this issue contains
>> Made in Italy
>> At the Seaside: Massimo Vitali
>> Real Romanticism: Alberto Garutti
>> Interview Angelika Stepken

>> archive

The Realistic Romantic
Alberto Garutti’s Commissioned Work for the DB Collection Italy

With his art he constantly seeks a link to life. In the process, Alberto Garutti proves to be a realist. Many of his works simply aim to improve the world. He created a new work for the DB Collection Italy – nine benches which now serve as resting places for the employees at Deutsche Bank's Italian headquarters in Milan. But Garutti wouldn’t be Garutti if he didn't incorporate a surprise…

Alberto Garutti, Photo copyright: Fondazione Spinola Banna per l'Arte

This is no exaggeration: Alberto Garutti has the charm of a Marcello Mastroianni. He has dark eyes and slightly graying temples. You can't tell that he's almost 60. Above all, the Italian artist knows how to incite people to talk. He recently visited the Deutsche Bank's Italian headquarters in Milan. Within 15 minutes, the lady who serves coffee on the bottom floor of the building had told him her life story. Yes, this man is a communicative genius. Garutti himself puts it more modestly: "Art has to find a connection to the reality of life again." He adheres to this principle in his latest work, which was commissioned by Deutsche Bank and now belongs to the DB Collection Italy. The work consists of nine benches. There's scarcely anything more realistic than that.

Che cosa succede nelle stanze quando
gli uomini se ne vanno?"
(Was passiert in den Räumen, wenn die Menschen
sie verlassen haben?),
Deutsche Bank Mailand, 2006
Deutsche Bank Collection
Photo: Roberto Marossi

Alberto Garutti likes blossoming life. He expressly does not like art museums. For Garutti, museums are "like blind walls" which impede spontaneous encounters with art. In Kanazawa, Japan in 2002, he mounted a number of lamps on the front of a residential building which were controlled by motion detectors inside them. The lighting console for everyday routine could only be seen from a single empty piece of land, on which later a museum for contemporary art was to be built. As the walls of the museum grew higher during construction, the work disappeared from view. That sums up Garutti's attitude toward museums.

Per gli abitanti delle case
(Dedicated to the inhabitants of the houses), 2002,
Kanazawa, Giappone Public Art, © Alberto Garutti

Instead of museums, the Italian artist, who was born in 1948 in Galbiate near Como, likes to put his works in places where people spend a lot of time together. In parks. At work. For over ten years now, Garutti has no longer produced art in the studio, but has preferred to realize site-specific projects, directly engaging with the space made available to him. His work as a lecturer at the Accademia di Brera art academy in Milan, and as a member of the architecture faculty at the IUAV in Venice, give him enough independence from the energy-depleting art market treadmill. The artist has not needed to be represented by a gallery for a long time, as none of this work could be sold in a gallery. His more recent works are commissioned and serve to improve the world.

Ai nati oggi (To those born today) 2000
Over the Edges, Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Gent , © Alberto Garutti

Like the work Corale Vincenzo Bellini, a project he realized for the Arte all' Arte in Tuscany. Garutti was to work in the small town of Colle di Val d'Elsa. While he was strolling through the narrow streets he discovered a house in which a choir of lay singers was rehearsing. The music sounded delightful, but thick pieces of plaster on the building were crumbling, as was the case with all of the houses on the street. So the artist decided to spend his budget for the project there. He had the building renovated for the choir. Now the latter sings behind a newly plastered façade, while the rest of the street remains in a state of decay.

Corale Vincenzo Bellini
(This artwork is dedicated to them and to all those who walking
by will hear a music coming from this house), 2000,
Colle Val d'Elsa, © Alberto Garutti

It's art but it doesn't look like art – this phenomenon can be observed in Garutti's work in other places as well. Viewers immediately notice the Italian artist's work, but the full scope of the projects only becomes apparent when one knows their background. In 1998, the artist modified a streetlamp on a central square of Bergamo for his Piazza Dante Project. Passers-by could merely see that the lamp lit up somewhat more brightly than normal at certain moments. The reason: the lamp was connected by a leased line to the local hospital, where parents could press a button after their child was delivered. So the bright light indicated that a new person had been born.

Kitchy? Perhaps. But with his Piazza Dante Project, the artist brought the social fabric back to life, which goes hand in hand with the idea of public space. "Garutti's artwork celebrates the thoughts of the city through the birth of its citizens", the curator Carlos Basualdo wrote later in an essay. After Bergamo, the project was realized in Rome, Ghent, and Istanbul.

L'opera è dedicata a lui e ai nati oggi in questa città
(The artwork is dedicated to him and to those born in this city),
Light, Piazza Dante, Bergamo, © Alberto Garutti

Garutti is also interested in social links between people when he intervenes in private spaces. In his commissioned work for Deutsche Bank's headquarters in Milan, he distributed nine benches in different places in the office building. He sketched the shape of the seating furniture (the artist doesn't like to call it 'design') on one afternoon in a café. The result is an artwork that is successful in two respects. On the one hand, the benches provide employees with rest areas and fit in functionally with the work surroundings. On the other hand, they are puzzling due to their gray-beige color and aseptic surface, reminiscent of objects by Matthew Barney, and thus make viewers aware of their absolute artificiality.

[1] [2]