An exhibition at Brescia Castle showcases a selection of precious Turkestan carpets

Entitled "The Knots of the Garden of Paradise," the exhibition that, from April 1 to Nov. 5, 2023, showcases a precious selection of Turkestan carpets from the Tassara Foundation at Brescia Castle. In dialogue with works of contemporary textile art.

From April 1 to November 5, 2023, the Castle of Brescia will host the exhibition The Knots of the Garden of Paradise, organized by Fondazione Tassara, which has decided to make available, on the occasion of the events related to Bergamo Brescia Italian Capital of Culture 2023, a part of its important collection of carpets, donated by Romain Zaleski, with the aim of making known and appreciated by the general public some artifacts usually destined for display in temporary exhibitions in major museums around the world. Together with Fondazione Brescia Musei, co-promoter of the project, it has entrusted Letizia Cariello and Giovanni Valagussa with the curatorship of the exhibition, which will be held at the new spaces, restored and reopened to the public after about fifteen years, in the Great Mile of the Brescia Castle, where the “Lioness of Italy” Museum of the Risorgimento is also set up on the lower floor.

The exhibition project brings together a valuable selection of 35 carpets from the Turkestan area, chosen from within the extensive corpus of the Zaleski collection, which for the first time are being shown to the public alongside a nucleus of textile-related contemporary art works by Alighiero Boetti, Herta Ottolenghi Wedekind, Sheila Hicks, Ibrahim Mahama and Raùl De Nieves, which will be included, together with a multimedia projection on a large sail screen by Wladimir Zaleski, in a unique and unprecedented site-specific installation created by Letizia Cariello. A “soft space” made of fabric, threads, taut ropes and carpets hung like banners or gonfalons.

Fondazione Tassara and Fondazione Brescia Musei have decided to make the entrance ticket to the exhibition free of charge in order to let the general public discover a world whose art sinks into the centuries from China to Spain without interruption, where not only ancient and contemporary art dialogue, but also produce a new work of art.

Parallel to the exhibition in Brescia, the second edition of Hortus Conclusus has been organized in Bergamo, with the opening of three ancient palaces in the upper city (Palazzo Agliardi, Palazzo Terzi, Castello di Valverde), part of the Historical Residences program, and inside the palaces 13 very rare carpets, dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries, whose types are named after important Renaissance painters: Ghirlandaio, Lotto and Tintoretto, will be offered. As a result, the public will be able to exceptionally admire these ancient works of art during some weekends (particularly Sundays, April 16, 23, 30, April 7, 14, May 21, September 17, 24 and October 1) inside residences normally inhabited by their owners. The two initiatives are supported by Fondazione Cariplo and the Fondazione della Comunità Bresciana.

The title of the Brescian exhibition refers to the threads of carpets knotted around the warp and weft, evoking magical, paradisiacal lands, places of the sacred and prayer, warm and comfortable environments, oases in the desert. It is precisely the theme of travel that guided the choice, within the Zaleski collection, one of the most comprehensive private collections in the world, consisting of more than 1330 carpets from all parts of Eurasia and North Africa, of the 35 antique carpets, all confined to a specific area. This is the vast expanse of Central Asia, in that territory collectively referred to as Turkestan, which stretches from the Caspian Sea to western China and includes countries that are among the most fascinating in the world for their extraordinary landscapes and unspoiled nature, in which the caravan routes that constituted the Silk Road used to wind.

"I believe that The Knots of the Gardens of Paradise is an evocative and particularly apt title for this magnificent exhibition," comments Laura Castelletti, deputy mayor and councillor for Culture of the Municipality of Brescia. "It immediately transports us to the atmosphere of The Thousand and One Nights, that place in the East between the magical and the real, the homeland of the most precious and sumptuous carpets that, not surprisingly, are treated here as works of art in their own right. Fondazione Tassara and the Zaleski family have once again given the city a great gift: the exhibition that inaugurates the redeveloped spaces of the Great Mile, and returns them to the enjoyment of all, is a plunge into Central Asia, places so far away that today they are instead here, among us, in one of the most symbolic spaces of culture-rich Brescia, our Castle. Fondazione Brescia Musei and the curatorship of LETIA - Letizia Cariello and Giovanni Valagussa have created a display that further enriches the already very high artistic value of this exhibition, which I really invite everyone to visit."

