Mauro Staccioli's sculptures in Volterra: experiences that become art in the landscape


"Places of Experience" is the name of an itinerary among the works Mauro Staccioli has made in the landscape of Volterra. Interventions that recall some of his experiences, elevated to a universal level, in the dialogue between art and territory.

Driving through the countryside surrounding Volterra, the gaze is caught by large sculptures with geometric shapes totally immersed in the landscape: circles, ovals, triangles and lines stand out solitary among the green or barren lands, depending on the season, integrating perfectly with the environment in which they are placed, as they pick up the colors of the earth, from the lightest brown to the darkest, to gray. A tribute to the environment and origins made by one of the most recognized contemporary artists, or rather, sculptors: Mauro Staccioli (Volterra, 1937 - Milan, 2018) who was born and raised in the lands of Volterra. Because of this attachment to the place of his birth, the monumental sculptures that are well combined with the territory and not at all invasive take on a poetic aspect, strongly linked to memory and life experience. And it is precisely the existential experience that is the common thread of all these works that draw in the Volterra lands a true itinerary between nature and art. The poetry of a sculpture that is outside the usual museum spaces and that synthesizes with essential forms all the love that a man, before being an artist, can feel toward the places that saw him born, take his first steps and grow up is unique, also because of the atmosphere that is created around each work: one is alone in front of these large forms, all around is the land, the hills, the landscape with vast panoramas over which the gaze is lost and on which a pleasant breath of dry wind blows. The itinerary of sculpture-interventions, this is how one defines this type of work in close dialogue with the place for which and in which they are made and in close contact with the surrounding space, both because of the colors and the use of simple materials, is often a destination for motorcyclists (due to the greater ease of riding through points where the roads are unpaved), but also for motorists who, intentionally or accidentally, stop along the highway to admire the work and the view, then proceeding in search of the many other works scattered throughout the area.

The environmental intervention is the result of an exhibition spread across various locations in Volterra, entitled Mauro Staccioli. Volterra 1972-2009. Places of Experience, which was held in 2009, curated by the artist himself in collaboration with Andrea Alibrandi and Sergio Borghesi and thanks to the support of Galleria Il Ponte, Galleria Niccoli of Parma and the Fotoimmagine Association of Volterra. The dates included in the title refer to the important exhibition held in Volterra in July 1972 curated by Enrico Crispolti, Sculptures in the City, which marked one of the pivotal episodes in the history of public art in Italy, as well as a fundamental stage in Staccioli’s artistic activity, where the sculptor had the opportunity to present site-specific installations, created specifically for that exhibition, and his way of understanding sculpture in his hometown. And in 2009 the opportunity was repeated to exhibit again in the places of his birth some of the installations featured in the 1972 exhibition, but above all to create a real itinerary along the road axes leading to Volterra, highlighting the link between man, work and environment. Sixteen sculptures placed both in the historic center of Volterra and in neighboring localities, particularly at churches, or on roads and crossroads leading to the ancient city. “Places of Experience,” on the other hand, refers to the desire to fully express belonging to those places, those roads traveled who knows how many times during his existence. Some titles, such as First Steps or To the Child Who Did Not See the Forest Grow, are significant in this sense, others simply recall the geometric shapes they depict, such as Full Circle, Imperfect Circle, Pyramid, Ring, Prismoids, and still others are named after the location in which they are located, such as La Boldria or Corbano. Cerchio imperfetto was placed in the artist’s small home town of Montebradoni, where he lived until he came of age: the town is enclosed between the splendid Camaldolese Abbey and the Etruscan walls. An example of how the placement of the works was very much related to the sculptor’s life. A square with curved sides in red plaster that had almost the function of a screen, from which to look at the past.

Mauro Staccioli, Anello (1997-2005; cemento e ferro, diametro 600 cm; Volterra, SR 68, localitÓ Poggio di San Martino)
Mauro Staccioli, Anello (1997-2005; concrete and iron, diameter 600 cm; Volterra, SR 68, locality Poggio di San Martino). Ph. Credit Windows on Art


Mauro Staccioli, Primi passi (2009; acciaio corten, 805 x 1300 x 40 cm; Volterra, localitÓ Piancorboli)
Mauro Staccioli, Primi passi (2009; corten steel, 805 x 1300 x 40 cm; Volterra, Piancorboli locality). Ph. Credit Sergio Borghesi. Copyright Studio Archive Mauro Staccioli


