At a famous Old Masters fair in Florence, Italy’s looming elections have dealers worried about the future of its art market


On the eve of a snap general election in Italy, which looks very likely to see victory for a far-right party with fascist links, residents of Florence were busy raising glasses as art week returned of the city for the first time since the pandemic.

At the country’s most important Old Masters fair, BIAF, the Biennale Internazionale dell’Antiquariato di Firenze, international curators from the Met and LACMA rubbed shoulders with Italian colleagues from the Uffizi Galleries in the elegant mid-century Palazzo Corsini 17th century, and the presence of great collectors such as the American music producer John Landau (a renowned connoisseur of sculpture, who also happens to be the manager of Bruce Springsteen) has created a buzz. Elsewhere, in the open-air courtyard of Palazzo Strozzi, which has made progress in its quest to attract younger audiences to art, a DJ entertained Instagram art influencers during an immersive exhibition of ‘Olafur Eliasson.

Italy’s general elections – which will take place on Sunday September 25 – were triggered by the resignation of Prime Minister Mario Draghi at the start of the summer amid infighting and the collapse of his fragile coalition government made up of parties from left, right and centrists. Currently leading in the polls is the so-called “centre-right coalition”, which comprises four parties, the largest of which is Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing nationalist party, the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli from Italy), which has its roots in a neo-fascist party created after the death of Benito Mussolini. There is also The nationalist and anti-immigration Northern League of Matteo Salvini (Northern League), and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s more moderate party, Go Italy (Forza Italy).

Among the 800 attendees at the BIAF gala dinner, the sentiment surrounding Italy’s political situation was a general feeling of hope that a change of government could provide an opportunity to resolve the problems besetting the oil market. italian art. While the global Old Master auction market had its best first half in five years, growing just under 20% and generating $405.9 million (according to data from the Price Database Artnet), the Italian auction market had its worst first half since 2017, with total sales down 27% from 2021. And where the private Old Masters category market is also seeing positive moves in due to pent-up demand overflowing from lockdown, as evidenced reports from TEFAF Maastricht earlier this yearin Florence people complained of a state at “war” with its art dealers.

Antonio Canova, Authority of Giorgione. Courtesy of AL Fine Art Antonacci Lapiccirella, Rome.

The cause of the dissatisfaction is Italy’s draconian export legislation, which means that the state must grant a special export license for all objects of cultural significance. Works deemed too important to leave Italy – and there are many of them – are “notified” and can only be sold on national territory, where the state closely monitors their movements. BIAF President Fabrizio Moretti confirmed that around 10% of the exhibits at the fair were “notified” in this way, and that a further 25% did not have an export licence, meaning that only 65% about objects could be safely marketed to international customers. .

A work by Antonio Canova found on the stand of the Antonacci Lapiccirella gallery in Rome caught the attention of more than one passer-by. But dealer Francesca Antonacci told Artnet News that the rare painting (executed by the neoclassical sculptor on a 16th-century panel as part of an elaborate prank on behalf of its patron) had been notified by the state.

“We have this huge problem in Italy. It’s okay if the state thinks a work of art is very important and should stay in Italy and be exhibited in museums, but why doesn’t the government buy it then? They arrest us and that’s it,” Antonacci said. “As dealers, we do this hard work: we discover and restore works of art like the Canova and many others, and then we are punished for it. So we really hope that will change.

The president of the fair, Moretti, expressed the hope that the future minister of culture, whoever he is, “will be open to the market”. Which does not mean, he clarified, that they must “open the doors to get the works of art out of Italy, but to facilitate more elasticity between the market and the State, to see if we can find a dialogue”.

He added that this includes reducing bureaucracy around temporary imports (currently bureaucratic hurdles can take up to three months to overcome.) “Hopefully the future minister will at least be sensible and be a man of culture. In Italy, we have not had a man of culture in this position for many years. Only politicians. And I think that’s extremely wrong.

Fabrice Moretti.  Image courtesy of BIAF.

Fabrice Moretti. Image courtesy of BIAF.

A drama that has troubled politicians in recent years concerns a series of reforms introduced in 2015 that allowed foreigners to run major institutions across the country. They were briefly canceled under the short tenure of populist culture minister Alberto Bonisoli, which favored ethnic Italians in the role. Now foreign museum directors, like Germany’s Uffizi leader Eike Schmidt, could hold their breath to see if a nationalist victory would see the country revert to a more isolationist cultural stance.

Several Italian exhibitors at the fair expressed their resentment towards the great Italian curators who run museums abroad (such as Gabriele Finaldi, the director of the National Gallery in London, or the senior curator of paintings at the Getty Museum, David Gasparotto). Most agreed that everyone, regardless of nationality, should be eligible to apply for museum positions, but there was a feeling they would prefer to see Italians in these positions. As Moretti said, “Do you think the Louvre would have put someone non-French in that position?”

Palazzo Strozzi director Arturo Galansino hopes elected politicians, regardless of political affiliation, will recognize the importance of culture as an economic driver. Its museum alone generates 60 million euros per year for the city. “I think all politicians know that culture is a fundamental asset for Italy, and that they should invest more and more in culture because it is obvious if you walk through Florence today how important it is to bring tourism, of course to make life better for people, but also to generate economy.

His museum, which currently hosts a VR exhibition and offers services such as a “teenage kit”, has focused its efforts on attracting Florentine youth, especially during the pandemic, which is linked to another problem facing politics. in Italy: a largely disinterested young generation. . A highly unscientific solicitation of fresh-faced revelers over their voting plans was met with more than a shrug, which seems befitting Italy high number of undecided voters, and the estimated 41% of the electorate do not plan to vote at all, according to euro news.

Image courtesy of BIAF.

Image courtesy of BIAF.

Guard aging is also an issue that the old master market has been facing for years. “The world of grandmasters needs fresh blood,” said Moretti. Efforts to make the estate more attractive were visible at the fair, from QR codes for catalog information to an increased presence on Instagram to a video game aimed at teaching Florentine history. “It’s a cultural problem,” proselytized the dealer. “We live today in the lowest moment of culture (in the world, not only in Italy), the new generation is ignorant and uneducated.”

Moretti said his gallery, Moretti Fine Art, exhibited alongside Hauser and Wirth at Frieze Masters in an attempt to reach a new audience, and has just gone into business in London with former Dickinson Gallery chief executive Emma Ward. , in a new venture focused on 19th and 20th century works of art. “Contemporary and modern art is a stronger market in the world,” said Moretti. “But we have to try to get these people to understand that the Old Masters are the beginning. You can’t understand a modern painting if you haven’t studied the old masters. And also in terms of investment, old masters today are very cheap compared to modern pieces.

The dialogue between the old and the new was also a concern identified by The social-democratic mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella. “Florence is not only an incredible capital of cultural heritage, but it is also an important player on the contemporary scene,” Nardella told Artnet News. “This is our challenge: to be a major contemporary city, not only a city-museum, but also a living city, capital of creativity and innovation. This is the best way to keep the memory of the rebirth.

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