Art on Fire: The Casualties of Italian ‘Art War’


In Naples, Italy, there lies the small town of Casoria. While the town itself may seem unremarkable, it is becoming well known throughout the world as the director of the local Casoria Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) launched an ‘art war’ on the Italian Ministry of Culture.

The director in question is Antonio Manfredi who, in protest of Italy’s art budget cuts, set works of art on fire last month. This was just the beginning of Manfredi’s war as he has promised to set fire to two or three pieces each week from the museum collection.

Italy has an immense art heritage, but despite this, arts spending is less than 1% of the country’s GDP – a quarter of what is spent in countries like France, England and Germany. This budget has been cut further recently as Italy struggles to pay back $2.5 trillion in debt.

An Outcry for ‘Moral Help’

The CAM first opened its doors seven years ago as a city owned museum. Not long after though, the local municipal government was disbanded due to infiltration by the mafia. It has been thanks to private sponsors that Manfredi has been able to keep the museum open, but those are few and far between now thanks to the recession.

Manfredi began his protest by first burning his own pieces and only went on to burn the works of others with the artists’ permission. In his view, “we destroy some art to save all art.” This fiery protest isn’t just about the money though. Manfredi says it’s also an appeal for ‘moral help’ from authorities. Despite his extreme measures though, Manfredi has received no official reaction and little media coverage, with some in the art world simply dismissing his actions as childish.

Anna Mattirolo, art director of Rome’s MAXXI contemporary art museum, stated that “the idea of setting a work of art on fire gives me goose bumps.” However, she went on to agree that the cutbacks to art funding have been “devastating”.

Art Crisis is Nationwide

Mattriolo will certainly know what she’s talking about. Earlier this month, the MAXXI museum was placed under special administration after being open for barely two years. And it is just one of many suffering museums.

Over the past couple of years arts spending in Italy has been cut by approximately 76% and led to many cultural casualties: The Madre Museum in Naples were forced to close two whole floors, the contemporary art gallery of Trento is near to being shut down completely and other museums are being forced to cancel exhibits.

To those in the cultural world, this is a real crisis, but how the Italian government feels about the issue isn’t clear as they have remained silent so far.

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