Italy museum burns art to protest against crisis

ROME Thu Apr 19, 2012 12:57pm EDT

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ROME (Reuters) - An Italian museum director in the mafia-influenced northeast of Naples has pledged to burn three works of art per week to protest against the lack of spending on culture.

Antonio Manfredi plans to torch a photograph entitled "The great circus of Humanity" by Filippos Tsitsopoulus, on Thursday. He has already destroyed two paintings and has selected three more works from the museum's collection of 1,000 for next week.

The 50-year-old Manfredi is a full-time artist who has been director of the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum for seven years.

The museum receives no public funds. But the recession has eliminated what private funding sources it had and Manfredi said the local Camorra mafia has tightened its grip in the area by buying up struggling businesses.

"I don't know who to turn to anymore for money," Manfredi told Reuters. "And I refuse to ask the Camorra."

Worse than the lack of funds is the indifference of politicians to the plight of the nation's vast cultural wealth, which is increasingly bankrupt, while mafia influence grows, he said.

The plight of Casoria's small, private contemporary art museum reflects problems felt by public contemporary art museums in Rome, Naples and Palermo, which have virtually no funding for new exhibitions.

Italy's belt-tightening to restore faith in its ability to pay back 1.9 trillion euros ($2.5 trillion) in debt has hit cultural spending particularly hard.

Rome's MAXXI museum, just over two years old, was placed under special administration earlier this month after running into financial problems and the MADRE in Naples has closed two floors because it cannot afford to put exhibits there.

Even the country's historic art treasures are falling into disrepair, as a series of structural collapses have shown at the ancient city of Pompeii, which was buried in ash after Mount Vesuvius blew its top 2,000 years ago.

WRONG TO BURN ART

Some eminent voices in Italy's art world disagree with Manfredi's methods.

"Burning art is adolescent exhibitionism. It's a Neapolitan parody, where one man is taking advantage of the severe crisis for visibility," said Achille Bonito Oliva, one Italy's leading contemporary art critics.

And yet on one thing both Manfredi and Bonito Oliva agree - that some of the millions of euros spent on political parties should be funneled toward museums and culture.

A series of scandals, including one involving the Northern League, a former ally of Silvio Berlusconi that spent eight of the past 10 years in power, has highlighted defects in public funding of election campaigns and parliamentary groups.

The Northern League treasurer restored a cache of diamonds and gold bars he had deposited in a Genoa bank to the party this week, and the party spending scandal led to the resignation of its founder, Umberto Bossi, two weeks ago.

Bonito Oliva said parties should reduce their public funding, which some estimates put at 180 million euros for this year alone, and invest the savings in the struggling museums.

"The lack of funding for museums is a real drama, and it's masochistic of Italy not to convert the raw materials it has - art - into a finished product," Bonito Oliva said.

($1 = 0.7609 euros)

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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