Italian artist redefines cultural landscape of Bolzano

Cool is not the kind of adjective that you would normally associate with Bolzano, the scenic capital of Italy’s northern Alto Adige region.

Italian artist redefines cultural landscape of Bolzano
Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli with Letizia Ragaglia, director of Museion, director of Bolzano's Museion. Photo: Luca Meneghel

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

“The lifestyle is Italian but the atmosphere is Nordic.”

By Josephine McKenna

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Why Friday the 13th isn’t an unlucky date in Italy

Unlucky for some, but not for Italians. Here's why today's date isn't a cause for concern in Italy - but Friday the 17th is.

Why Friday the 13th isn't an unlucky date in Italy

When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any risky plans. And it’s not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.

But if you’re in Italy, you don’t need to worry about it.

There’s no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture, particularly in the south. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.

Though the ‘unlucky 13’ concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.

The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is seen as the unlucky date to beware of.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on – so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.

The reason for this is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’: the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.

So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed per scaramanzia’.

But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead?

You may not be too surprised to learn that it’s because of football.

Ever heard of Totocalcio? It’s a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.

There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I’ve done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean ‘I hit the jackpot’ or ‘that was a stroke of luck!’

From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout ‘ho fatto tredici’ regardless.

Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.