“Fondazione Brescia Musei,” stresses president Francesca Bazoli, “has strongly desired the realization of the wonderful exhibition project that we are presenting today and has therefore contributed to it through the involvement of its museum structure, confirming its role as a true and primary institution of culture and artistic promotion at the service of the Brescian community. This project impresses a further emphasis about the role of the language of contemporary art in the enhancement of ancient heritage, in this case the collection of carpets of the Tassara Foundation. Therefore, we shared the idea of an installation-like and artistic realization of the installation, a total work of art by LETIA - Letizia Cariello, which transforms the exhibition show into a living, dynamic and immersive project. In these terms, the project also marks a very important direction for the new space of the Great Mile, connected to the wonderful Museum of the Risorgimento Lioness of Italy, whose potential is clearly revealed by today’s proposal.”

“The mandate of Fondazione Tassara,” notes President Flavio Pasotti, “is not only to guard a priceless collection of carpets, artistic expressions of diverse cultures declined with extraordinary historical and geographical depth: it is also, through making the collection available, to give the opportunity to continue to produce art and spread knowledge as in this case where ancient and contemporary art merge five centuries of history with a courageous operation within site-specific installations, not just ’exhibiting,’ but nurturing and supporting creativity in every art form.”

It is, says Giovanni Valagussa, curator of the exhibition, “an exhibition that wants to remember the millennial link between East and West; to remember mythical cities such as Bukhara, Samarkand, or Tashkent; to remember the mysterious and fascinating culture of the nomads who moved through these borderless areas; but also to remember the women who today in Afghanistan fight for their dignity and for an absurdly denied equality.”

As LETIA - Letizia Cariello, curator of the exhibition, points out, “the precious carpets are presented not in a traditional museum-inspired alignment, but become in turn constituent parts of a large and articulated work of contemporary art. It is a Gesamtkunstwerk [total artwork], consisting basically of four elements installed one inside the other to form a kind of Matryoshka offered to the viewer, so as to invite him or her to become an actor and ultimately a constituent part of the overall installation.”

Made especially for the exhibition are the unprecedented Beauceant and Aracne installations by LETIA - Letizia Cariello. The first consists of the carpets themselves mounted on frames supported by pulleys, marine bollards and steel brackets with the help of red sailing ropes that run through the space rolling up on the ceiling beams, in a game of interweaving reminiscent of the latticework of sailboat shrouds. The second is a kind of labyrinth that accompanies the visitors’ path and winds through a sequence of handrails of mirror-polished steel designed by the artist, crossed by a long red cord that guides people as if following the ancient myth of Ariadne’s thread. The orchestration of these elements is ideally inspired by the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri, next to the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, whose walls, alongside traditional religiously inspired elements, house banners and trophies from the Battle of Lepanto.

Rounding out the itinerary are the large sail screen with evocative color and sound images by videomaker and videoartist Wladimir Zaleski, textile artifacts made by exceptional 20th-century artists such as Herta Ottolenghi Wedekind, and in very recent times by Alighiero Boetti, Sheila Hicks, Ibrahim Mahama and Raùl De Nieves, and LETIA’s own work, Thinkerbell. It is a large brass cage, placed in the nave, inside which Bach’s music will be played. Thanks also to the collaboration with the Fondazione del Teatro Grande di Brescia, the music will be performed live, in different circumstances, by the Bazzini Consort playing inside the work, in a peculiar combination of auditory and visual perception.

An exhibition at Brescia Castle showcases a selection of precious Turkestan carpets
An exhibition at Brescia Castle showcases a selection of precious Turkestan carpets

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