Until the end of the Second World War, the city was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and it's best-known for its spectacular mountain scenery, speck and conservative political points of view.
But one of Italy's most acclaimed artists, Francesco Vezzoli, is helping to reshape the cultural landscape of this historic town where German is spoken more often than Italian.
As a guest artist and curator he has given Bolzano's modern art museum, Museion, a boost and a growing number of Italian and international art lovers are coming to see its small collection.
“I think Museion is so cool,” Vezzoli tells The Local.
“Apart from my contribution, it has a programme that has brought to Italy the works of very sophisticated artists, that you don't find in the big museums which are forced to give space to more visible artists.”
Photo: Matteo Norzi
Established in 1985, Museion quickly developed a reputation for showcasing contemporary art in Italy and in the Alps region. In 2008 it moved to its striking new home, a cube-shaped modern building that is nothing like anything else in the historic town centre overlooking the Talvera River.
“It's like a spaceship that landed in the middle of the night and the morning after everyone woke up and said ‘what's there?'” says Vezzoli.
“What is so special about Museion is that it brings a specific edge to the cultural debate of Bolzano.”
Vezzoli, who comes from Brescia, is known for his cheeky approach to art and his sculpture, video and installations have given him a celebrity profile in the US and elsewhere.
His 2011 show at the Gagosian Gallery in New York, “Sacrilegio,” featured images of weeping Madonnas and his provocative 2005 film “Trailer for the Remake of Gore Vidal's Caligula” raised eyebrows. He made more headlines when he bought a deconsecrated church in the southern Italian town of Montegiordano and sought to ship it to the US for a show in New York in 2013.
At Museion Vezzoli is presenting his own sculpture, giving ancient artworks with his own quirky, comical twist. He is also curating another exhibition which juxtaposes works by modern artists with the frames from famous historical masterpieces by Raphael, Amedeo Modigliani and others.
“He has attracted new visitors, we have had a lot of visits,” says Letizia Ragaglia, director of Museion. “We work a lot with northern Europe – Germany, Austria and Switzerland. There's been so much enthusiasm.”
Museion has more than 4,500 works in its collection and each year it invites a guest curator such as Vezzoli to produce a show based drawing on artists of his or her choice. In the summer months the glass façade on the back of the building is used to project a programme of artists' videos.
"It impresses me that Museion has one of the most experimental programmes in Europe, but it is very small, “ says Vezzoli. “Today it is difficult to find such a sophisticated intellectual approach that is decentralized.”
Roberta Agosti, director of the local tourism board, says tourism is booming in Bolzano. She said the number of visitors rose 3 percent in 2015. More than 42 percent of tourists came from Italy an 40 percent from German-speaking countries, she said.
But Agosti said there is growing interest from Russia, France and Spain, particularly because of the attraction of the exhibitions at Museion and other museums.
“The number of visitors has increased and they are staying longer,” she tells Thelocal.it
“The lifestyle is Italian but the atmosphere is Nordic.”
By Josephine McKenna