Something odd is happening at the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum (CAM), near Naples. Some paintings and sculptures are being torched. Great art has felt the lick of flames before, but often by ransacking or accident. Here, for more than a week, the director of the gallery has been the one setting the artworks alight.Antonio Manfredi is burning some of the CAM’s most prized pieces in protest against the Italian government’s cuts to the arts. “The 1,000 pieces housed at Casoria are facing destruction already, thanks to the indifference of the government,” he says. “It’s painful to see work burning, but it’s an important action to save this museum—which is very important for the area.”
Pieces that make up the permanent collection at the Casoria gallery are being sacrificed with the permission of their creators. The result is a kind of meta-art, firmly entrenched in the protest movement. Last week four pieces were burned (three at the museum in Italy; John Brown, a sculptor, burned his piece ‘Manifesto’ at his studio in Wales), fanning the flames of frustration over arts cuts across Europe and beyond. This week, three more pieces will follow into the pyre: paintings by German, Italian and Chinese artists, demonstrating international support for the cause. Other works in the museum by Senegalese, Egyptian and Brazilian artists have also been earmarked for ritual burning, unless the government comes to Naples “to see how difficult it is to be a museum here with no money,” claims Mr Manfredi.
A museum director sets artwork alight in Italy in an inflammatory move to raise more public money.
His Casoria museum has been privately funded for seven years, but Italys debt crisis has seen wealthy private sponsors retreating from charitable donations to museums and art galleries. Mr Manfredi believes it is now impossible to maintain the museum and wants the government to step in. The museum is running the risk of dying, he says.
But funds are tight in Italy. The government has quite a few expenses to pay that could seem more urgent than a contemporary-art museum. Mario Montis government has had to make swingeing cuts due to what Mr Manfredi deems a waste of public money by previous governments. Money has been systematically cut for the arts, with Romes Maxxi museum of contemporary art facing closure owing to a crippling lack of funds.
Mr Monti is praised internationally for his pragmatism and willingness to make tough decisions. But many in Italys artistic communitywhich was already struggling before the Eurozone crisiscomplain that Mr Monti has little time for culture. Yet art is a public good, Mr Manfredi argues. Thus the Casoria Contemporary Art Museums truculent response.
But this is not only a protest against financial cutbacks; it is also protest art. The very action of setting alight works does what good art is meant to do: it poses questions and provokes debate. This is a martyrdom of art, which either lays waste to fine pieces or elevates them to a higher plane of meaning, depending on ones view of Mr Manfredis actions. Thousands of euros worth of work have gone up in flames already.
The entire process has been turned into an exhibition with a poignant message: looking after these pieces costs money. Galleries and museums are trusted to care for artwork; without funding, they cannot do so. Mr Manfredi joins a pantheon of conscientious culturalists who seek to prod governments into change through art. It seems unlikely that the Casoria museums actions will be as well remembered as pieces like Picassos “Guernica” (indeed, unlike Picassos distinctively anti-war message, Mr Manfredi likens the ritualistic burning of the pieces to both war and revolution). But these burning sessions have inspired a larger conversation about arts funding in Italy and elsewherealbeit one that seems akin to a hostage negotiation.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.