To protest cuts in funding, Antonio Manfredi, the director of the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) in Naples, set fire to a painting on Tuesday and announced that it will be only the first to go up in flames. “Our 1,000 artworks are headed for destruction anyway because of the government’s indifference,” he says in the BBC.
The painting was by French artist Severine Bourguignon and she watched her work, Promenade, go up in flames via a Skype link. “I feel as if I am in mourning… And now I have to fix in my mind that I will never see that work again. But I hope it’ll be worthwhile,” she said to the Guardian via Raw Story.
Manfredi said Promenade was worth about 10,000 euros (about $13,120). Without sufficient funding, he described recent flooding and garbage piling up. CAM is privately sponsored and will have to shut its doors unless regional, national or European funding is provided; for this reason, Manfredi he started what he calls an “an art war to prevent the destruction of culture.” He said he plans to burn one artwork from CAM’s permanent collection per day to highlight how the economic crisis and the numerous austerity measures the Italian government has imposed are leading to the demise of the country’s cultural institutions and heritage, both major sources of tourism revenue.
As the BBC notes, Manfredi has a reputation as an “outspoken and radical” museum director. Since he opened CAM in his hometown near Naples in 2005, some of his exhibitions have not won him the favor of the local mafia:
In 2009, a lifesize effigy of an African figure was left impaled over the museum gates following an exhibition of art that dealt with prostitution – a trade occupied locally almost entirely by African immigrants and controlled by organised criminals.
Manfredi has also blamed the theft of security cameras and several attempted break-ins on the mafia.
Manfredi has even gone so far as to write a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel asking for asylum; he noted that he has not received a response, but would take CAM’s collection if he were granted it.
On Monday, Welsh sculptor John Brown, set fire to one of his works, Manifesto, in sympathetic protest. His Documented Art Space in Harlech, North Wales, has exhibited at CAM. While noting that he was not that upset at burning his art, Brown said he felt that doing so was important to protest how the economic crisis is “being dealt with.”
Brown also said that he focuses on the “process of making art, and the interaction with people” and that these are “more important than keeping it as a precious object.” The sensationalistic – shocking – over-the-top act of setting fire to artworks can certainly have a visceral effect on people as it evokes images of book burnings and culture going up in flames. Manfredi himself does not seem sure if his “art war” will be effective in getting the government to provide more funding. As he says, “ My fear is that they’ll let me go ahead and burn the lot.”
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