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A Grand Tour through the Vaults of Leading Museums

OVER THE PAST 25 YEARS, MAURO FIORESE’S PHOTOS HAVE BROUGHT LIGHT TO HANDICAPS (CORPOLIBERO, 1996-97), WARMTH TO THE PHOSPHORESCENCE OF U.PHO.S (UNIDENTIFIED PHOTOGRAPHIC SUBJECTS, 2005-2010), AND THEY HAVE FOUND THE ’BEST POSSIBLE LIGHT’ TO BRING OUT THE OUTLINES OF LOVE (MIND MAP OF LOVE, 2011-2016).

Over the last three years, however, Mauro – who was born in Verona in 1970 – put almost all his efforts into his most mature and ambitious project, which was to make the vaults of museums sparkle in his Treasure Rooms series. “The original idea comes from the study of the history of both art and photography: the incredible number of works of art on display and hidden from the eyes of the general public, and the production of more or less documentary or archival photographs of the over 4000 museums that exist in Italy, inspired me to take a new look at them.”

This is how Fiorese described the launch of the project in a recent essay, the latest addition to the words of all the directors and curators of the most important Italian museums on his Grand Tour. In a nutshell, Treasure Rooms uses the camera to shed light on the places where the masterpieces of art are kept, revealing the majesty of those treasure rooms of culture, which are among the most outstanding in the world. The storage spaces thus become works of art themselves, for they are given dignity by large-format portraits in antiquestyle frames. The photographs thus mimic the finest paintings, from the Renaissance onwards, with compositions created by the artist and his brushstrokes of light. Mauro Fiorese, who has taught photography at universities and academies, including those of Milan and Verona, and in the United States, has thus performed an innovative operation, bringing photography to painting, on a cultural return to the origins. The result is an imaginary picture gallery consisting of the sum of all the hidden works, including ancient finds and sculptures. “I wasn’t interested in what is on view,” continues the artist in his essay, “what the visitor normally buys a ticket for and is required to see, depending on the decisions of the curators, but rather everything that is not visible to our eyes in these very same places.” In this case, these curatorial choices, which often lead to debates about their legitimacy, simply form the dividing line between what emerges and what remains concealed.

The project, which consists of twenty-six works photographed the length and breadth of Italy, in the Uffizi, the Galleria Borghese, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, GAM in Turin, and the Correr and Ca’ Pesaro in Venice, naturally broadens the range of vision. First of all, Fiorese’s photographs meant that the museum directors were given a peek at the situation in other institutions, but they were also able to think more closely about how to preserve and promote each collection. A plan is in place to show the entire series in 2017. This will be accompanied by a catalogue and will constitute a sort of transcription of the major powers of museology, or at least a starting point that will lead to a conference on the theme inspired by the project itself. Those who see the Treasure Rooms will thus have an opportunity to get rid of some prejudices they may have: also at the international level the disproportion between what is on view and what is hidden is the most vital sign for the most important exhibition centres. Authoritative sources estimate that only 7% of the Hermitage collection in St Petersburg is on show, 8% of the Guggenheim in New York, 9% of the Prado in Madrid and 10% of the British Museum in London. The exception is the Louvre, with 60% on display, while the remaining 40% constitutes its reserve collection.

In some cases, more could certainly be done and Fiorese points this out in a constructive manner in this project. For example, the public might be given more opportunities to see these “reservoirs of surprises”, as Salvatore Settis has called them, which are always very popular. However, storage rooms generally remain closed, primarily for security reasons. Thanks to the glimpses offered by Mauro Fiorese, the magic of these places is shown to us, and it is enriched by the interpretation of this artist, who has not surprisingly been rewarded with displays at the Domus Foundation and GAM in Verona, Gallerie d’Italia in Milan and Vicenza, as well as by a solo exhibition at the Robert Mann Gallery in New York. “Fired by powerful emotions and a sense of privilege, and with an approach somewhere between pure voyeurism and the Stendhal syndrome,” recalls Fiorese, “I look at these places, attempting not to position anything, but only to position myself with regard to what I see.” The project had started out on a journey abroad, including at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Galleria Belvedere in Vienna, but it was sadly interrupted by the untimely death of Fiorese at the age of just 46 on 4 December 2016, after a heroic battle against an invisible enemy – lung cancer.

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Beatrice Benedetti is a curator and journalist. Her recent publications include the volume Emilio Isgrò. Come difendersi dall’arte e dalla pioggia (Maretti, 2013) and the catalogue Emilio Isgrò, Model Italy, 2013-1964 (Electa, 2013) for the exhibition at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome. In 2015 she and Paola Marini curated The Wonders of the Year 2000 at the Museo di Castelvecchio in Verona. Since 2006 she has been the artistic director of Boxart, which was founded in Verona in 1995 by Giorgio Gaburro.

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