If Naples is today considered to be one of the centres of Italy’s contemporary arts scene, much of the credit should go to Lucio Amelio. Back in 1965, when the city was still something of a contemporary arts desert, he opened the Modern Art Agency. In 1969 the gallery moved from its original Parco Margherita space to a more central location in Piazza dei Martiri, which soon became Naples’ chief gateway to the world of avant-garde art.
Here Amelio exhibited artists of the calibre of Cy Twombly, Alberto Burri, Robert Rauschenberg and Jannis Kounellis, many of whom became personal friends. A meeting with Joseph Beuys in 1971 led to a collaboration that would last a lifetime. Nine years later, in April 1980, he acted as a trait d’union between Beuys and Andy Warhol, putting together a joint exhibition, a meeting of US and European artistic sensibilities that would give Naples a lasting place in world histories of the art scene.
Art critic Michele Buonomo defined it “a revolutionary meeting in an extreme, magmatic city, an absurd, contradictory place that is also a magical territory where opposites come together to generate new energy. The conjuror of this unthinkable alchemy could only have been Lucio Amelio, who in this event demonstrated the full extent of his sulphuric ability to create almost impossible links between worlds, stories and people”. Similarly influential was Amelio’s reaction to the devastating November 1980 earthquake in the Irpinia region of Campania: he persuaded more than 60 artists, from Beuys and Warhol to Keith Haring, to donate works inspired by the disaster to form a collection, Terrae Motus, that the gallery-owner defined as a “machine for creating a never-ending earthquake”.
Now, a little over twenty years after Amelio’s premature death in July 1994, the MADRE contemporary arts museum is dedicating a major retrospective to his life and some of the works he exhibited or commissioned between 1965 and 1982, with more than fifty artists represented, backed up by over 500 documents from the Amelio family archive. It's a chance to pay homage to a man once described by art critic Alan Jones as "the mayor of Naples".
“Lucio Amelio: dalla Modern Art Agency alla genesi di Terrae Motus (1965-82)” opens on 22 November 2014 and runs until 9 March 2015.
Museo MADRE, Via Settembrini 79, Naples. Tel +39 081 1931 3016, www.madrenapoli.it. Open Mon-Sat 10am-5.30pm, Sun 10am-8pm, closed Tue.