I am in Puglia

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This is the tale of my discovery of Puglia, the most surprising Italian province one can imagine. Far from the clichéd advertisements one sees displayed around London and other major cities, Puglia itself is a strip of land by the Adriatic Sea, always under a perfect sun. Its capital city, Bari, is also home to a number of artistic projects that make you realise you needn’t live in London-Paris-New York-Shanghai to be part of something exciting. In Bari, the trend is defined by commercial venues, starting from the legendary Galeria Bonomo, where old school conceptual artists were being shown as early as 1971. This summer, Italian darling Micol Assael is showing alongside Jorge Peris and Nunzio, their mentor.

Antonella Spano, former gallery assistant at Bonomo, together with collector Michele Spinelli, has recently launched her own project Doppelgaenger, a commercial venture with its headquarters in a breathtaking palace in Bari Vecchia. Michele explains, “I began collecting art very young – when I was 18 years old. I was looking to create a permanent connection to art in my life. I met Antonella four years ago and we immediately decided to set up a gallery. Most of the artists we represent are artists I used to collect – I need to know an artist very well to collect their work. We didn’t want to open a gallery in Milano or Rome – the idea was to create an art system here, in Bari. We want to be involved in the territory, but not necessarily represent local artists, who are quite comfortable being active in their birthplace and do not make the effort to become international.

“Our work here is certainly that of a commercial gallery, but we are also the substitutes of a local contemporary art museum. We aim to educate a future public. We want to host all sorts of cultural events and invite many international artists to become our residents. The gallery is as much a place of research, of connections, as it is a home,” Michele continues.

The aim of Fresh Flaneurs, the current show at Doppelgaenger, is to bring street art to the city. The gallery has secured a number of buildings for artists to intervene upon. Spanish artist Eltono assisted by whizz-kid Luce left their mark on a unused building by the sea promenade, Roman duo Sten+Lex destabilised an official façade in the center, and Belgian crew Hell’O Monsters intervened on the gallery’s own terrace.

A similar venture, minus the impressive location, is ARTCore Gallery, run by three young and stylish directors. Housed in a spacious flat in centre Bari, ARTCore represents mainly international artists, and a single local one. Fabio Santacroce cultivates the posture of rebel and critic of Italian excess. His favorite dwelling places are the local Chinese shops, where he gathers material for his witty installations. His are also Bari’s most underground artistic attempts – the most notable being a series of shows in a garage, which drew eclectic crowds every night last year.

Bari and the surrounding towns by the sea are also home to several large-scale international exhibitions, most often presented in impressive venues of the castle sort. Liquid Borders, for example, is the result of an open call for young artists, and the result, presented in Castelo Svevo and two other venues, is not bad at all. Although still slightly provincial and tributary to medium distinctions no longer fashionable, the show manages to display beautifully a good selection of works by photographers and video artists.

Two international artists have solo shows in Puglia this summer. Jimmy Durham is at Bari Arte Contemporanea, another palace, ex-theatre, which is waiting for its renovation and transformation into a proper museum.

And UK artist Mat Collishaw, as the recipient of this year’s Premio Pino Pascali, has a solo show in the foundation’s beautiful building by the sea in Polignano a Mare. This is probably the best show I’ve seen in the region, Collishaw’s installations about time and decay are a marvellous contrast with the white light enveloping the building.

Far removed from such exhibition-based practices is Vessel, a local curatorial platform interested in social practices. Their projects include: a curatorial residency, an international curatorial workshop, a collaboration with the architectural association Xscape around the borgate, (cities built in the middle of the fields during Mussolini’s fascist era to act as public space for the scattered houses around Foggia) and Radio Materiality, with projects and contributions by Bisan Abu-Eisheh, Claire Bosi, Elena Cologni, Kari Conte, Leone Contini, Curandi Katz, Jaume Ferrete and Hakan Topal.

Anna Santomauro, one of the four curators of Vessel, explains the ideas behind this unusual radio project, “Thanks to Vessel we can give voice to alternative narratives that do not fit into the hegemonic ones: to do so we instigate collaborative and collective artistic practices that involve different points of view and different approaches.

“In the first place the radio station is the virtual space where many actors (artists, organisations, curators, intellectuals, etc.) will meet to share ideas, projects and perspectives related to the creation of a new solidarity among the countries of the Mediterranean basin. Simultaneously its physical presence in the city of Bari will facilitate the interaction between international practitioners and local communities.”

Such concerns are more visible in the other main centre of Puglia, the city of Lecce. This architectural jewel made of baroque palaces is the home of major contemporary art projects, hosted in converted villas or warehouses. Ramdom, Manifatture Knos, Ammirato Culture House and NexTab are some of the major players of a laidback, mature scene.

Certainly, if one should spend a few weeks more, wondering about in Puglia, more exciting projects would come to light. This, therefore, is an open invitation …

by Cristina Bodgan

For more information about art in Puglia, please visit here

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