Mauro Staccioli, Portale (2009; acciaio corten, 1000 x 805 x 55 cm; Volterra, Fattoria di Lischeto)
Mauro Staccioli, Portal (2009; corten steel, 1000 x 805 x 55 cm; Volterra, Fattoria di Lischeto). Ph. Credit Sergio Borghesi. Copyright Studio Archive Mauro Staccioli


Mauro Staccioli, L'indicatore (2009; acciaio corten, 1780 x 50 cm; Volterra, SR 68 in localitÓ Spicchiaiola)
Mauro Staccioli, The Indicator (2009; corten steel, 1780 x 50 cm; Volterra, SR 68 at Spicchiaiola). Ph. Credit Windows on Art


Mauro Staccioli, L'indicatore (2009; acciaio corten, 1780 x 50 cm; Volterra, SR 68 in localitÓ Spicchiaiola)
Mauro Staccioli, The Indicator (2009; corten steel, 1780 x 50 cm; Volterra, SR 68 in Spicchiaiola locality). Ph. Credit Windows on Art

Some of those sixteen works exhibited at the 2009 show, about ten of them, have become permanent and constitute the itinerary now known as Places of Experience, after the title of the exhibition of the same name. Through his artistic-environmental intervention, the artist narrates a significant part of his existence and interiority.

Born in Volterra in 1937, Mauro Staccioli graduated from the Art Institute and moved to Sardinia in 1960, where he began teaching; three years later he moved first to Lodi and then to Milan. His first artistic activity is thus linked to teaching. He initially experimented with painting and engraving, but starting in the late 1960s he began to devote himself to sculpture, with the idea that it should be in close relationship with the place for which it was intended: these are his sculpture-interventions, characterized byessentiality in form and theuse of simple materials, such as concrete and iron. The sculpture-interventions are the protagonists first of all of the aforementioned 1972 exhibition, Sculture in città, and later of the Volterra ’73 review curated by Enrico Crispolti and of Lettura di un ambiente, held in Vigevano in 1977. In 1976 and 1978 he also participated in the Venice Biennale and, starting in those years, began to make large works in important urban contexts, such as the balanced form on the steps of the Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome, the suspended plinth on the steps of the University Gallery of Amherst in Massachusetts (made on the occasion of his first solo exhibition in the United States in 1984), and the overturned arches at the Rotonda della Besana in Milan, at the Luigi Pecci Center for Contemporary Art in Prato and at the Olympic Park in Seoul. New geometric forms are instead accomplished by the artist in the 1990s: rings that highlight the landscape in the Principality of Andorra and in Munich, rounds in Milan and Bergamo, almost metaphysical spheres in Sardinia, the suspended Equilibrio at the Rond Point de l’Europe in Brussels. Many solo exhibitions and installations both in Italy and abroad followed until his passing in Milan in January 2018, including the famous 2009 widespread exhibition in Volterra, Mauro Staccioli. Cerchio imperfetto curated by Alberto Fiz at the Scolacium Archaeological Park and at MARCA in Catanzaro in 2011, Mauro Staccioli. Forme perdute at Galleria Invernizzi in Milan in 2012, the year in which the catalog of his concrete works from the 1970s was also published, giving relevance to the first fifteen years of Staccioli’s artistic activity, and in 2014 the Chacirc;teau de Seneffe in Belgium devoted a major exhibition to him.

Primi passi (First Steps ) is a large Corten steel ellipse in the locality of Piancorboli, through which, like a kind of perspective telescope, we see an abandoned farmhouse that is none other than the home of his maternal grandparents, where Staccioli took his first steps and first approached the Tuscan farming tradition. From the place where the famous sculpture is placed, there is an evocative view that goes from Montebradoni (where he lived his childhood and youth) to the Balze, the church of San Giusto and Volterra. In dialogue with First Steps is the Portal, a large triangular arch located along the driveway to the Lischeto Farm, through which the ellipse of Piancorboli can be glimpsed in the distance. The two sculptures trace the farmers’ usual route from the Persignano farm to the farm, where the harvest was gathered.

