Thirty years ago, in 1990, after finishing university, three young and full of enthusiasm men founded an art gallery in an unexpected place, a beautiful Tuscan village rich in history but certainly not at the centre of the international (or even national) contemporary art system. Mario Cristiani, Lorenzo Fiaschi and Maurizio Rigillo tell in Follia Continua (a book published in 2015 to celebrate the gallery’s 25th anniversary) that, having completed their studies, and determined not to lose sight of each other, started a road trip to Paris where, on seeing Pei’s Louvre Pyramid realised that if that object had been perfectly grafted into that place seeming to have always been part of it, then the same could happen in Tuscany. So it was that, in the October of the same year, they opened the Galleria Continua in San Gimignano (at that time in its first location), and at the same time the Arte Continua Association rose as well.
Speaking of San Gimignano, the three partners said that the comparison with the past represented an incentive instead of an obstacle, just as a challenge (now won) was mixing the culture of the territory with contemporary languages. During these thirty years of Galleria Continua’s activity (now located in a former cinema in Via del Castello 11 in San Gimignano), thanks to an extraordinary work and the involvement of great value artists (Ai Weiwei, Antony Gormley, Carsten Höller, the Kabakovs, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Tobias Rehberger, Kiki Smith, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Chen Zhen, just to mention a few of the most famous ones) and emerging talents (such as JR, Jonathas De Andrade, Ornaghi & Prestinari, Susana Pilar, Shilpa Gupta, etc.), according to an effective strategy, San Gimignano has become one of the obligatory stops for contemporary art in Italy.
In addition to the gallery’s exhibition activities, as mentioned above, the three partners have managed to create an important territorial system which the Arte all'Arte’s organisation has certainly contributed to, an annual event, organised by Associazione Continua from 1996 (conceived along with Luciano Pistoi) and concluded in 2005, that at each edition invited a number of artists (of the calibre of Elliasson, Tayou, Orta, etc.) to create a work in San Gimignano’s public spaces, but in neighbouring municipalities too, such as Colle Val Elsa, Montalcino, Poggibonsi and Volterra: a relationship was thus established with the municipal administrations and the cultural and social fabric of the place. Some of these works are then left permanently, such as Mimmo Paladino’s I Dormienti in the Fonte delle Fate in Poggibonsi (in which human figures in foetal position and crocodiles in terracotta have been placed in the water) or Anish Kapoor who installed a large chrysalis in Sant’Agostino’s tower in San Gimignano.
But Cristiani, Fiaschi and Rigillo, who seem to have never lost their initial passion, have opened other branches over the years, taking their gallery around the world and each time with a different peculiarity linked to the territory and the place they are located in. In 2004, they opened a space in Beijing, in China, in a former factory, a fascinating space whose 1950s Bauhaus style has remained intact even after the renovation. The branch is located in an industrial area occupied and converted by artists and by gallery owners (798 Art District) where they began to bring the little-known Western contemporary art. In 2007, in the Parisian countryside, Les Moulins was opened, a space once again housed in a former factory where the large spaces, still partly characterised, lend themselves to hosting large-scale works. This was joined by the nearby old Sainte-Marie paper mill, dedicated to major solo exhibitions (of artists such as Daniel Buren, Mona Hatoum, etc.).
After France, it was the turn of Cuba, where, in conjunction with the 12th Havana Biennial in 2015, Galleria Continua opened a branch inside a 1950s cinema in Havana’s Chinese neighbourhood, and here it is an intriguing space as it is architecturally characterised by its former function as well, here as the three owners state, the aim is to cross borders: “to make humanity travel, not objects, even if they are artistic. We hope that artists from all over the world will come to Cuba to ‘breathe the air’, talk to the people and understand the country [...] We also want this to be an opportunity for Cuban artists to show their work outside the country.” The newcomer is the recent space in Rome, inaugurated in January 2020, in a particular location, namely inside the Sala Diocleziano of The Saint Regis Rome hotel, again with a view to broadening the horizons of interaction between contemporary art and new audiences.
While the gallery travelled around the world, with one foot always firmly planted in San Gimignano, the Arte Continua Association, equally rooted in the Chianti region, did not stop and in 2003 launched the charity campaign artexvino=acqua, which involves the sale of limited-edition boxes of wine bottles (with labels designed by artists) aimed at building water systems in problematic areas of the planet. This vocation for combining territory and contemporary languages led the Association to Basilicata as well, where in 2008 it took part in the ArtePollino project, where Anish Kapoor, Carsten Holler and Giuseppe Penone were invited to participate.
This year, Mario Cristiani, Lorenzo Fiaschi and Maurizio Rigillo celebrated their thirtieth birthday during an Arte Continua weekend at the end of September, in San Gimignano of course, with works made by Daniel Buren, JR and Michelangelo Pistoletto.