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Ten essential Italian events for 2020

18.01.2020. Art & Culture

Italy does cultural, social and gastronomic gatherings like few other places on earth – but it’s not always good at getting the word on its seasonal highlights out to those who like to plan their holidays well in advance. We’ve done a little research, made a few phone calls, and come up with this curated list of events that it’s worth making a detour to see before or after the most essential appointment of them all – spring, summer or fall in Positano.


This delightful and inventive show, a collaboration between Naples’ premier painting, sculpture and decorative arts museum and the city’s famous San Carlo opera theatre, transforms the 18 Royal Apartments of the Bourbon monarchs who ruled over Naples for centuries into an opera set. The exhibition sets a history of changing tastes, from Egyptomania to the Chinoiserie craze, against the turbulent events of the 17th and 18th centuries, to the strains of music by Naples-based composers such as Pergolesi or Paisiello.


Chinese painter Liu Ye, famous for his ludic, mysterious images of round-faced young girls or variations on Dick Bruna’s Miffy the rabbit, is the subject of ‘Storytelling’, one of two shows opening at the Prada Foundation’s main Milan venue (a former distillery) at the end of January.  For curator Udo Kittelmann, Liu Ye’s work delivers “sensitive pictorial messages relayed between two worlds that are often viewed as contradictory: Western and Asian cultures”. Don’t be fooled by the rather dry subtitle of the Foundation’s other parallel show, “Chinese export porcelain”: this socio-cultural survey will tell a potentially fascinating story of Chinese attitudes to foreign lands, bodies and cultures and Western myths and narratives of the Orient through the ceramics Chinese artisans made for export between the 16th and 19th centuries.


This year marks the 500th anniversary of the death – at the age of only 37 – of Renaissance painter Raffaello Sanzio, a.k.a. Raphael. To mark the occasion, Rome’s premier exhibition venue will stage a major show on the painter and his circle, made possible by loans from Florence’s Uffizi Gallery and several other museums. Meanwhile, the Domus Aurea archaeological site will host an exhibition on the Urbino-born artist’s interest in ‘grotesques’ – ancient Roman decorative motifs that became fashionable among Italian artists and patrons soon after the murals of Nero’s former imperial palace were brought to light at the end of the 15thcentury.


Long inaccessible even to art historians, Rome’s foremost private collection of Roman and Greek sculpture will finally emerge from decades of legal wrangles and failed attempts to give it a permanent home, when almost a hundred newly-restored works from the 620 acquired by Prince Alessandro Torlonia in the 19th century go on show in a reopened wing of the city’s Capitoline Museums that has been renovated by David Chipperfield Architects. For co-curator Salvatore Settis, this princely haul of marble gods, goddesses, heroes, emperors and others, which swallowed up several smaller collections amassed in Rome from the 16th century onwards, represents a “collection of collections”.


Much more than just a ‘Furniture Fair’, this annual celebration of design in all its forms brings Milan alive with parties, events and openings during its five-day run, and for many global glitterati and culturati is up there with Art Basel Miami Beach as a place to be and to be seen. If you’re planning to visit, arrange accommodation well in advance, work your design or fashion-world contacts for invites, and spend as little time as possible in the huge trade-fair complex on the north-western edge of the city where the buyers and sellers congregate – all the action that counts takes place in downtown Milan, particularly in the Brera, Porta Nuova and Tortona districts.


Subtitled ‘How Will We Live Together?”, the 17th edition of Venice’s biannual survey of new architectural trends and projects is curated by Hashim Sarkis, Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT in Boston. For this edition, Sarkis is focusing on architects who, he believes, “as custodians of the social contract… engage other professions and constituencies—artists, builders, and craftspeople, but also politicians, journalists, social scientists, and everyday citizens”. Playing out as always between the pavilions of the Giardini, the former navy boatyards of the Arsenale and venues across Venice, the Architecture Biennale may not have the pulling power of its Art stablemate, but it’s no poor cousin, and always throws up a few fascinating conceptual displays that could have made it into either Biennale.


It’s too early for many details to have emerged as to what La Scala’s starriest staging of 2020 will actually look like, but the roster of talent involved makes this new production of Verdi’s much-censored opera about the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden one of this year’s hot tickets on the world circuit: conducted by veteran maestro Zubin Mehta, it will be directed by Oscar-winning cineaste Gabriele Salvatores and feature costumes by – wait for it – Dolce & Gabbana.


Mixing theatre, opera, dance, music, exhibitions and talks, Italy’s most highly-regarded performing arts festival brings a wealth of talent and audiences from across the globe to the historic Umbrian town of Spoleto for 17 days each June and July. Now in its 63rd year, the festival has fully recovered from the rough patch it fell into around the turn of the millennium. The 2020 programme won’t be announced until April, but with recent invitees including Robert Wilson, Tim Robbins, Lucinda Childs, Stefano Bollani and Roberto Bolle, it always includes at least a handful of shows or concerts that are worth pegging a trip on.


Florence’s leading exhibition venue, Renaissance-era Palazzo Strozzi, is paying a great deal more attention to contemporary art under its current director, Arturo Galansino. Both its 2020 shows feature living artists: after the spring exhibition dedicated to Argentinean conceptual eco-sculptor Tomás Saraceno, it’s the turn of one of the most hyped artists of our era, Jeff Koons. Galansino’s argument in a show he himself is curating is that the Koons legend masks the US artist’s seminal importance: “he’s a very historically significant figure”, the Strozzi director believes, one whose career splits into two phases. The first, Galansino explains, is his avant-garde origins, when “he was going in a completely new direction compared to most of the other artists of his time”, the second his years of media fame, “when he pretty much invented the superstar art market”.


Born from the rib of the Slow Food movement, Italy’s biggest annual food fair is a five-day celebration of artisanal produce, food politics and sustainable farming, with talks, tastings and endless opportunities to sample, buy and ogle good things from every corner of the globe. The 2020 edition will remodel the main exhibition space – a former Fiat factory – as a series of ‘ecosystems’. Many visitors choose to combine a visit to the fair with a wine and food tour of the Langhe area south of Turin, where both the truffle season and the wine harvest are in full swing.


Main photo: Torlonia Collection – Resting Goat, Greek marble @Fondazione Torlonia/Lorenzo de Masi


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