Why Palermo is your next artistic destination
Contemporary art is not new to Palermo. Artists like Manfredi Beninati and Jenny Saville, along with a host of curators and critics, have called the city home for decades because it’s the perfect address for creativity. Founded in the 8th century BC. AD by the Phoenicians, Palermo was originally a trans-Mediterranean outpost, and over the millennia the small port has become a coveted city and a melting pot of cultures. Palermitani will tell you that the city has it all – personality, history, food, scenery and art. And they are right.
Its astonishing history pushes the city to move forward, especially in the field of art. In 2018, Palermo hosted Demonstrationthe nomadic biennale of the art world and 2022 brings the third appointment of Biennial Arcipelago Mediterraneo BAM, a multi-location art biennale lasting several months. Between now and January 23, 2023, BAM is expanding across the city with exhibitions, events and artist residencies, but if a trip to Bella Sicilia isn’t on the cards just yet, here are five galleries and museums that will have you planning Palermo as your next contemporary art destination.
Possibly the most monumental of Palermo’s contemporary art spaces, ZACentrale is 17,000 square feet of contemporary art experience. Occupying a huge hangar, which was once the factory of Studio Ducrot, the designers of historical European furniture from the 1900s), ZACentrale brings in artists from all over the world. and captivates with cutting-edge exhibitions curated by founder Beatrice Merz and her team. From site-specific installations to performances and everything in between, artists are given free rein to create and curate art-driven experiences, interacting with viewers for experiential works of art.
Merz brings decades of experience, innovation, experimentation and artistry to Palermo. ZACentrale is the Sicilian outpost of its Turin-based arts hub Fondazione Merz, named after its artist parents Mario and Beatrice Merz. ZACentrale opened its doors in 2021 in Cantieri Culturali, a requalified industrial district in the Zisa district of Palermo. Neighbors include the Palermo School of Fine Arts, artist studios and other cultural organizations. Currently, ZACentrale hosts Insolitudefour simultaneous solo exhibitions and a part of BAM.
RISO is what is called a chicka, a little gem of a museum tucked away on the busy Corso Vittorio Emanuele, one of the oldest roads in Palermo. The Palazzo Belmonte Riso itself is a ramshackle beauty, the shell of a Sicilian Baroque palace that was bombed during World War II. The remaining architecture houses a small and charming collection of pieces by artists such as Carla Accardi, Jannis Kounellis (a very trippy room) Robert Longo and Christian Boltanski. Peek outside where you stand in the crater of the bombed-out building and next to a work by Richard Long.
Normally Via Maqueda is a crowded pedestrian street well worth avoiding as the crowds of tourists and eating places are overwhelming and boring, but in the midst of the chaos is an oasis of art – the Chiesa della Madonna della Mazza from the 17th century, almost anonymous at N° 391.
Walk in and you’ve entered a small Sicilian baroque church whose renovation includes a loving white wash and a contemporary surprise. On either side of the main altar are two vaulted chapels with two fascinating paintings by Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie.
The Martyrdom of Father Pino Puglisi and The Crucifixion are abstract yet hyper-real, surprising in both style and subject. Ghenie’s canvases depict two true stories: the Christian crucifixions in Syria in 2015 and Padre Pino Puglisi, the Catholic priest murdered by the mafia in Palermo in 1993. Down jackets, blood and a gun are the layered details of intensity of colors, figuration and scene.
For a complete immersion in Palermo’s contemporary art scene, there’s no better place than FPAC. Pantaleone himself is Palermo. FPAC, his eponymous gallery is the best outpost to show off the gallerist’s vast knowledge and his unfathomable modern and contemporary artists.
Engaging shows feature emerging and established artists from Italy and around the world. Pantaleone also hosts offsite exhibitions in the city’s most spectacular locations, including private palaces and Project Wall, a monthly outdoor space for “external artists.”
FPAC’s location right in the center of Palermo at Quattro Canti celebrates the revitalized centro storico and is a strong reminder that Palermo is not stuck in the past. Charmingly, FPAC brings a bit of history as the address is just a doorway from Pantaleone Arte Sacra, the historic shop for religious art, devotional carvings and sacred scrolls owned by the Pantaleone family since over 100 years.
What does a 15th century palace have to do with contemporary art? In the case of Palazzo Abatellis, everything. The Regional Art Gallery of Sicily sets the stage for Palermo’s artistic vibe – decadent and enigmatic. The former monastery houses the coveted collection of paintings and sculptures from the 12th to the 17th century, including the mid-15th century. Trionfo della Morte (Triumph of Death), a floor-to-ceiling mural whose eerily fantastical imagery is reminiscent of Picasso’s Guernica.
Architecture buffs will want to take note. Over the centuries, the palace has undergone a few restorations, but none more exciting than those of Carlo Scarpa, the mid-20th century Venetian architect whose captivating designs and renovations redefined spaces across Italy. . Scarpa’s interventions at Palazzo Abatellis range from general conservation, exhibition and hanging of the museum, to Scarpa’s signature architectural touches, including a fabulous staircase.
Where to stay
For the view, there is no better address than Villa Igiea, the seaside oasis of the Rocco Forte Hotel in a grand hotel of yesteryear. Its 100 contemporary decorated rooms and suites complement the original marbles and carved wood paneling of this historic hotel, but what really takes you back in time are the leafy gardens around the Florio restaurant and vintage Igiea Terrazzo bar. .
For city life, Planeta Palace in the tony Libertà neighborhood should be kept secret. Seven very elegant apartments with living room and kitchen give the experience of being Palermitano, even if for a brief moment.