TIAMSA Blog: The art market in Sicily and the effects of Manifesta12 on Palermo
Part 1/3: Developments of the Later 20th Century

by Geraldina Albegiani

This three-part blog post will direct the attention to the art market in an area that usually is not in the limelight. After a brief historical excursus (Part 1/3), it will discuss the recent dynamics of the art market in Sicily, looking at its two segments, the western area with Palermo as its center and the eastern area which sees the city of Catania as its powerhouse (Part 2/3). The last part will analyse the impact that Manifesta12 had on Palermo (Part 3/3). Manifesta is a European biennial of contemporary art that was first organized in Rotterdam in 1996. Its peculiarity is that it is itinerant and that the themes it addresses are linked to the construction of the different identities that form the image of Europe.

In Palermo at the end of the Fifties “the Sicilian artistic field was articulated in a multiplicity of situations that were by their nature irregular and unconnected” due to political and economic reasons traceable to the postwar years, revealing limitations with respect to national and international events. The Sixties and Seventies in Sicily, however, were characterised by two decades of cultural vivacity.  

A sudden flourishing of galleries and exhibition spaces began to enliven Palermo thanks to the contribution of young local artists or intellectuals. From 1963 to 1965 eight galleries were born. However, they soon had to recognize that “the receptive fabric constituted by private collecting and public collections, such as contemporary art museums on which the encouragement of artists and collectors depends is missing.” Since these were only sporadic structural incentives for new artistic trends, promoted by single individuals, the public’s taste was still mostly oriented towards figuration and traditionalist painting, rather than abstract or conceptual art. 

Protocol no.96 by Masbedo at the Sala delle Capriate, State Archives of Palermo alla Gancia.
Photo by PC Robinson. Image credit: Artlyst 2018.

The eighties brought an opposite trend to Sicily: now public spaces worked “to build the collections to act in a continuous way, at least for a good part of the decade, with acquisitions of artists emblematic of the period; there now was harmony between the two levels, public and private, in Sicily – an uncommon trait in its recent modern life.” The gallery owners testified to a renewed intellectual agility that expressed itself through collecting that began to highlight “artists who had new and interesting things to say.” 

With his creation in Gibellina of the Orestiadi in 1981 and of the Museo delle Trame Mediterranee in 1996, Ludovico Corrao is a tangible example of a politician who, as the mayor of Gibellina, was able to enhance the dialogue between art and society through contemporary art, opening the possibility of healing an identity shaken by the Belice earthquake. In 1986 Antonio Presti inaugurated La Fiumara d’arte in the province of Messina, which was to become the most important park of environmental works in Italy, contributing to the growing public interest towards contemporary art.

On Eva di Stefano’s initiative, the Genius of Palermo was born in 1998, an event held six times in the artists’ studios and in spaces in the historic centre. This event contributed significantly to the promotion of young Sicilian artists, thanks to the involvement of internationally renowned curators and collectors.

Next week’s instalment of this blog will look at more recent developments of the art market in Sicily (after 2000).

1 F. Carbone in N. D’Alessandro, “Introduction “, Situazioni della pittura in Sicilia 1940/1970. Trapani: Brossura editoriale, 1975, 264.
2 F. Menna, Ricognizione 71. Giovane arte meridionale. Catalogo di mostra, Biblioteca comunale di S. Maria Capua Vetere, Rome, Ellegi Edizioni,1971, 20.
3 Sergio Troisi, “Una modernità incompiuta: arte contemporanea e collezionismo in Sicilia, 1968-1988,” in Valentina Bruschi, Salvatore Lupo, Renato Quaglia, Sergio Troisi, eds., Sicilia 1968/2008. Lo spirito del tempo. Milan: Silvana Editoriale, 2009, 38.
4 Cf. Ezio Pagano, “Interview with A.”, in Retablo Periodico di Beni Culturali Siciliani, anno 1, n°11, Bagheria, September, 2005, 4

Geraldina Albegiani was born in Palermo, Sicily. She studied foreign languages at the Università per Stranieri of Siena. La Cabane Éclatée of Daniel Buren and environmental art were the subject of her bachelor’s degree in 2014. She later specialised in Visual Arts at the Alma Mater Studiorum of Bologna, with a focus on contemporary art. In 2017 she was an intern at the Mario Mauroner Galerie in Vienna. The topic of her master’s degree in 2018 was the architecture of Austrian Friedensreich Hundertwasser. In 2019 she curated the solo exhibition “Guido Baragli works from 1981” in Palermo at Palazzo Riso, the Regional Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Sicily.She is currently a freelance art historian and curator.