Robert Wilson Haunts Italian Villa in New Exhibition

FAI – Fondo Ambiente Italiano (The National Trust for Italy), ever since its establishment in 1975, is renown for saving historical mansions in the boot shaped land and opening them to the public, to share their legacy and cultural heritage with present and future generations. 

In the city of Varese, within the Lombardy region, there is a glorious villa that once belonged to one of the world’s most prominent collectors of modern art: Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo. Villa Menafoglio Litta Panza is famous for its contemporary art collection,  that focuses on European and American painting and sculpture of the mid-1940s through the early 1960s, with a keen attention to American Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. This extraordinary location has recently staged an exceptional exhibition: Robert Wilson for Villa Panza Tales, curated by Noah Khoshbin and Anna Bernardini.

The legendary experimental stage director who has been described as “the foremost avant-garde theater artist,” Robert Wilson, conceived an extraordinary mise-en-scène with video portraits where celebrities interpret fairytale characters. The oeuvres featured in the Winter Fable section are inspired by Italo Calvino’s fable Mrs. Fox and Mr. Wolf,  where a wolf, a fox and a lamb enact a story of trespass, manipulation and revenge. When the artist was asked to explain the ideas behind the images, his reply was adamant “I do not interpret my work. That interpretation is for others. For this work the Fables are an inspiration, but to fix a meaning to this work limits its poetry and the possibility of other ideas.

The complex exhibition at Villa Panza engages both the interior of the villa and its gardens, as the exterior features a permanent site-specific sculpture titled A House For Giuseppe Panza. This was designed on the structure of the American Shaker style home, to create a striking counterpoint to ornate the architecture of the villa. Within the sculpture Wilson created a tableau vivant surrounding the life of Giuseppe Panza, that is accompanied by an audio recording of Wilson reading extracts from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, a work that was also very dear to the Count. Thus Panza’s legacy and Wilson’s aesthetics find a synergy, through the juxtaposition of objects and ideas that epitomize both the classical and contemporary worlds.

The advanced digital technology moulded by one of the greatest masters of contemporary visual art and performance, further creates an unprecedented itinerary through the villa. Each of the

Video Portraits by Robert Wilson - that feature the likes of  Brad Pitt, Robert Downey Jr., Roberto Bolle, Renee Fleming, Isabella Rossellini, Zhang Huan, Gal Xingjian, KOOL, Ivory - establish a special dialogue with the rooms, the furnishings and the collection. Thirty-five are the works installed as evocative presences capable of combining high-definition video technology with the poetry of art. The quintessence is the series that stars Stefani Germanotta: the entire South wing of the first floor of the villa displays the mesmerizing set of Lady Gaga Portraits. This work homages the history of Western art and was part of Mr. Wilson’s exhibition at the Louvre in 2013. The iconic masterpieces that are being tributed are: Head of John Baptist (1507) by And

rea Solari, Death of Marat (1793) by Jacque-Louis David, Portrait of Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière (1806) by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. Flying, that closes the Lady Gaga Series, is a moment of counterpoint inspired by the ancient Japanese bondage practice of Shibari.

Robert Wilson for Villa Panza Tales - that opened on November 4th 2016 and will run until October 15th 2017- is an exhibition to be experienced in the silence required for contemplation. The seamlessly looped videos portray figures from the world of art, literature, theatre and entertainment, as well as specimens of the animal kingdom. Timelessness and moments of stark contrast, unleash unexpected affinities betwixt the old and new. Visitors will enjoy a complete immersion in works subtly balanced between time, space, sound, image and poetry.


Featured Image: Isabella Rossellini.

Credit: Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi