Sicily, a new museum and an important prehistoric archaeological site open in Centuripe

There is great cultural ferment in Centuripe, Sicily: a new exhibition center is opening (it will open with an exhibition on twentieth-century graphics, from Picasso to Kandinsky and others), and for the first time a very important prehistoric archaeological site will be open to visitors.

The Sicilian town of Centuripe is banking on culture: the new mayor Salvatore La Spina, who was elected first citizen of the town in the province of Enna after years spent working in culture in Florence, will inaugurate a new exhibition center this summer, the first in Centuripe, together with the regional councillor for cultural heritage and Sicilian identity Alberto Samonà. The mayor’s idea is to make the L’Antiquarium Exhibition Center (that’s the name) one of the flagships of the village’s new cultural policy as well as a place of artistic production for the next generations. The space, historically one of the most interesting in the area, is in the cloister of a former Augustinian convent, built in the 16th century, which over the centuries has changed its use and was also, until 2000, home to the municipal Antiquarium.1

“I am very proud,” says La Spina, “not only for having endowed the town with a municipal exhibition center but also for having inaugurated the space with an exhibition that allows, on the one hand, to be able to admire the graphic works of the most important modern artists but also to enhance our territory. A project that networks so many actors from all over Italy with our young people in Centuripe, and it was made possible thanks to the support of so many companies in our area that believed in us. I hope that this is just the beginning of a real rebirth.”

The idea was born on the one hand to include Centuripe in the circuit of large Sicilian exhibition centers, and on the other to enhance the cultural heritage. The opening is entrusted to an exhibition on the great graphic art of the 20th century: it is entitled Signs. From Cézanne to Picasso, from Kandinsky to Miró, the masters of the European 20th century dialogue with the rock engravings of Centuripe, is curated by Simona Bartolena, opens from July 4 to Oct. 17, 2021, and aims to relate the masters of the 20th century to the important historical and anthropological evidence of the area, particularly the hitherto unknown archaeological site Riparo Cassataro, which is being shown to the world for the first time, and which holds the only evidence in southeastern Sicily of rock paintings dating back to the prehistoric period, a source of inspiration for many artists in the exhibition.

There are 85 works on display at the Antiquarium, all original (some very rare, when not unique), proposing a path through the work of the Peintres-graveures (painters-engravers, according to Ambroise Vollard’s definition) from the end of the 19th century to after World War II, with the intention of emphasizing the role of printing techniques in the evolution of the languages, styles and modes of expression of the European avant-garde movements of the last century and their exponents. It is a kind of “summary” of the art history of early twentieth-century Europe that starts symbolically at the end of the nineteenth century, with the work of key figures for the developments of art in the following decades (above all Paul Cézanne and Toulouse-Lautrec) and then continues among the various avant-garde movements and their main interpreters: Picasso to Matisse, Pechstein to Dix, Kandinsky to Klee, Miró to Giacometti, Hartung to Dubuffet, Vedova to Fontana. An exhaustive overview of the European art scene of this historical period, testifying, through the sheets of some authors of the time, to the importance of the art print as an autonomous means of expression, a valuable tool in their research to which they entrusted the most daring technical experiments and important stylistic transitions.

“In Italy, unfortunately, the artist print is still little considered by the general public,” points out curator Simona Bartolena. “Victim of groundless prejudices, the graphic work is little told. The collections of many international museums, for example that of Moma in New York, boast a section of printed works numbering in the thousands, in dialogue with painting, sculpture, photography, publishing and design. This exhibition offers an extraordinary opportunity to follow the international example and consider printmaking as an important, sometimes fundamental, part of the twentieth-century masters’ research. The preference of one technique over the others, the choice of a printing method, the very approach to the matrix to be engraved and the paper to be imprinted reveal very interesting nuances of an artist’s research or the language of a movement, offering a different point of view from the better-known one of painting and sculpture. The exhibition is thus a splendid ”journey“ through the history of twentieth-century art through its protagonists, but also an opportunity to discover printmaking techniques and processes and their peculiarities. Curating it has been exciting. I hope I will also be visiting it!”

For Centuripe, the exhibition Signs acquires, moreover, a special significance, offering additional food for thought. The leading figures of the historical avant-gardes of the early 20th century were inspired by African and primitive art, giving rise to the phenomenon of so-called Primitivism. The prehistoric rock paintings of Riparo Cassataro, an exceptional site discovered in 1976, create an unprecedented comparison with some of the works on display, above all Picasso’s famous Taurus. The very close relationship between the search for a new aesthetic code and the primal languages of different civilizations, distant in space and time, emerges clearly, suggesting new reading paths and reasons for further investigation.

Inside the Riparo Cassataro, a rocky ravine formed by the stacking of huge sandstone blocks, two series of paintings can be identified: one more evident in red ochre and the other more faded in black coloration. The latter, most visible in infrared photos, depicts an ox with long horns and an anthropomorphic figure hugging a tambourine and is believed to be the oldest, dating to the Neolithic period both in style and from ceramic finds near the rock.

The red ochre scene would seem to belong to a later period, most likely the Bronze Age. A series of anthropomorphic figures are identified, from left to right, with an increasing degree of simplification and abstraction. Figures first provided with limbs are then simply depicted as blunt squares provided with heads inside. The curious shape seems due to a stylization of praying or celebrating people with their arms raised. The anthropomorphic figures are distributed around a large central design that forms the centerpiece, a very complex one that at the moment has not provided clear elements of decipherment. It could represent a large construction, perhaps a hut/sacellum or an important figure such as a deity or a prominent person in the community. The design has some features in common with anthropomorphic stylized figures but has greater richness and complexity due in part to a lattice structure that could represent the meshes of a robe. A part of the basement can be distinguished in the shelter where a numerous series of hollowed-out cup-marks of probable cultic use is evident. The Riparo Cassataro, which is kept inside a private property, will be exceptionally visible for the first time during the entire duration of the exhibition, upon reservation.

The exhibition, sponsored by the Regional Department of Cultural Heritage and Sicilian Identity and the Municipality of Centuripe, is the brainchild of Enrico Sesana, is produced by Vidi Cultural srl and is made possible thanks to the contribution of the Ars (Sicilian Regional Assembly), the sponsorship of LuxEsco and Barbera International, and the support of Verzì Caffè and the “Aragona” Water Utility Consortium.

In the photo: the Riparo Cassataro

Sicily, a new museum and an important prehistoric archaeological site open in Centuripe
Sicily, a new museum and an important prehistoric archaeological site open in Centuripe