Retro-Italia: Vittorio Sgarbi

The appointment of Vittorio Sgarbi, the celebrity art critic and polemicist, as curator of the Italian Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale and supervisor of acquisitions at Rome’s new MaXXi museum of 21st-century art is dividing the Italian art world, thanks to his well known antipathy to contemporary art.

Sgarbi was the under secretary of state for the ministry of culture from 2001-02 in Silvio Berlusconi’s government. In 2004, Sgarbi founded the Party of Beauty to halt the construction of new buildings in Italian cities. In 2006, he switched allegiance and stood for the centre-left Consumers’ List party. Appointed as the mayor of the Sicilian village of Salemi in 2008, he is an outspoken television pundit.

The Venice appointment is especially sensitive as Italy celebrates the 150th anniversary of its unification in 2011. Italian culture minister Sandro Bondi defended his choice, insisting that Sgarbi “has in-depth knowledge of Italy’s heritage”.

The appointment has drawn stinging criticism from Sgarbi’s compatriot Francesco Bonami, the curator of this year’s Whitney Biennial, who berates the current Italian government’s attitude to contemporary art.

“Unfortunately we deserve Sgarbi,” he says. “Contemp­orary art is to Sgarbi what America is to Bin Laden. Once in a while, Sgarbi, like Bin Laden, rants against his enemy. I have to say that Sgarbi’s joint appointment is very close to a suicidal attack on Italy’s dignity,” Bonami told The Art Newspaper.


Alessandro Martini and Gareth Harris
The Art Newspaper