Gibellina Open Air Museum of Contemporary Art


Once upon a time there was Gibellina, a small village on a small hill full of life, both peasants and landowners.

The old Gibellina was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1968 and was rebuilt about twenty kilometres further down the valley. For the reconstruction, the former mayor of the city Ludovico Corrao had the enlightened idea of humanising the area by summoning world-renowned various artists to Gibellina.

Pietro Consagra installed thePorta del Belice, better known as the Stella di Consagra here.

The works of numerous other artists, such as Mario Schifano, Andrea Cascella, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Ludovico Quaroni, Mimmo Paladino, Franco Angeli, Franco Purini, Carla Accardi and Mimmo Rotella, scattered within the urban area, have made Gibellina a veritable open-air museum of contemporary art.

In the Baglio di Stefano, la Fondazione Orestiadi created the Museo delle Trame Mediterranee which has one of the most important collections of contemporary art in Italy. Works by Arnaldo Pomodoro are on display, as well as some by artists of the Italian transavantgarde, such as Paladino, Cucchi and Germanà, and by the Forma Uno group, such as Consagra, Accardi, Dorazio and Turcato, and many, many others. They include the major exponents of international contemporary art, such as Beuys, Matta, Scialoja, Corpora, Isgrò, Schifano, Angeli, Boero, Boetti, Longobardi, Rotella, Bob Wilson, Long and Briggs.

Alberto Burri created the Grande Cretto in the old Gibellina, one of the largest works of land art in the world. It’s a gigantic monument to death in memory of the earthquake which destroyed the town. It cloaks the land, covering the cold memory of that long-ago, final January, like the death which destroyed all those places and their family memories: the houses, streets and putìe (shops), and the clubs of the gentry and viddani (peasants).

It has been likened to a shroud,sealing in the calls of women and the smell of freshly baked bread, the sound of mules’ hooves on the cobblestone streets and the joyful barking of dogs when their owners arrive home;the tables full of tomatoes and figs laid out in the sun to dry and the rich colour of the strattu (tomato purée) thickened by heat; the damp smell of cellars full of summers’ promise, of wheat and oil, of cheeses sweating fat, and of cured pork, with nothing of the pig being thrown away. Now, however, nothing breathes under the shroud.

In the surrounding countryside the vines are about to lose their autumn-reddened leaves, the olive trees are ready to release the fruit sacred to Athena and buzzards are spreading their rapacious wings in the sun in search of prey. The memory of a life full of simple, humble things is reinvented in the form of intellectual, symbolic art. It’s frozen in a labyrinthine network of hidden ruins and it lies over the green hills of a forgotten, immemorial yet forgetful Sicily, a Sicily in which the pain of abandonment disappears into a cleft in the heart, masking a piercing nostalgia for lost childhood.

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