An Art Collection Lands in Italy
WHEN Roberto Gagliardi, an Italian-born art dealer and collector based in London, drove past an old, shut-down hotel on the main concourse of the ancient town of Chianciano Terme, in the Italian province of Siena, he saw an opportunity. After four years of renovation, the 150-year-old building has been converted into the just-opened Museum of Art of Chianciano (Viale della Liberta 280; 39-0578-60732; www.museodarte.org).
The museum now houses Mr. Gagliardi’s impressive collection, accumulated over a 30-year career, items from which have been lent to museums like the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
In addition, Mr. Gagliardi is organizing a new contemporary art festival to run at the museum every two years, highlighting the work of 160 artists from around the world. The first Biennale di Chianciano, which will replace the museum’s permanent collection temporarily, begins today and runs through Sept. 27 (www.museodarte.org/EN/Biennale.html; admission is free). Works include some that have been lent to museums as far afield as the Picasso Museum in Barcelona and the Whangarei Art Museum in New Zealand.
With the new museum and festival, Mr. Gagliardi hopes to turn this provincial town into an artistic center, both provocative and analytical.
“Our aim is to create active spectators,” Mr. Gagliardi said. “Art isn’t two-dimensional; it transmits emotion and moves the intellect.”
With this goal in mind, the museum is laid out in an intentionally nonlinear format.
On the first floor, there is an array of diverse sketches by Magritte, Munch and Tiepolo. In the basement, an ambitious collection of artifacts from ancient Chinese dynasties is placed alongside rustic, romantic paintings by the contemporary artist Jincheng Liu.
Tonally, as well, works are displayed to play off one another. Frances Turner’s agonized self-portraits share space with colorful, soothing abstractions by Albert Louden. In the History Room a rather clumsy 19th-century drawing of artillerymen by Napoleon III is placed near an icon given by Pope Pius XII to Princess Margaret in 1949.
Although Mr. Gagliardi’s collection made the museum possible, its vision was collaborative.
“We all helped with the display,” said Francesca Vottari, his assistant. “Mr. Gagliardi was keen to listen to everyone’s opinion, to create the right sense of harmony.”
And while Chianciano isn’t as well known as its neighbor Siena (about a half-hour drive away), Mr. Gagliardi and his crew see the town — with both charm and a strong cultural history — as the perfect candidate for an art festival.
The town’s historic center is gloriously unspoiled and offers spectacular views of the Tuscan countryside. Thermal baths have been a strong tourist draw since the sixth century B.C., and Chianciano’s archaeological museum is one of Italy’s most important sources for Etruscan history.
Chianciano’s charms extend beyond the historical: pastas served in the town’s rustic restaurants are inevitably homemade, while wine lists are filled with bottles from nearby Montepulciano and Montalcino.
Despite these draws, Mr. Gagliardi isn’t the only one with a stake in his new museum and festival. Gabriella Ferranti, the town’s mayor, made no bones about feeling that Chianciano was going to receive a new lease on life in her reception speech at the museum’s opening. “Gagliardi’s fortune is our own fortune as well,” she said.