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 46.

    What a childish action, perhaps they could cut of their own noses next?

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Burning them is cultural vandalism on par with the Nazi's (book burnings) and Soviets (Church destruction's).

    Frankly, why not just sell them, or auction them by lottery, or even .... radical thought this .... just give them away to other EU museums or private homes?

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Most modern art is replaceable. The concept survives its destruction and the effort to (re)-create it is minimal.

    Which is why no one cares about the burning of a few bits of paper in Harlech. Not even the artist.

    OTOH I bet millions of people would head to London to stop someone torching the national gallery.

    Proof of the value of real art. If that's under threat, then it's worth protesting.

  • Comment number 43.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Nothing much lost there, by the looks of it. Probably what any sensible person would have done, regardless of protestations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Heh, anyone else hoping he ends up getting fined for violating a clean air law?

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Jean Tinguely created auto-destructive sculptures. Robert Rauschenberg erased a De Kooning sketch. Maybe he should ask Christo to cover his Museum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    This protest is specifically referring to cuts in arts budgets and for that purpose is interesting, radical and I feel appropriate. It is absurd to widen the debate to the poor / hungry etc, but perhaps better to once again draw attention to the corruption / greed of bankers / the government and corporate elite who have created these far reaching problems from starvation to funding for the arts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    As a protest this seems liable to backfire. The thought must go through people's minds that if "art works" can be burned by museums and galleries, then, ergo, they don't need any more funding to acquire and conserve works.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Not sure what the finer details of the protest (i.e. motivation and goals, thanks BBC...) beyond 'frustration with austerity'. But it seems very immature, petulant and destructive to be burning art to make a point and as such, is unlikely to find much sympathy with the general public.

    Then again, they've evidently generated a lot of publicity for their cause.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Lets get this right? Some of you are advocating burning all art that you don't like or understand ? What a Grey little drab world some people live in, ignorance must be bliss?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Not a single penny of taxpayer's money should be spent on any form of art. If you want to admire some art then it should be up to you to pay to see it. The idea that my taxes go to subsidise rich people who go to the opera and ballet makes me sick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Pity they aren't torching the institutions at the same time. Art is a luxury, rubbish art is doubly so.

  • 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 32.

    It's Artistic Transition. The psychology of it is that everything can be recycled. Cookery(an art I'm told) has demonstrated this on a regular basis by illustrating the value of much of the stuff termed 'art' as seen after transition by digestion.

  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I was interested in the bit about Pompeii. Herculaneum is a similar world heritage designated location, with fabulous Roman wall art, but access to the site via a frankly intimidating walk through modern Erolano would not attract visitors to return.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Could we start here in the UK by burning most of the UK artwork made in last 30 - 40 years? Be a very useful help to future generations not to have to store the junk. Please do it right by fueling these eco friendly power generators.This 'art' could then be of some use.

    Most of this art is brought by people who buy to keep in with the rich 'In crowd' Very little talent out there at the moment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Whilst I support the view that the Arts are part of a civilised society, any government surely has to prioritise its expenditure, putting the poor , invalid ang old before the needs of an elite section of the community that puts an old book or painting before those in need.
    Perhaps if the UK stopped giving aid to India, as they seem to have enough money to build nukes and ballistic missiles!

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    I don't see Damien Hirst donating any of his works to the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum anytime soon.


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