Genoa, the drama of the Villa Croce Museum: a museum without certainty about the future

The Villa Croce Museum in Genoa is a museum in the grip of uncertainty: having become a container for events, it has no plans for the future. Reflection.

Last January, in the pages of our magazine, we told you about one of the highlights of the crisis at the Villa Croce Museum in Genoa: in controversy with the city administration, which had granted the paltry sum of seventy thousand euros for the 2018 programming and had not established clear governance for the city’s main contemporary art institution, and in protest against the low number of accesses, the three partners of Open Art srl, the company that had been entrusted with the operational management of the museum (ticketing, reception, guarding, marketing, teaching) had decided to close their doors to the public. In a nutshell, the company, run by three 30-year-old recent college graduates, found itself faced with a rather difficult situation for an entity operating under a market regime and which can only thrive where there is at least a positive economic situation, and therefore pointed the finger at the artistic management which, according to one of the three partners, Elena Piazza, had allegedly thought of “a type of exhibition that probably does not meet the needs of the Genoese public and tourists,” thus wondering “why something is not being done to meet the tastes of potential visitors.” Piazza, however, forgot that, at least in the opinion of the writer, the program of a museum is not decided by popular acclamation, and the problem was, if anything, upstream, that is, in having thought of a management model for Villa Croce that was difficult to apply: and in such a context, the three girls of Open certainly appear to be the least culpable, since they found themselves in the midst of an experiment with unprecedented connotations in Italy, but whose outcome was perhaps not entirely unpredictable.

Whichever way you want to think about it, it is undeniable that since that day, events have precipitated. In March, the museum was deprived of thelast of its civil servants, Dr. Francesca Serrati, the conservator (and thus in charge of the permanent collection), who was moved to the Accademia Ligustica, with the result that the municipality found itself no longer in control within Villa Croce. In May, a further tile fell on the museum: the curator of Villa Croce, Carlo Antonelli, after just five months of work, dissolved the consulting contract stipulated with Palazzo Ducale (an entity that is part of both the Villa Croce museum’s steering committee and the operations committee), due to disagreements with the city administration on management (the displacement of all civil servants did not, in fact, allow the implementation of the exhibition program). And there was also a lack of support from the Amixi of Villa Croce, the association that for years had guaranteed important funding to the Genoese institute: they too, at the beginning of June, decided to withdraw their support, in controversy with Open and the municipal administration, and sorry to see how “Villa Croce, after the visibility acquired in five years of international exhibitions, meetings with important names among the protagonists of contemporary art and prestigious conferences, has completely lost its identity to become anything but a Museo dArte Contemporanea.”

The result of all this? Villa Croce no longer has a curator, it no longer has a conservator, it no longer has civil servants in it, exhibitions that were already scheduled have been skipped (a major exhibition by French collective Claire Fontaine was scheduled to open in May: because of what happened at the museum, it was obviously not possible to open it) and the only entity operating in the institution to date is a private company, Open, which has in fact transformed Villa Croce into a sort of container for events of various kinds, which have little to do with the mission of a museum (yoga and pilates classes, dance evenings, even the Sampdoria ultras party that in the city has sparked endless controversy). Adding to an already delicate situation were thoughtless Facebook posts and comments published on the “Eventi Villa Croce” page (and allegedly authored by Mario Mondini, legal representative of Open, who later apologized for the insulting phrases), in which the museum’s exhibition program was defined as a “mortuary” and which contained serious epithets aimed at municipal employees (“overcoming the slow bureaucracy generated by that mediocrity of the false left inherent in so many officials still employed ... we will give light to the Collection and begin a program of Temporary Exhibitions that will breathe life back into the Museum as Director Sandra Suleiman had done in her time.”). It is still not known for what reasons Open used the first person plural to talk about the planned temporary exhibitions: in fact, it does not appear that the company has been commissioned to take care of the exhibition program as well. The only certain news is that the City Council, a few days ago (the news is dated June 11), formed a committee, which will include the University, Palazzo Ducale, the Superintendence and the City Council, which will be entrusted with the task of thinking about the temporary exhibitions.

Il Museo di Villa Croce
The Villa Croce Museum in Genoa. Ph. Credit Maurizio Beatrici

Some considerations are therefore necessary about the current situation of one of the most important museums of contemporary art in northern Italy, where high-level exhibitions have always been held, starting with the solo shows of the big names of the current art scene (the last one was that of Stefano Arienti, who exhibited his works in dialogue with those of the permanent collection of Villa Croce). The constitution of an exhibitions committee has the flavor of an emergency measure: it seems to correspond to a sort of commissariat, since the figure in charge of cultural programming should be that of the director or curator, and since in order to truly promote and relaunch a museum there is a need for someone to work within it on a daily basis. A committee may perhaps be able to decide which exhibitions to organize from time to time (and thus prevent situations like the current one from arising), but it is really difficult to imagine the committee as a body that can dictate the cultural vision of the museum. Villa Croce, in essence, needs to become a civic museum again, with a director to ensure its cultural orientation, and with civil servants working within it and ensuring the presence of the municipality within its walls.

Indeed, the real scandal is not the opening of Villa Croce to events that might be deemed unbecoming of the identity and goals of a contemporary art museum. The Genoese museum is endowed with a large park and spaces that can be dedicated to activities of this kind and, as we have been repeating on these pages for some time, there is no need to be prejudiced against events that have little connection with art, if they are organized far from the works, without harming the structure and without impeding a regular enjoyment by visitors. The party of the Sampdoria ultras can also be more than fine, if it does not alter in any way the access to the museum and if it also has the opportunity to become a moment of aggregation of the city around one of its most important museums. What is absolutely wrong, however, is to make Villa Croce a mere container of events without any idea of its future, without any attempt to give the museum an identity, without any certainty about programming, without anyone imagining a cultural line, possibly of a high level, for such an important museum with a 30-year history.

Finally, we need to rethink how to manage Villa Croce, which for the past two years has been relying on a failed model: not even the largest museums manage to sustain themselves on ticketing alone, and placing the burden of basic services on a startup with no previous management experience was a risky move, to say the least, which produced the rehashes of responsibility and the effects that everyone has a chance to assess today. Villa Croce is, and for now remains, a public museum, and the decision to transfer all its employees elsewhere to leave it at the mercy of a private company cannot and should not find any justification. A very bad case of public-private interaction has been produced in Genoa: an interesting case study for those who believe that private individuals are the solution to the ills of Italian museums, but that in reality nothing can if the governance is unclear, and if the line adopted by the museum places public and private in open conflict. It is therefore the case that the City Council should reverse the pernicious trend that has been devastating a museum that has been active since 1985 for several months now and consider whether it should not think seriously about the future of Villa Croce, which currently lacks governance. Otherwise, if the intent is to dismantle the museum, at least say so clearly.

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