An aerial pilgrimage to see art in the Alps

Visitors wishing to see the inaugural installation of the Béatrice Trussardi Foundation have two options: hiking or horse-drawn carriage. The foundation has just opened not in a shiny building designed by a starch maker, but in a 17th century mountain hut in the Swiss Alps.

This mostly car-free valley, Val Fex, isn’t the first place you’d expect to encounter a contemporary art installation, but the location starts to make sense when you consider Trussardi, the daring cultural entrepreneur. Italian who, over the past two decades, has upset the traditional parameters of the museum through his ambitious “nomadic” projects.

She led them as the head of the Nicola Trussardi Foundation, named after her fashion mogul father, which has a long history of wacky public interventions in Milan. These include Elmgreen and Dragset’s car with a trailer apparently emerging from the mosaic floor of the Vittorio Emanuele shopping arcade and extensive blankets made of brown jute bags by Ibrahim Mahama covering the historic tolls in the city. Now, under his own name, Trussardi is transporting this traveling model outside of Italy – and into nature.

“We really wanted to take this formula elsewhere, anywhere else, in the world,” explains Trussardi. The idea is that the new foundation, led by Trussardi and his longtime collaborator, curator and museum director Massimiliano Gioni, will carry out projects by different artists in less usual or more remote areas of the world. “The combination of the place, which will change every time, and the artist’s intervention is what really characterizes our work. The magic that comes from it is something special, ”she says.

The Val Fex refuge, a valley in the Swiss Alps © Marco de Scalzi

“Magic” is a word Trussardi uses repeatedly during the foundation’s opening weekend, an occasion full of mystery and surprise. Little is known about the installation except that it is by Pole Pawel Althamer – a figure of artist-shaman à la Joseph Beuys who is known to ingest psychotropic substances in the course of his work – and that ‘it responds to the spirituality rooted in a region that has long attracted thinkers and artists such as Nietzsche, Giacometti and the painter Giovanni Segantini. A press release tells us to expect “a fantastic and mysterious atmosphere” and “a return to nature and asceticism”.

‘Asceticism’ might not be the first word one might associate with a traveling art foundation, especially when pandemic-induced travel restrictions and extreme weather events created a heated discussion about it. access and privileges in the art world. Such globetrotting initiatives recall the prodigious behavior of the pre-pandemic era and the international list of art fairs, biennials and vernissages. Nor is the facility located in just any mountain valley, but the Engadine, cradle of the bermensch but also uberwealthy winter playground; the ski resort of St Moritz is a short drive away.

Those who can enter Switzerland and travel to the picturesque town of Sils-Maria must then choose between a horse-drawn carriage or on foot – although, with the choice of a 20-minute hike or a 50-minute scenic route, it is hardly to scale the Matterhorn. Opting for the latter, our group begins the ascent by a forest path, the snow-capped mountains in sight, the sublime alpine in all its splendor.

At times our journey is interrupted by choral voices floating through the pines and an alphorn troupe blocking the trail with their elongated instruments. Such examples, courtesy of Althamer, are designed to bring us to a heightened state of consciousness.

Pawel Althamer works on ‘Franciszek’ © Marco De Scalzi

A troop of alphorns blocks the path to the hut © Marco De Scalzi

At first, it is difficult to see anything other than escape. But then we arrive at the hut that houses the work, “Franciszek”. A family of goats are fully at home inside, climbing around the centerpiece of the installation that stands in the middle of the hay-strewn ground: a papier-mâché sculpture of the slim, naked Italian mystic St. Francis , eyes raised to the sky, wax-covered skin painted with natural pigments and face decorated with a beard of local flora and fauna. Large wounds on his body reveal a mutilated interior held together by strands of string.

What’s striking is how different this humble diorama is from Milan’s brash interventions. While these often left their urban environment, here everything, from the subject to the materials, seems to reflect the natural environment. In addition to the sacred allusions, other references transform this cabin into a space of art and reflection.

This vulnerable figure, whose nervous forms resemble medieval sculpture, is poignant in the hour of illness. The organic materials recall the anti-monumentality of Arte Povera. Live animals, rather than whimsical, bring something of the spontaneity of a Fluxus happening – at one point a goat urinates on the doorstep of the hut. The more time you spend among the rowdy kids and that ecstatic effigy, the more the hike, setting and installation as a whole makes sense as an artistic pilgrimage. As Althamar observes, “Climbing changes attitudes. Moving from the level of human energy to the natural world has unexplained power.

Still, I ask Gioni, who is also artistic director of the New Museum in New York, about the advantages of staging an installation 2,000 meters above sea level in an area of ​​about 100 people.

“It was an aspiration that by going to unusual places we reached an unprepared audience. Professionals would come, but we would receive other people who might never have encountered art this way, ”Gioni explains. A few curious hikers stopped to peek inside, striking up a conversation with the artist, who affectionately strokes a goat nibbling on St Francis’ velvet cloak. “I think so [the installation] it changes the life of a person, it is enough, it is not necessary to reach the maximum audience.

Trussardi, who moved to the Engadine during the pandemic, explains that she also chose this location because she felt the need to explore issues relating to nature. “Covid has led to a global existential crisis that has forced individuals and societies to rethink the way they live,” she says. “The context of this work addresses some of the pressing issues we face today, such as climate change and sustainability. “

These are particularly pressing topics in the Alps, where the temperature has risen nearly twice the global average over the past 120 years. I wonder about the carbon footprint of flying in a group of international journalists.

Goats run free around the installation © Marco De Scalzi

In addition to conducting research projects and conferences alongside each project, Trussardi hopes that future initiatives will partner with local institutions: “I don’t want projects to feel parachuted into a context without roots or meaningful exchange. , so working on partnerships with different groups can only enrich the whole process.

A nomadic art foundation certainly has the potential to be an unconventional model for unconventional times, as an alternative to the successful show but also as a new perspective on the relationship between art and locality. Even if such demanding experiences arouse a certain skepticism, you find in “Franciszek” a work deeply sensitive to its physical and cultural environment.

If future projects follow a similar path, then – for those in a position to reach them – they might offer a more contemplative way of seeing art, the genre that St. Francis might have endorsed.

As of August 29, beatricetrussardifoundation.com

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