Alberto Garutti and his Cubo in via Sassari

Cubo Garutti, Museion 2023.

“In his art, Alberto Garutti radically practiced what he deeply believed in: the dimension of the encounter. He “preached” almost obsessively that art cannot be beamed down from above but must get off its pedestal and come and meet the viewer. In Garutti’s opinion, not just the art, but the artist too must deconstruct the celebratory role the art system has bestowed on him or her and seek the dimension of the encounter: the encounter as a metaphor for destabilization, uncertainty, and therefore openness. This art of the encounter, practiced by Alberto Garutti, a man who gently, but firmly, corrected anyone who addressed him as “maestro”, plays a fundamental role in the history of public art. But his “lesson” also echoes throughout the contemporary art system, in which he trained not only numerous artists, who were his students, but also those who were fortunate enough to share his journey as a curator.”

This is how Alberto Garutti was remembered by Letizia Ragaglia, the curator of the Piccolo Museion – Cubo Garutti project that was opened in 2004 in Via Sassari, Bolzano after a period of research and constant interaction, not only with the client, the Autonomous Province of Bolzano Italian Culture Department, but also with the curator herself and the inhabitants of the district where the small museum was finally located.

An architect by training, in the late 1990s, Alberto Garutti began working on projects for this public space that ensured a distinctive methodology and approach. Parallel to his work as an artist, he taught for many years, first at the Academy of Macerata, then in Bologna, later, in Milan at the Brera Academy and finally in Venice, influencing many generations of male and female artists who, in the days when the news of his passing spread, warmly remembered and paid homage to him. There was another tribute earlier, too, on the occasion of his solo exhibition at the PAC in Milan in 2012. This retrospective, as the “Didascalia/Caption” title said, grouped together his most significant projects and their captions, i.e., the short texts that accompany his works. These texts disclose in a simple and direct way the mechanism activated by Garutti’s work, i.e., the encounter with the person in front of it and the dimension it opens up. So, a Garutti artwork can make you think of the sky, of the children who are being born, of the dogs and people who live in the village in question, of the people who fell in love in that theater, of the steps that have led you to that particular location, of the noises of the city or the works of art dedicated to you, the viewer. This last dedication appears in the caption on one of the four façades of the Piccolo Museion.

Alberto Garutti came to Bolzano often, and in the years that followed the opening of the Cubo, even if his visits became less frequent, any ideas and programs for the Piccolo Museion were always shared with him. He wanted to be kept informed about the small Museion annex because the encounters it generates and the care it requires are constant. His last visit to the city was in 2014, the year in which the Cubo celebrated its 10th anniversary. One of his sculptures, Madonna, was shown in the group exhibition Soleil Politique at Museion. It was a white statue that reproduced the figure of the Madonna, but it had a characteristic that is fundamental for Alberto Garutti’s art. Although it was placed on a pedestal, if you approached and touched it, it did not feel cold and therefore distant, as it had the temperature of a living body. A real, close presence, a real, close encounter.

The following excerpt is from an interview held with Alberto Garutti to mark the tenth anniversary of the Piccolo Museion. It was conducted in his magnificent studio in Milan. A studio that includes a large, bright room with numerous comfortable armchairs. Some of these are dark green like the winter coat he used to wear, and they all welcome you to sit down, cross your legs, cozy up and get ready to chat, discuss and enjoy new encounters.

- Frida Carazzato, Research curator at Museion

Ingrid Hora, Kingdom of the Ill Luca Guadagnini

It is also possible to watch the video interview in Italian recorded in December 2022 and conducted by Antonio Lampis- Director of the Department of Italian Culture, Environment and Energy of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano with Alberto Garutti here

Milan, May 22 2015. Alberto Garutti’s Studio

We sit by an open window, I ask him for a glass of water and we start talking about the Piccolo Museion. The first exhibition held there opened in December 2003, just over ten years ago. “Do you remember?” I ask him.


Did it open in December 2003?


Work finished in 2003, and in December the first work was exhibited, a sculpture by Nino Franchina…


…but the project dates to 2002. It was a very rewarding project for me, and I was subsequently called by Renato Soru, who wanted to take it to various towns in Sardinia, but when he was not re-elected as president of the region, there were no longer the right conditions or momentum to continue with the initiative.


The Cubo in Bolzano currently remains the only one, though you envisaged it being reproduced, multiplied.


The concept can undoubtedly be reproduced. The same methodology, strategy, and mechanism can be repeated in other settings. The one in Bolzano was the first one and, to date, remains the last.


So it’s more than ten years old! Alberto, when you commissioned it, who was your first contact? The

Autonomous Province of Bolzano?


My first contact was the curator Letizia Ragaglia. I was giving a lecture in Spazio Oberdan in Milan and on that occasion we were introduced and the idea of involving me in a project in Bolzano came about. It all started from there.

The Piccolo Museion is a work that arose around a specific theme (“art in the local area”), which gave rise to a series of analyses, perspectives and, as always, a few problems.

Problems are always a formidable catalyst, a fantastic way of activating a process and coming up with ideas. Art often finds its raison d’être in its limits.

Take the history of art: for centuries, in Europe and above all in Italy, extraordinary works were produced thanks to the limits set by major commissions from princes, noblemen and especially Popes. Let me explain: in medieval cities, which were constructed with a defensive layout, there were big walls protecting the inhabitants from invading forces. This fact of enclosing city life within a defensive structure meant that architecture at some point needed paintings to break through the walls and sculpture to add complexity to the space: after all, perspective came into existence with walls, didn’t it? On the other hand, in the distant past, prehistoric men drew images on their caves to ward off their fears, and caves are primordial forms of architecture.

Architecture is not just a dwelling place; it is where we live our lives… It can be said that painting and sculpture formed a wonderful marriage with architecture! So in the history of art, limits were (and still are) an extraordinary stimulus for artists. And, coming back to us, the same thing happened in Bolzano.


In Bolzano, what exactly were you asked to do?


My brief was “art in the local area”. I had to present a number of proposals, choosing between various areas of the city identified by the provincial administration… I chose the Don Bosco neighborhood because it was further out from the center than others. I visited several times to get to know the area, taking everything in to make sure that the work would really put down roots in the local area and resonate with a deeper raison d’être.

This approach is a methodology that I still follow. Do you remember my work in the small medieval town of Peccioli, in 1994? That project was my first public work of art. The first time I visited the town and met the mayor I immediately saw that it was not going to be a priority to find an attractive square to place a work of art to ensure maximum visibility. For me the important thing was getting the work accepted by the community and then by the art world: I wanted to critique the way in which public art is made. It is vital for me that the work strikes a chord with the people that live in an area, and that it resonates with their stories. In Peccioli I held small meetings with local people in the village café, for four or five months, before coming to a decision. It was during those conversations that I heard about a simple little theatre built there in the 1930s. I realized that this theatre was very important to the local community, so I decided to use the entire budget for the project to renovate it and restore it to its original state. The questions I asked were actually attempts to get to know the people and strategically elicit an emotional response. I felt this specific need, because artworks in public spaces come to life when they are infused with the experiences of those who live there and thus acquire multiple levels of meaning. In that very moment the work of art ceases to belong exclusively to the artist and becomes part of the setting, gathering connections, bonds, narratives and stories. The work stops being a self-referential object and becomes an active element that people can relate to and engage with.

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