A Report on the 2019 Spoleto Festival and on the Exhibition “Visionaries and the Art of Performance” by Magnus Rena.

Festival dei Due Mondi, 28 June – 14 July 2019, Sale Ex Monte di Pietà, Palazzo Comunale – Via Aurelio Saffi 12, Spoleto

Six months before the opening of the 62nd Spoleto Festival dei Due Mondi, the Guildhall Art Gallery in London hosted ‘Visions and Visionaries’, a new exhibition devoted to a handful of visionary artists. The spirited, sweeping watercolours of William Blake, the visual and conceptual charge of John Latham’s prints and sculptures, and the coming together of art and experimental technology in the creations of the ‘Age of Future’ team, became the foundation upon which other visionary artists’ work could build and develop: Edward Burne-Jones, Allen Ginsburg, Grayson Perry to name a few.

It was wonderful therefore that, when the exhibition migrated from London to Spoleto, it retained the same celebrated originality of that central core of artists, while incorporating several new artists. ULAY (b.1943), a visionary of twentieth-century performance art, injected the show with a sense of intimacy and introspection, a series of his pastel pink and grey polaroid photos hanging in the third room of the Palazzo Comunale. ULAY’s ongoing work extends into the present day and, alongside the mechanical cyber art and technology of ‘Age of Future’, offered a contemporary example of what it means to be a visionary in the twenty-first century.

The Mayor of Spoleto, Umberto de Augustinis, congratulated the Sir Denis Mahon Charitable Trust for organising one of the most popular exhibitions of this year’s festival. The high intake of 2,400 visitors was, he judged, down to the enduring relevance of the artists involved, the intrinsic value of their works (one only has to envisage John Latham’s immense fusion books, sculpture, and canvas in his painting Dante et Beatrice), and the clarity of the curators’ vision, understood and appreciated by the visitors. The Sir Denis Mahon Charitable Trust reciprocates the Mayor’s hopes for a future of collaboration between the two organisations.

Statistics from the exhibition itself, as well as from nearby Italian museums and sites of cultural heritage taken in recent decades, set the mayor’s encouraging comments in context. The opening and closing weekend alone saw a total of 1,000 visitors, almost 30% of which were foreign tourists. Considering that, during the summer months of 2000, there was an average of 2,301 visitors to permanent collections and cultural sites in Torino and the wider region of Piedmont, including the extremely popular Sacro Monte and Giardini Botanici di Villa Taranto, those weekend figures from Spoleto are even more impressive, higher than many Italian museums.

Compared with other Italian museums and galleries, the weekdays were no less popular. A steady flow of 50-55 people visited the exhibition each day. If one considers that the museo Borgogna, which each month receives between 450 and 54 visitors, the daily statistics from Spoleto are comparably high, and consistently so.

The success of ‘Visionaries and the Art of Performance’ is no doubt thanks to the collaborative work between the Sir Denis Mahon Charitable Trust and a host of invaluable galleries and organisations: Age of Future, Daniel Katz, Flat Time House, Richard Saltoun, Studio Ulay, and, of course, the City of Spoleto.

by Magnus Rena, September 2019