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Museum Director Sets Fire to Art Collection

Museum Director Sets Fire to Art Collection

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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62 comments

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8:47AM PDT on May 11, 2012

Whatever happened to that museum, anyway? Care2, are there any more news?

12:30PM PDT on Apr 22, 2012

thnx for this

10:50AM PDT on Apr 21, 2012

Thanks

6:23AM PDT on Apr 20, 2012

Whoa- As a seasoned artist, this article hits close to home. I'd be appauled if someone destroyed one of my sculptures- However once peices are sold, they are the owner's, to do with as the owner sees fit. As an artist, I certainly wouldn't want to watch, though (mine or anyone else's work being destroyed.) Thing is, museums are seldom owned by a singular peron. Typically, there are many stakeholders involved. It's not unusual for the government to be a stakeholder in the case of larger galleries. I think that might be the core of the "art war."

Personally, I'd advocate for moving the collection, but I don't know anything about the politics involved. Certainly it's extreme and radical, but not unprecidented in art history.

To those of you who feel attachment to art is silly- I respect your opinion that there are more important things to life than objects. However, art historically has been a prominent means by which we preserve our present and past culture, for later generations. It's the main reason *why* we collect and view art. Destroying works is much the same thing as book burning.

4:41AM PDT on Apr 20, 2012

Wow. It's performance art people - ultimately it's all empty - such attachment to art.

BTW - stop using "crazy" as a way to describe something you deem bad - that's called abelism. It's like saying "oh, that's so gay" to say something is not cool, or good or is bad. It labels those of us who have mental health challenges as "bad" rather than just different.

12:42AM PDT on Apr 20, 2012

the in charge seems to be insane in destroying the price less art work their are other ways to protest

10:03PM PDT on Apr 19, 2012

Art, curators, galleries, art critics, investment of art, and the public at large have lost the meaning of art as a light that shines in the darkness, it is now given more to hype, investment, and political deference, art for many has become the worship of false idols, some value came in art schools after the WW2, that servicemen had a place to recover from war injuries and trauma as in Britain, this had therapeutic value, eventually art schools gave way to high costs in a person enrolling and were made in to academic bureaucratic institutions that were for the well off and also to suppress any ideas that challenge establishment, art become increasingly concerned with exhibiting platforms that had media sensationalism, it also had snob value and a industry grew ex-financialy, as more people jumped on the bandwagon to explain "Art" to the public.
The trading of art become prominent as tens of millions of dollars were made at auctions, as Corporations and individuals become stewards of fashion in purchasing art that became status symbols for self grandissement of the individual purchaser.
As the human race become increasingly lost as to its direction, and a loss of its moral compass, art satisfied a spiritual vacuum for many, as other activities satisfied the masses, such as soccer.

9:29PM PDT on Apr 19, 2012

insanity! makes me want to cry just thinking about it. i hope he is actually burning copies and telling the media they are originals. why not close the place down and give the art to other museums.

9:17PM PDT on Apr 19, 2012

Sad and crazy.

8:46PM PDT on Apr 19, 2012

Like the Italian government cares. Neoconservative technocrats only care about two things - making corporations immortal and omnipotent and keeping the mafia off their backs. Even the whole of the socialist strip in the Emilia Romagna region is ignored, and it's a big gear in Italy's economic engine.

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