Italian arts minister takes potshot at . . . the arts


ITALY:MODERN ART, modern architecture, or even documentary films on the Red Brigades - it matters not which - have all fallen foul of Italian arts minister Sandro Bondi.

The minister, one of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's closest political advisers, has provoked both dismay and approval with his outspoken comments on a variety of cultural matters in recent days.

To begin with, Mr Bondi conceded in an interview this week with Italian magazine, Grazia, that he was less than comfortable with much of contemporary art: "We live in a time that is deprived of spirituality and therefore of beauty. As minister, I am determined to protect and preserve all the great artistic wealth that comes to us from the past. But I would also like to promote and support new artists.

"The problem is that I find it hard to see beauty in contemporary art. When I go to exhibitions [of modern art], I do what a lot of people do, namely I pretend to understand. But, frankly, I don't understand a thing."

Not surprisingly, those remarks did not win universal approval, with Gabriella Pistone, deputy head of the Rivoli Museum in Turin inviting the minister to visit her museum and "overcome the prejudices" that often block modern art. Francesco Bonami, former director of the Venice Biennale, a major contemporary art gathering, was even more critical: "Bondi appears to have fallen asleep in 1895, only to reawaken in 2008. You cannot rely on an antiquated concept of beauty; that's like wanting to go back to the horse and cart," Mr Bonami told Turin daily, La Stampa.

If the minister's views on modern art won him little praise, the same cannot be said of his criticism of an ultra-modern steel and stone loggia designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki for the world-famous Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Last week, Mr Bondi appeared to pull the plug on the project when he suggested it was "very little in harmony" with renaissance Florence, prompting film director Franco Zeffirelli, a native of Florence, to say: "Well done, Bondi, finally we have a strong minister"

The minister's cultural crusade does not stop there. Earlier this week, he took time off to watch Il Sol dell'Avvenire, a documentary film recounting the origins of the terrorist Red Brigade movement.

Mr Bondi was keen to see the film, which is currently representing Italy at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, after he had received a complaint from Giovanni Berardi of the Association for the Victims of Red Brigade Violence. The film, which features interviews with former senior Red Brigade activists, "disturbed" the minister who commented: "It gives voice exclusively to the major protagonists of a criminal ideology that provoked so much suffering for so many families, whilst from their testimony there does not emerge even a single sign of remorse or at least of a critical awareness of their own responsibilities."

Nor has it escaped his attention that this particular film was made partly with state funding. Mr Bondi has apparently issued "strict instructions" ensuring that, in future, the Italian state does not finance films of "no cultural quality" and films that "reopen wounds" in the country's "ethical conscience".

Mr Bondi has, however, had nothing to say about the artistic merits of the "popular" entertainment that passes for serious broadcasting on the TV channels owned by his political master, Mr Berlusconi.