Mauro Staccioli, Al bimbo che non vide crescere il bosco (2009; cinque elementi, rame, ottone, acciaio inox, alluminio, acciaio corten, 1530 x 25 cm ciascuno; Volterra, SR 68, bivio per Mazzolla)
Mauro Staccioli, Al bimbo che non vide crescere il bosco (2009; five elements, copper, brass, stainless steel, aluminum, corten steel, 1530 x 25 cm each; Volterra, SR 68, junction for Mazzolla). Ph. Credit Windows on Art


Mauro Staccioli, Al bimbo che non vide crescere il bosco (2009; cinque elementi, rame, ottone, acciaio inox, alluminio, acciaio corten, 1530 x 25 cm ciascuno; Volterra, SR 68, bivio per Mazzolla)
Mauro Staccioli, Al bimbo che non vide crescere il bosco (2009; five elements, copper, brass, stainless steel, aluminum, corten steel, 1530 x 25 cm each; Volterra, SR 68, bivio per Mazzolla). Ph. Credit Windows on Art


Mauro Staccioli, Omaggio a Giovan Paolo Rossetti (2009; intonaco rosso, 580 x 525 x 28 cm; Volterra, chiesa di San Dalmazio)
Mauro Staccioli, Homage to Giovan Paolo Rossetti (2009; red plaster, 580 x 525 x 28 cm; Volterra, church of San Dalmazio). Ph. Credit Sergio Borghesi. Copyright Mauro Staccioli Archive Studio


Mauro Staccioli, Corbano (2009; intonaco rosso, 320 x 219 x 6 cm; Volterra, chiesa di Santa Lucia a Corbano)
Mauro Staccioli, Corbano (2009; red plaster, 320 x 219 x 6 cm; Volterra, church of Santa Lucia a Corbano). Ph. Credit Sergio Borghesi. Copyright Studio Archive Mauro Staccioli


Mauro Staccioli, La Boldria (2009; cemento e ferro, 600 x 60 cm; Volterra, SR 68, localitÓ La Boldria)
Mauro Staccioli, La Boldria (2009; concrete and iron, 600 x 60 cm; Volterra, SR 68, La Boldria locality). Ph. Credit Windows on Art


Mauro Staccioli, La Boldria (2009; cemento e ferro, 600 x 60 cm; Volterra, SR 68, localitÓ La Boldria)
Mauro Staccioli, La Boldria (2009; concrete and iron, 600 x 60 cm; Volterra, SR 68, La Boldria locality). Ph. Credit Windows on Art


Mauro Staccioli, Tondo pieno (2009; cemento e ferro, 600 x 60 cm; Volterra, SR 68, localitÓ La Mestola)
Mauro Staccioli, Tondo pieno (2009; concrete and iron, 600 x 60 cm; Volterra, SR 68, La Mestola locality). Ph. Credit Sergio Borghesi. Copyright Mauro Staccioli Archive Studio.

A long pole made of the same material as the previous ones stands tall in the locality of Spicchiaiola: the work is known as The Indicator, since it marks the border point between the province of Pisa and the province of Siena. A point of passage and interchange that fosters a relationship with the world and with each other. On the crossroads to Mazzolla , no less than five rods of different shades (dark and light brown, yellow, white and gray) rise from the ground, echoing the colors of the environment: this is the sculpture Al bimbo che non vide crescere il bosco, made of five different materials (brass, copper, stainless steel, aluminum, corten steel), intended to evoke the trees of the nearby Berignone-Tatti forest. A tribute to the latter and a metaphor for growth and life, recalling an untimely death. At Poggio di San Martino, the concrete and ironRing of the characteristic oxide-red color is completely immersed in the hills of Volterra: an invitation to contemplate through this rounded frame-screen the panorama it encloses. It is certainly the most famous work on the Places of Experience itinerary.

Along the road to Cecina, on the other hand, are the Tondo pieno in the locality of La Mestola and La Boldria in the village of the same name: both made of concrete and iron, the two tondi (one full and the other open) are located on the stretch of road from Volterra to the hamlet of Saline. A road that from ancient times was traveled by the people of Volterra who extracted salt from natural deposits in this area.

Placed finally in two churches are two triangular-shaped sculptures: theHomage to Giovan Paolo Rossetti in the Church of San Dalmazio in Volterra and Corbano in the Church of Santa Lucia in Corbano. The first, a triangle with the vertex pointing downward, a mystical-religious symbol that, by concealing the ornamental decorations, intends to highlight the 16th-century work of Giovan Paolo Rossetti (Volterra, 1519 - 1586), a painter and pupil of Daniele da Volterra (Volterra, 1509 - Rome, 1566); the second, a triangle again with the vertex pointing downward placed in the remains of a pre-Romanesque church destined to disappear: an artistic intervention through which Staccioli wanted to emphasize the consequences of time and neglect.

Places of Experience is thus an open-air museum that fully testifies to what sculpture meant to Staccioli: monumental interventions inserted into a landscape context, without these transforming it, but rather highlighting the close relationship between them.