by Roderick Conway Morris

| | | | | | | | | | | | |
MART, Rovereto
MART Rovereto, aerial view

A new Italian modern art museum

By Roderick Conway Morris
ROVERETO, Italy 4 January 2003


Did Italy need a brand-new modern art museum? Even the most skeptical of visitors to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Rovereto and Trento, which has dubbed itself 'MART' for short and opened its doors for the first time just before Christmas, would be hard-pressed to deny that this project has produced a remarkable building and contents that will surely be the envy of other Italian towns and cities.

Placing this $60 million institution in the small town of Rovereto (some 70 kilometers north of Verona) rather than in the provincial capital, Trento, was a bold decision and a wise one. Not least because the Swiss architect Mario Botta, whose previous projects have included the San Francisco Museum of Art, has turned to advantage a challenging location set back from a broad avenue between two existing 18th-century palazzos and a steeply rising wooded hillside behind, deftly blending the museum into the fabric of a historic townscape and mountain scenery, while offering surprisingly wide vistas from inside the museum that further extend its spacious and airy feel. Botta's use of the changing phases and play of natural light in both the atrium and the interior is unusually subtle.

In many ways Botta's building is the antithesis of most recent new museum projects, where the edifice's exterior is given pride of place. Botta has turned this concept inside out, creating an intriguing building, around a lofty cylindrical central atrium, that is functional but stylish, discreetly spectacular, a pleasure to be in, while providing a series of harmoniously proportioned internal spaces that genuinely enhance the artworks on show.

Hardly less impressive than the building itself is the collection of 19th- and 20th-century Italian works, not to mention books, manuscripts and other material that MART, by judiciously adding to solid holdings already in the province's existing museums, has managed to gather together since the inception of the Rovereto scheme 13 years ago.

One keystone was the donation of works and documents left to Rovereto by the Futurist Fortunato Depero, co-author with Giacomo Balla of the 1915 'Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe' Manifesto. Depero was born in a village to the north, but Rovereto became his long-term home and he established the first Museum of Futurism here. Numerous other works have since been acquired by purchase, donation and long-term loan, so that MART now has over 7,000 pieces, representing all the major players in modern Italian art, including some real masterpieces, and a library of over 60,000 volumes.

To showcase some of the cream of this permanent collection, the museum's inaugural show, 'Le Stanze dell'Arte' (The Art Rooms), traces the major trends in 20th-century Italian art in relation to Western art in general, offering many stimulating parallels and juxtapositions, with the help of generous loans from other galleries and private collections in Europe, Russia and the United States.

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2024