi in Milan
Orham Pamuk at Museo Bagatti Valsecchi in Milan

Pamuk had visited the insuperable residence on Via del Gesù in 2000 for the first time, and then again in June 2007, right before the novel was published, when he wrote the following words in the museum’s guest book: “It is the third time that I have visited this extraordinary museum. I love this house, the idea and the imagination that hide behind these walls. They influenced me a lot for the novel I am writing, The Museum of Innocence. I am happy to be here for the third time”. All the dots connect. Genius, like nature, doesn’t skip a beat.

Exhibition title:
Amore, musei, ispirazione. Il Museo dell’innocenza di Orhan Pamuk a Milano
Opening dates:
19 January – 24 June 2018
Museo Bagatti Valsecchi
via del Gesù 5, Milan

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