Italian museum burns artworks in protest at cuts

Antonio Manfredi torches a painting by French artist Severine Bourguignon in front of the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum Museum director Antonio Manfredi set fire to the first painting on Tuesday

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A museum in Italy has started burning its artworks in protest at budget cuts which it says have left cultural institutions out of pocket.

Antonio Manfredi, of the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum in Naples, set fire to the first painting on Tuesday.

"Our 1,000 artworks are headed for destruction anyway because of the government's indifference," he said.

The work was by French artist Severine Bourguignon, who was in favour of the protest and watched it online.

"The survival of the museum is such an important cause that it justifies the despicable, and painful, act of destroying a work of art," she told the BBC.

"My work burned slowly, with a sinister crackle. It cost me a lot, but I have no other means of protesting against the loss of this institution."

Mr Manfredi plans to burn three paintings a week from now on, in a protest he has dubbed "Art War".

Artists from across Europe have lent their support, including Welsh sculptor John Brown, who torched one of his works, Manifesto, on Monday.

Welsh sculptor John Brown sets fire to one of his works in support of the Italian protest

Mr Brown told the BBC that his organisation, the Documented Art Space in Harlech, North Wales, had exhibited at the Casoria museum in the past.

He said the loss of his artwork had not been particularly upsetting.

"We work in a fairly contemporary manner so the process of making art, and the interaction with people, is more important than keeping it as a precious object."

He called the burning "a symbolic act" to "protest against the way the economic crisis is being dealt with".

"These cuts reach beyond the confines of the visual arts and affect the cohesive well-being of millions of people all over the world."

Italy's debt crisis led to the resignation of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi last year. Since his departure, the government has passed a tough package of austerity measures and other reforms.

Art institutions says they have been particularly affected by the country's economic woes, with state subsidies and charitable donations drying up.

House of the Gladiators after collapse Unesco criticised the "lack of maintenance" at Pompeii earlier this year

One of Italy's leading galleries, the Maxxi Museum of Contemporary Art, said its funding had been cut by 43% in 2011.

When its board of directors failed to approve the 2012 budget last week, the Culture Ministry took steps to replace them with a government-appointed administrator.

International concern was also raised last year over the neglect of Pompeii, one of the world's most precious archaeological sites.

A number of structures in the ancient city have fully or partially collapsed, including the "House of Gladiators" which fell down 18 months ago.

However, Prime Minister Mario Monti announced a 105m euros (£87m) project to reconstruct the ruins earlier this month.

'Adverse circumstances'

Mr Manfredi is known as an outspoken and radical museum director.

He opened the Casoria gallery in his hometown, just outside Naples, in 2005 and several of his exhibitions have drawn the ire of the local mafia.

In 2009, a lifesize effigy of an African figure was left impaled over the museum gates following an exhibition of art that dealt with prostitution - a trade occupied locally almost entirely by African immigrants and controlled by organised criminals.

Antonio Manfredi torches a painting by French artist Severine Bourguignon in front of the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum Bourguignon's painting was completely destroyed

Manfredi has also blamed the theft of security cameras and several attempted break-ins on the mafia.

His attempts to focus attention on his museum's funding crisis have been crafted with a keen eye for publicity.

Last year, he announced he had written a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel asking for asylum, saying he was fed up with the government's failure to protect Italy's rich cultural heritage.

He said he would take his entire museum with him if the asylum was granted, but never received a reply.

He said the latest protest will continue unless the funding situation improves.

A statement from the museum described the first burning as "political, necessary, and compelling in the face of these adverse circumstances".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    In the list of priorities for a cash strapped society, it would surely be only most gentrified, arrogant, out-of-touch individual who would think that art is a priority. Food, housing, medical care, education, policing, infrastructure, trade, science... Art is a LONG way down the list! The only thing I can think of that is LESS deserving is war (which is bafflingly well funded)

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Europe has higher priorities than pandering to another single issue group exaggeratting the supposed consequences of having to support itself. Art has nearly always been for the rich, whether to glorify themselves in idealised portraits or buying into the artists like brands. Perhaps if art did connect with people they wouldn't need all the subsidy in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Since the museum relies upon state subsidy, the art is at least partly the property of the Italian state or the local authorities. Thus, arrest this man for criminal damage, vandalism and public safety violations (fires in a public space), and anything else that he could be charged with. If it is his own property, remove all subsidies and invoice him for all previous subsidies paid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Art and culture is under attack, it's not surprising that artists are fighting back. I applaud the move; if he has auctioned off the piece and made the same statement, no one would have given it a second thought.. Self-immolation as a form of protest has been practiced for centuries, and art imitates life..

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I am all for protest against the injustice of the many paying for the greed of the few but do not agree with this as a way of protesting. Burning works of art (whether you like / appreciate them or not) cannot be justified. This is vandalism pure and simple and contributes nothing to the many trying to make their voice heard above the indifference of the few


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