Will Italy’s right-wing government control who gets to direct the nation’s biggest museums?


A government appointed committee tasked with helping select the new directors of some of Italy’s biggest museums—including Florence’s Uffizi Galleries and Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera—lacks impartiality and could result in the culture ministry lining up its favoured candidates, art historians have warned.

The five-person committee was created as part of a culture ministry tender that went live on 16 June and foresees the appointment of new directors at the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples and the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome. Its members will whittle down candidates to three for each museum before the culture ministry selects its favoured applicant. Candidates had until 14 July to apply.

In an open letter dated 25 July and addressed to Gennaro Sangiuliano, the culture minister, and Massimo Osanna, the ministry’s general director of museums, critics complained the committee features just one art historian, Daniela Porro, who works for the culture ministry-run superintendent’s office in Rome, and two culture ministry employees, Porro and Luigi La Rocca the ministry’s director of archaeology, fine art and landscape – with limited expertise in running art museums.

Impartiality concerns

Jointly signed by the Italian Society of Art Historians (SISCA) and the University Council for Art History (Cunsta), the letter states: “It is questionable that in a commission that is supposed to be impartial there are two employees of the ministry of culture, who will not be able to ignore the instructions of that ministry”.

Massimiliano Rossi, the president of Sisca, tells The Art Newspaper he was concerned by a lack of international figures on the committee, and warned of the dominance of archaeology experts, including Carmela Capaldi, who is a professor at Naples’s Federico II University. Osanna, who was previously director of the Pompeii archaeological site, also teaches at the university. “The risk is that an archaeologist goes to the Uffizi” Rossi says.

Osanna hit back in an interview published in the La Repubblica newspaper on 28 July, underlining the committee members’ expertise, and describing suggestions they would be influenced by politicians as “disgraceful”. “What do they mean? That our directors are not competent?”, Osanna asked.

Critics have drawn comparisons with a previous museums tender held in 2015 by Dario Franceschini, Sangiuliano’s predecessor. Presided over by Paolo Baratta, then president of the Venice Biennale, the previous committee featured Nicholas Penny, the art historian and former director of London’s National Gallery.

The tender resulted in seven international directors being appointed to Italy’s biggest museums, which had been granted greater autonomy in fund-raising, appointing staff and planning exhibitions and loans the previous year. The new directors included the German Eike Schmidt at the Uffizi, the British James Bradburne at the Pinacoteca di Brera and the Frenchman Sylvain Bellenger at the Museo di Capodimonte.

While the latest tender states citizens of EU countries can apply, Vittorio Sgarbi, an art critic who is an undersecretary in the culture ministry, has appeared to suggest Italy’s nationalist government will favour domestic candidates, telling the Il Corriere Fiorentino newspaper in January: “For the next tender we are leaning towards selection committees with members more closely linked to the national territory”.

Commenting on Sgarbi’s statement, Rossi predicted that “the era of the international directors is over”.

The successful applicants are expected to be announced in the autumn. Meanwhile, the ministry plans to appoint new directors to three top tier museums – the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, the Musei Reali in Turin and the newly unified Galleria dell’Accademia and Musei del Bargello in Florence – as well as the 17 museums that have recently been granted autonomy with a new tender that is due to go live in February.


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